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The essence of good decisionmaking is always the same, whether it is done by a Wall Street trader, a chief executive officer or the president of the United States.

The process starts with a well-grounded sense of strategy and principles.Then, for each issue, all relevant considerations need to be aggressively sought out and weighed dispassionately.

Finally, the decisionmaker needs to make a choice that best serves the underlying purposes, however tough or distasteful the trade-offs and then make a full-fledged commitment to carry out that choice.

By these standards, Bill Clinton is as good a decisionmaker as anybody I've seen in my 28-year career, first on Wall Street and then here in the White House.

At a meeting in Little Rock during the transition, the president-elect told a group of us, "If people don't tell me what they think, I'll be dead."

He wants to see all sides of an issue and he insists on candor from his staff, sometimes to the point of eliciting disagreement with his own views to make sure nothing is missed.

Outsiders will often express strong convictions outside the Oval Office and then pull their punches with the president, even though he tends to draw them out effectively.

But the people around him have no such compunction, much to the benefit of the decisionmaking process.

Last year, the president's political advisers warned him that if he went ahead with a major cut being proposed for the deficit-reduction program, he could create serious political problems.

It was a pivotal moment in my understanding of the president. He thought about the politics for a while and then said, "But we're just going to have to take these kinds of political hits if we're going to get this deficit down."

And he continues to follow that pattern. Sometimes the political costs are considerable.

The president, for example, has received criticism - unwarranted, in my view - for some decisions (a gasoline tax in the deficit-reduction program, the Cuban refugee policy).

Sometimes he is rightly credited for sticking to his guns despite excruciating pressure to compromise (the victories on deficit reduction, NAFTA and the crime bill).

The point is that he never fails to follow the deliberative process, explore all the options and then make the tough decision that further his policy views despite the availability of easier political paths.

What is jarring is that it is precisely the repeated stories of this kind of decisionmaking that have been used to criticize the president.

In time, I expect that Clinton's decisionmaking style will be seen as a hallmark of his presidency and a model for future presidents and all public processes.