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On Management Styles

August 7, 2014

Newsday reporter Mike Gormley, whose work we’ve always considered first rate, wrote an article recently on Andrew Cuomo’s management style. It included reflections from people who have worked with him and his father, as well as the views of outside observers, some of whom regard the current governor as a control freak.

The catalyst for Gormley’s writing was the widespread notion that Cuomo’s desire to control things has led to his current problem with the U.S. Attorney looking into his handling of the Moreland Commission.

Set aside this controversy. At issue is what we want in a leader. We want strength. We want someone who can break the logjam and get results. We love leaders who are bold and decisive.

But there’s a two-fold flip side to this.

First, there’s the fundamental nature of our government. It was designed with checks and balances to produce small changes, not sweeping reversals of policy. This limits what any leader can do.

And second, there is a bizarre inconsistency in our feelings about our leaders. We applaud strong leaders whom we think will get results. We elect them by wide margins, but then start to pick them apart for the very traits that may be the underpinning of the leadership abilities and success.

Cuomo is a perfect example. State government was a disaster when he took over. He restored it to competent functioning. The state’s finances are in better shape now than in any time in generations. There have been more legislative accomplishments than any previous administration in modern times. There are even pockets of economic resurgence in the upstate region, which was unthinkable a few years ago.

And yet, despite these clear accomplishments, we look at Cuomo today and see his faults. He’s a control freak. He’s mean. He’s arrogant. He doesn’t really believe in anything except pursuit of his own political advantage. He’s secretive. He’s a phony.

All of these intense and incredibly personal sentiments have been on display recently – most notably at the WFP convention. There was an outpouring of emotion regarding Cuomo that must have shocked and annoyed him.

Keep in mind that very few people in that convention room actually had any personal interaction with him at all. They had zero first-hand experience on which to base their anger – but there it was in full view. They were convinced that he’s an SOB.

And maybe he is. The point, though, is that we all want a certain kind of leader. We elect the individual who is going to get the job done. At that moment, we aren’t really concerned about the tactics he uses to get it done – we just want results. But at some point, we begin to become more and more concerned with how he operates. And at some point, it seems as though the methods and tactics become more important than the results.  

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