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Leadership in Crisis: What Good Looks Like

  1. He is ready. He is the son of a governor, was attorney general, knows the state intimately and has been governor for a while. He understands context and the ecosystem at the deepest level—so should a CEO.

  2. He is prepared for the session and is well organized. He has a logical flow that is highly understandable and succinct. He uses slides to reinforce topics, facts, and questions. He knows the material cold. He knows what is on people’s minds. He clearly and specifically distinguishes between fact, his opinions and advice. He is ready. This is a test every leader needs to pass.

  3. His style and demeanor are reassuring and appropriate, helping to build confidence. By demeanor, we refer to his tone of voice, speaking pace, calm personal presentation, casual dress and way of sitting at table with colleagues, as well as his lack of ego, swagger or bluster. He looks and sounds like a parent at the family table, respectfully briefing the family. He uses candor to build credibility. Think how many leaders can do this—not many. He is himself, an authentic New Yorker!

  4. His presentation is fact-based, focused on progress and clearly acknowledges the issues. In crisis, people need the facts. Period. To quote FDR like Governor Cuomo did, “the American people can handle the truth but not falsehoods.” He instills confidence and hope by describing progress and his progress description is made more credible by his acknowledgement of issues. He does not indulge in blame. Blame is so seductive, but in the middle of a crisis, it is not appropriate. There will be plenty of time for lessons learned later.

  5. He shows empathy by acknowledging people’s concerns in a sincere way, but he also points out where we need to do better. He teaches. He explains the nature of epidemics, the vulnerability of all age groups and the need to be serious about social distancing and the fact that we are too often falling short. He says he would see for himself what was happening that day using a “leading by walking around” approach. He does not threaten but persuades and calls on our better angels for the good of all.

  6. He gives others credit and has his team present and contributing. Weak leaders need to dominate. Strong leaders rely on the team. Governor Cuomo takes many chances to acknowledge help or good performance by others. By so doing, he appears to be involved, knowledgeable and effective. This is a powerful technique to demonstrate credibility and leading from the front.

  7. He does not try to spin anything. This is so hard for a leader in our time of social media and extreme partisanship everywhere. His “Just the facts ma’am” approach (like that of detective Joe Friday from the old TV show Dragnet) is core. When it is his opinion, he says so. When the facts are not clear, Governor Cuomo points that out. He does not try to “perfume the pig,” as bankers like to say, when peddling a troubled property. This takes courage and confidence.

  8. He uses humor appropriately. This is a high art form and can backfire but, when done well, can help. This is not for rookies and requires every one of the prior seven behaviors and approaches to work. It also must be done gently and not be at anyone’s expense, except possibly one’s own. When asked if the media was a vital service, he paused, smiled and said, “I might think so, but maybe not everybody does.”

  9. He takes the toughest questions respectfully and gives straight answers. Q&A is a powerful, powerful leadership approach when done well and can backfire disastrously when done poorly. Preparation, pacing and respect are key. No BS. If you do not know, say so, and indicate when you will have the answer. Answer the question. Do not use the politicians’ device of giving a mini speech on another topic—otherwise known as a pivot. People are smart, they see through you. Treat every question and every questioner with respect. Governor Cuomo is a master.

  10. 10. He does this virtually every day. This pattern conveys “I am here,” “I am leading,” “I am accountable to you,” “You can trust me,” and “I can take the heat.” Not a bad set of tests for any leader.


This too shall pass.

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