If you were to rank the skills needed by CIOs (or anyone else in a leadership role, for that matter), put the ability to recruit and retain excellent managers at the top of the list. You aren’t leading unless others follow; the caliber of those who follow you determines how well you’ll achieve your goals.

Yet when it comes to voting — arguably a more significant hiring decision — most of what I hear has to do with just two questions, policy and demeanor. I don’t know — maybe hiring the President of the United States is less important than hiring a data center manager. Or maybe a lot of people just aren’t very good at choosing excellent managers.

The challenge is, in many respects, the same. Whether president or manager, our goal isn’t to hire the nicest guy, the person we’d most like to have a beer with, or whichever candidate we think is the best looking.

We want whoever will build the strongest organization and make sure the work is done right, on time, and within budget as our manager. The parallel when voting: We want the candidate who, after four years, will leave our country and the world in the best shape as our president.

How can you tell?

As a starting point, we need an effective leader. According to Leading IT: The Toughest Job in the World, that requires competence at eight tasks. For many voters, vision — just one of the eight, expressed by a bumper-sticker phrase and a few high-level statements of policy — is where the analysis stops. If that’s where you stop when hiring a manager, shame on you. You need someone who is skilled at the other seven tasks, too. Vision is the one percent part of the Edison ratio — the inspiration part. Your new hire had better be good at the 99 percent that’s perspiration as well. Likewise for whoever leads the country for the next four years.

The 99 percent includes management skills, too. Your managers must know how to run an efficient operation and take care of the administrative tasks that might be irritating, but which are more irritating if left undone. While a president generally leaves that to others, any leader who doesn’t appreciate the importance of efficient operations and administration will lead a flabby organization characterized by internal political maneuvering and excessive cost. Not that the political punditocracy has given us much to work with on this front.

When you hire an IT manager, you look for domain knowledge. Managers must understand the area they manage well enough to understand what it means to manage it well, which sounds tautological but isn’t. Presidents need domain knowledge too — in their case, foreign policy, economics, environmental issues, and whatever other topics you think are of more than passing significance. Ignorance may be bliss, but it rarely results in good policy or competent execution.

And, whether you’re hiring a manager or choosing a president, you want someone you won’t be embarrassed to introduce to just about anyone in your company, the companies with which you do business, or visiting foreign dignitaries. Image really does matter. When you’re hiring, it’s just one among many criteria. When you’re voting, some of the political talking heads focus on this above all other factors.

Another reason voting is harder is that the United States hasn’t implemented “instant run-off.” Many voters think their decision should be swayed by who has a chance of getting elected. That’s reasonable, too, because if you vote for someone who doesn’t, it counts as a half vote against your second-choice, who does.

Nor can we interview the candidates, and the pseudo-information that’s thrown our way is mostly worthless. The candidates have trapped themselves and each other into a pattern that would cause us to reject any job applicant who tried it on us, talking more about how badly the other guy would run the place than how well they’d do it themselves.

So listen to Bush on Bush, Kerry on Kerry, and Nader on Nader, but ignore Bush on Kerry, Kerry on Bush, and Nader on Kerry and Bush. Ignore the Swift Boat Veterans, Ann Coulter (especially Ann Coulter) and Michael Moore. If you want an objective source, go to www.factcheck.org.

When you’re hiring, sometimes the best choice is to reject everyone and try again. The pain of a bad hire lasts long after the relief of filling an open position. When it comes to voting for president, Bush or Kerry will get the job. You choosing to abstain November 2nd won’t change that. It’s another place the parallel between hiring and voting breaks down.

But if you don’t think the decision of who to vote for warrants as much care as hiring your next manager, please stay away from the polls.

Especially if you live in Minnesota, because everyone who does makes my vote count more.