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Opinion

What kind of leader would McCain or Obama be?

A media-based 'job interview' is key to finding out.

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A major step forward, we have concluded from a recent conference at Harvard's Kennedy School, would be a media-based "job interview" of each of the candidates – one focused squarely on leadership. That would help voters move beyond identifying where Senators McCain and Obama stand to a better understanding of who they are and how well they would lead.

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In 1960, many voters worried that John F. Kennedy was too young and inexperienced to be an effective leader. It turned out that inexperience did prompt a raft of mistakes early on, but he learned quickly and was magnificent when a crisis came over Soviet missiles in Cuba. Sixteen years later, many voters swooned over Jimmy Carter, but he turned out to be better suited for sainthood than for political leadership. Which model better fits Obama? Do we know? Shouldn't we know?

The candidates should themselves recognize their responsibility to provide voters an in-depth view of how they conceive of leadership, how they have led in the past, and how they intend to lead in the Oval Office. But nothing would contribute as much as a thoughtful, sustained "job interview," conducted by respected members of the news media.

What leadership questions would ideally be answered by a presidential nominee? To help answer that, in mid-May we convened a diverse group of some 200 business, nonprofit and government leaders, leadership experts, and students. Starting from "wish lists" of questions from former White House chief of staff Andrew Card, ex-Philadelphia mayor Wilson Goode, Amgen CEO Kevin Sharer, social entrepreneur Cheryl Dorsey, and YouTube executive Steve Grove, we ended up with a set of 15 questions that, if thoughtfully answered by the nominees, would help introduce them more fully as leaders to the American voters.

We've posted these questions, and a short video, at www.howyoulead.org. And we invite Americans to post their own leadership questions, and encourage all – candidates, citizens, press – to place a more determined focus on the leadership capacity of our next president. We don't see FDRs come along very often, but we may need one now.

David Gergen and Andy Zelleke are director and codirector, respectively, of the Harvard Kennedy School's Center for Public Leadership.

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