In a crisis, effective leaders communicate facts, lay out a plan, and lift morale. It's a rare leader who can do all three. Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York, is emerging as one of those leaders during the coronavirus crisis.
New York is experiencing the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, with about 60 percent of new infections occurring in the New York City region, according to a New York Times report. Cable news networks, local television stations, and the CDC website carry Cuomo's press updates every morning.
After providing facts, numbers, and updates on everything from stay-at-home orders to hospital bed capacity, Cuomo concludes his press conferences with a slide titled "Personal Advice." This is where the 62-year-old offers a mini-motivational speech based on his decades of public service and his experience managing government agencies through 9/11 and the 2009 financial collapse.
Cuomo's public-speaking skills are worth studying. Here's what he does so well--and why you might want to look to him as a guide for your own behavior in this crisis (or take notes for a future crisis you might face in your business career).
Appeal to a common purpose.
On March 22, Cuomo was angry after seeing large groups of people congregating in New York City parks and not following social-distancing instructions.
"This is just a mistake," he said emphatically. "It's insensitive. It's arrogant. It's self-destructive. It's disrespectful to other people. It has to stop now. This is not a joke and I am not kidding."
He could have ended there, but Cuomo knows that orders will only go so far. Effective leaders convince people to want to take action--and that requires appealing to a common purpose.
"Dealing with hardship actually makes you stronger," Cuomo began. He then launched into a speech that reminded his target audience--the people he was urging to stay home--that life is going to knock them down at some point. This is one of those times.
Cuomo reframed the challenge as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get better, stronger, and more resilient to setbacks--all good life skills.
"America is America because we overcome adversity and challenges...and that is what's going to make this generation great," he concluded.
In the new book The Catalyst, Wharton professor Jonah Berger cites studies showing that orders and warnings often backfire. In some cases, telling people not to do something made them want to do it even more. The secret is asking people to look out--not for themselves--but for the group. We are hardwired for social connectedness. We have a strong internal desire to protect "the tribe" at all costs.
When you're responding to a crisis, avoid the pronoun "I" as much as possible, replacing it with the plural pronoun "we." And make sure your directives clearly communicate the benefit individual actions will have on the team.
Bring out the best in people.
On March 21, Cuomo framed the crisis as a challenge for people to demonstrate their "better selves" and to show humanity, compassion, and kindness to one another. He reminded them that, after 9/11, the city responded by being "the most supportive, courageous community that you have ever seen."
Cuomo often closes his updates with a list of reasons he's proud to be a New Yorker. On Wednesday, he closed with his most emotional update to date: "Our closeness and connection and humanity is our greatest strength.... I can see how New Yorkers are responding and treating one another...that is undefeatable."
People won't follow you simply because you tell them to. But if you praise them and recognize their strengths, they are more likely to follow your lead.
If you're in a leadership position today, know that your team members want the facts and emotional encouragement. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that a good leader inspires confidence in the leader, and a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves. Be a great leader.