As South Africa draws near to what some are calling its most important election ever, you can almost feel the country holding its breath in trepidation of what might happen. Will there be some unspeakable coalition tasked with dragging us into the future kicking and screaming ? Or will sanity prevail, and a team of practical level-headed intelligent thinkers shepherd us along a more benevolent and prosperous path ?

Tyrannical Leadership

The world has come a long way since the middle ages, where tyrannical kings were placed in charge of people, and ruled through fear, cruelty, war, oppression and almost limitless power. The Enlightenment and other forces in world history brought about a move towards Democracy. This was meant to save us from all the issues of birth-right leadership, Feudalism and a host of incorrigible systems of rule. But did it?

Flawed Democracy

The idea that if most the people in some place vote a person into govern, that must be for the greater good and that the leader will do what is best for everyone. If only! How rarely it seems to work like that. Of course, democracy is complicated and there are countless dynamics, logistics and political realities that throw curve balls into the equation. One way or another, nations great and small appear to land up with leaders who seem like the worst people for the job rather than the best. Surely, we can come up with something better?

What happens in Business?

Well the corporate world has dealt with this in a reasoned manner that uses good science to predict job performance. If we are able to predict if some junior manager is going to perform well in a role, shouldn’t we be applying that science in the political arena as well? If we are concerned enough to avoid a bad hire in an office park, wouldn’t we want to assess the president of the country, where the stakes are so much higher?

Psychometrics – a new lens

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a fantasy that political leaders should be closely investigated in some way to determine whether they are up to the job. Organisations routinely apply psychometrics to select new hires to ensure that they have both the capability and personal attributes required for a role. The risk of a bad hire in the presidential role is too awful to contemplate. The very survival of humans as a species can be at stake.

An impulsive narcissistic president with poor judgement could start world war III in a pique of irritation just because they don’t have the capacity to think things through carefully. Wouldn’t it be blissful if we knew for sure that those holding office had impeccable integrity, high intelligence, the ability to think 10 years ahead, even-tempered personalities, solid levels of empathy, great judgement, optimal resilience, high conscientiousness and more. Assessing these attributes is routine in the corporate sector. Yes, routine, we literally do it every day. When people are elected into positions of power rather than selected, there is grave risk of a calamity. It is no surprise that we see so many political disasters around the world. I can think of a few recent examples where it might have useful to consider just the basics, a low cost cognitive test for a president. You know, just to ensure they have sound judgement. I am not naïve, I know its not going to happen. I could get buried alive just for thinking it, but I do know it would bring us a better quality of leader than populist support tends to deliver.

Useful Information – not final answers

Lets face it, assessments are not perfect. Constructed mostly in America and Europe they are too Western and probably prone to occasional false negatives. We’d steer away from popular typologies and hone in on well established tools, normed in South Africa, that are routinely used as pre-hire vehicles for establishing fit. The results would be used as a departure point for conversation, and if we found say that the potential president tended to vacillate with a low action orientation, wouldn’t we want to take that idea for a walk. What if their logical reasoning and basic problem solving were compromised, or that they lacked attention to detail, shouldn’t that be something to discuss.


Politicians tend to be manipulative, populist, and full of promises. Just beneath the surface a human lurks. With all the foibles and wobbliness that go with being human. So yes, if you’re going to lead us, we should demand more than stump speeches, posturing and headlines. We should get a read on what’s below the surface, and factor that into the equation as well. There are multiple ways to understand how a person functions. We should use them all, when it comes to picking our president.