Leadership at 'Ground Zero'
by Anne Riches

What a difference a day makes. The primary election for the new Mayor of New York City was already underway on September 11 but was postponed after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre.

Incumbent Mayor Rudolph Giuliani was coming to the end of his second, and last possible, term as Mayor of New York City. He was a man who was physically weakened from prostrate cancer. He was also politically battered, not only because of his extra-marital affair and his divorce. He had withdrawn from the US Senate race and from standing against Hillary Rodham Clinton to represent New York City, an election Clinton subsequently won.

Is this the same man who is now being called 'Rudy the Rock'? Is this the same man for whom people want the laws changed so that he can stay on for another term? What has Giuliani done such that on September 25, when the re-scheduled primary was held, a mere 15% of New Yorkers turned out to vote and many of those wrote in Giuliani's name on the ballot paper.

The answer is leadership. That almost impossible to define concept. Yet it remains true that you know it when you see it and you know when it's not there. Even more difficult than defining it is identifying what makes a leader although thousands of books and articles have attempted to.

Let's look at some of the characteristics that Giuliani has shown.

Visibility

It seems that in the first few weeks after September 11, Giuliani was everywhere in New York City. From his constant presence at Ground Zero, his tireless attendance at funerals and memorial services, his almost daily briefing of the press, his appearance at the United Nations to urge support for the implementation of an anti-terrorism resolution, the Mayor was everywhere.

Contrast that to the demise of Ansett. Where was Gary Toomey? Where was Air New Zealand and Ansett management? If you talked to Ansett staff at that time, they told you that they were learning about their own disaster on TV, radio and in the press.

Strong and compelling leadership demands our leaders to be visible in times of crisis as well as the good times. Toomey was very visible during the upbeat "Absolutely' marketing campaign - but wasn't there something about "Absolutely committed to you?" Tell that to the staff who are now trying to get a job and to the travelling public who were so shabbily treated.

Congruency

Which leads us to another element of leadership - congruency, i.e. actions consistent with words. Toomey failed that test absolutely. Giuliani on the other hand is modelling the way.

For example: in the first week of October the Mayor called on New Yorkers to return to business as usual just as he had forced himself to do. This call was made for a number of reasons including support for the personal healing process as well as the City's, which was financially bleeding.

This call coincided with the premiere of the new season of Saturday Night Live. Many of you will have seen this television show. It is incredibly irreverent and usually rude and politically incorrect in its humour - New Yorkers love it. Giuliani appeared on the premiere night saying it was one of New York City's great institutions and that was why it was important for the show to go on.

The Executive Producer Lorne Michaels thanked Rudy for all his hard work but worried that it might be too early for the country to start laughing again. Michaels said; "Can we be funny?" With perfect timing Giuliani replied: "Why start now?" - the funniest line of the night!

Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

One of the most obvious leadership qualities that Giuliani has displayed is his emotional intelligence. People interviewed in the street said: he just seemed to understand how we were feeling emotionally. He had the right emotional response. He was at the right level. He used the right tone. His face showed his own emotional anguish at what had happened to the City and yet David Letterman described him as "The personification of courage."

According to the Washington Times, Giuliani is emerging as a father figure, a corporate executive, an avenging angel and, most of all, a man sensitive to the agony of those around him. Robert Jervis, a political science professor at Columbia University and a self-described Giuliani-hater said: "This is what we expect of really good leaders and rarely get ... He is steady and calming."

In other words, he showed empathy, a key EQ competency. Even as he said that any hope of finding survivors was gone, he closed that door 'gently' immediately offering the City's assistance to families in completing the necessary paperwork to have their loved ones declared dead. He announced that there would be a beautiful, inspirational and fitting memorial on the site of the WTC, which for many people will be their burial site.

Where was empathy from the leaders of Ansett, One-Tel, HIH during their spectacular collapses?

Communication

"In the days since this attack, we have met the worst of humanity with the best of humanity."

In his speech at Yankee Stadium on September 23, Giuliani used simple and clear language, invoked powerful comparisons, drew inspirational images from history, acknowledged the pain and described the future. His words united New Yorkers as they go forward to rebuild New York City.

This kind of communication is also the hallmark of a true leader. Think Mandela, think Martin Luther King, think Churchill. Simple, compelling, moving, galvanising language.

Whatever the future holds for Rudolph Giuliani, he has shown observers of 'leadership' one clear thing - leadership can emerge from those who you least expect it. All we can hope is that we never again have to live through the experience of September 11 to see such leadership appear.


About Anne Riches
BA(Hons); LLM (Hons); DIP.JUR. FAICD, FAIM, FAITD, APS
Anne Riches is the principal consultant and managing director of The Riches Group Pty Ltd, a boutique consultancy specializing in planning and facilitating sustainable, organizational change. The Riches Group also provides effective facilitation of strategic planning and other key meetings, development of leadership and managerial capabilities and advice on people based strategies. Anne is also in-demand as a dynamic and motivating presenter of leadership and change management programs for a large number of corporate and public sector clients. Anne is an Accredited Professional Speaker with the National Speakers Association of Australia. In addition to her law degrees, Anne is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Australian Institute of Training and Development. She sits on two Boards and is both an examiner and member of the National Education Committee of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. Anne has been awarded the Women and Management Achievement Award and was a 1997 Telstra Business Woman of the Year finalist. Visit The Riches Group website at http://www.anneriches.com.au/ and contact Anne via e-mail: anne@anneriches.com.au .

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Copyright 2001 by Anne Riches. All rights reserved.

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