A New Tool For Evaluating Capacity for Leadership-Inspired by Donald Trump’s Presidency

The 25th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allows for the removal of the President by the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet if they determine that he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of his high office.  That phrase captured me.  How would the Vice President and the Cabinet determine ability or inability to discharge the duties of the Presidency whether the President is Donald Trump or anyone else?  The Constitution says no more than that brief phrase.  I set out to operationalize it, so that leaders and citizens could make a fair and objective determination of this President’s, or any other’s, ability to discharge his duties.  In the process, I developed a tool that could be useful beyond politics, to assess the core capacities for leadership of anyone being considered for a position of high responsibility.  Pathology isn’t the issue here.  It’s actually easier (and not that useful) to diagnose mental disorders and pathological traits.  But how do we codify mental strength, that is capacity and ability?

“Duties of his office”–A listing of what the president does every day –meet foreign leaders, make announcements, sign laws, clearly wouldn’t be helpful.  Nor would generalizations such as set policy, promote his agenda, uphold the Constitution. I felt that specifying the qualities and defining attributes of the duties of the Presidency is the key to making the 25th Amendment usable. The duties of the President are those of someone with the  highest level of responsibility, whose every decision and action has critical impact and enormous consequences.

“Unable to discharge” —The key word here is “unable”, which led me to search for a way to operationalize assessment of ability or inability.  I started the process of creating a tool for assessing ability or inability by reviewing the literature on executive functioning in psychology and ego functioning in psychoanalysis.  Both of these fields of thought define a wide range of capacities that are necessary for the highest level of cognitive, emotional and social functioning.  In my research, I stumbled upon a document that pulls it all together, the Army Field Manual on Leader Development 6-22.  This is a dense document which is quite extraordinary and based on sound psychological research and practice.  I distilled 5 traits from the field manual, added some analysis from my own background as a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and came up with  an evaluation tool that could serve as a guide for the evaluation of anyone aspiring to a position of the highest leadership and responsibility.

Here’s a concise version of the tool, published in the LA Times, June 16, 2017:Is Trump mentally fit to be president_ Let’s consult the U.S Army’s field manual on leadership.