(This post originally appeared on Entrepreneur)
Do you run or manage a business that has employees? Then you should watch New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conference.
Let’s not get political. Let’s not talk left or right, Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative. Let’s not get into the personalities, the aspirations, the agenda. Let’s just focus on why the CEO of New York State is so effective at communicating. Where he stands on minimum wage isn’t important right now. How he’s handling the current pandemic that’s turned his state into a world hotspot is.
I’ve been watching his press conferences on YouTube every day, usually in the early evening after work. I look forward to them. I’m not a New Yorker. I’m a business owner, and I like to see how effective leaders communicate their leadership effectively. Cuomo does that in five ways.
1. He begins with, and then consistently refers to, objective data
Someday (probably soon), we (and he) will argue the accuracy of that data. But it’s all he’s got, and it’s prepared by big firms and smart people to help him make decisions. Successful leaders use data to help them make — and justify — their decisions. Cuomo focuses on the number of infections, hospital admissions, ICU admissions, hospital discharges and deaths. It’s not pretty, but truthful data never is. He’s not afraid to share it. We shouldn’t be, either.
2. He simplifies complex problems
I’ve learned that large problems are solved by breaking them into smaller problems and then attacking them. Cuomo’s large problem is avoiding a collapse of his healthcare system. The smaller problems that make up the large problem is providing enough beds, staff and supplies. He’s delegated those three smaller problems to teams to fix, and then he reports on progress, using data (see above) to the public every day. Anyone who watches his daily press conferences can get their arms around the challenges he faces, because he makes those challenges simple to understand. Good leaders do the same for their teams.
3. He repeats himself
Ask any advertising executive, and they’ll tell you that a typical consumer needs to see an ad something like seven to 10 times before they remember it. Cuomo knows this. That’s why every press conference is organized the same, and it’s why he repeats himself on a daily basis. Just watch him for a few days, and you’ll be familiar with words like and “apex,” “plateau” and “ventilators, ventilators, ventilators!” He’ll remind us about social distancing and that “Most people will get sick. Most people will get sick and stay home and have some symptoms. That’s 80 percent. Twenty percent will get sick, need hospitalization, they’ll feel better and they’ll leave.” He does this almost every time, repeating words. Repetition is essential in any good communication.
4. When he gives opinions, he says so
During almost every press conference, Cuomo gives his opinion, but he saves it for a specific section and precedes his comments with a statement along with an accompanying PowerPoint slide that says “personal opinion.” He does this because he knows that besides facts and policy, people want to know where their leaders stand on an issue, whether they agree or not. Good leaders aren’t afraid to stick their neck out and say so. But there’s a right time and place, so Cuomo holds back and waits for that time in the news conference. By the way, his opinion never criticizes other people. It’s just his take on the situation and what needs to happen.
5. He makes it personal…and inspirational
Anyone who watches his press conferences now knows about “Matilda’s Law,” a protective order for people over 70 in the state of New York in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Matilda is his mom. He frequently mentions his family, his pets, his brother (who himself was infected with the coronavirus) and his deceased father. He likes to draw parallels to history, include quotes from other famous leaders like FDR and remind New Yorkers (his primary audience) just how great they are. He does this in a very honest and relatable manner. It connects him to his audience and makes him seem more genuine, and it’s also the reason why my wife threatens to divorce me and marry him! Regardless, being personal and inspiring is important for a leader trying to move his followers towards an objective.
We’ll have lots of memories about these trying times, but one of my biggest will be sitting down with my wife, every day, to watch Andrew Cuomo’s press conferences. I don’t just do it to get news about the pandemic. I do it to learn how to be a better communicator and leader.