It is a fundamental principle of human resource management that competence has no substitute when evaluating prospective co-workers. As much as we value personal charisma, congeniality, and cordiality, serious work demands competent workers. Charisma, congeniality, and cordiality, however appealing, are not what makes jets take off, tractors plow, trains stop, bullets shoot straight, and food taste right. In these and every other important activity, competence is essential. Good leaders know this and discipline themselves to recruit and select competent associates as a matter of course.
Thus, Senator John McCain's selection of Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2008 presidential election is a telling indicator about his commitment to competence. A Vice President serves to exercise the duties of President in the event of Presidential death or disability. Thus, the Vice Presidential candidate should have the experience, wisdom, judgment, and other qualities needed to lead the nation as it faces the myriad challenges of 21st Century public policy. There is little evidence, if any, that Governor Palin has that experience, wisdom, judgment, or other necessary leadership qualities.
Rather, the Palin selection resembles the choice of Michael Brown by President George W. Bush to be Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Brown had no experience in emergency management at any level. He had no record of commenting about federal policy on any subject. He was cordial, reasonably photogenic, and politically connected. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that he was also incompetent.
Governor Sarah Palin appears cordial in her media interactions, is photogenic, and is politically connected. However, she has no experience dealing with international relations, strategic defense policy, national economic issues, or many of the serious other concerns that are integral to shaping and executing federal public policy. It is not unfair or unkind to make that observation. However, it is both unfair and unkind for Senator McCain or any other leader to thrust a charming and photogenic political crony on the nation.
Senator McCain has demonstrated what he thinks about competence. It remains to be seen whether American voters will imitate and institutionalize his poor judgment in the November 4, 2008 presidential election. Planes fly properly, meals are prepared well, and equipment works correctly because of competent pilots in the cockpit, competent cooks in restaurants, and competent mechanics repairing our vehicles and other machinery. By contrast, the United States is viewed by most Americans, and by people outside the United States, as not working well.
Senator McCain, like President Bush before him, appears determined to repeat the mistake of confusing the cosmetic factors of cronyism, congeniality, and glamour with competence. American voters will make a fundamental mistake in human resource management by following his example in the coming presidential election.