Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Bloomberg's Verbal Gaffes Show Biz Skills Don't Always Translate

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's no stranger to verbal gaffes; he frequently finds himself in situations that reflect his experience as a business leader has translated into a different philosophy than a typical politician. While that can sometimes produce refreshing candor that voters will appreciate, it seems to make him unaware of how to properly respond in a crisis.

Most reading national papers or watching major news networks are probably aware that the New York metro area was hit with a blizzard Sunday night that left the area struggling to deal with up to two feet of snow. While most of the suburbs have recovered, a microscope has been trained on New York, as airport delays and transportation issues took a toll on visitors and residents alike.

Bloomberg caught the ire of city residents when he basically chastised them for complaining that their streets hadn't been cleared -- saying that the world wasn't coming to an end. That led many to seize on the fact that, as an independently wealthy person, he was incapable of showing empathy in connection with the struggle of average city residents.

On several occasions, Bloomberg has essentially called city residents "whiners" for voicing opinions that differ with City Hall's policy. While his characterization certainly holds water in some instances, when it comes to situations that are having a big impact on people, he often shows a striking lack of empathy.

It's this lack of empathy that I think most who think successful business leaders make great politicians don't always see in advance. We often complain about career politicians, but in a sense, we get to better see what we'll be getting because much of their professional life is played out in the media. Contrast that with someone like Bloomberg, who as a leader of a private company before assuming the mayor's office in New York, had to answer to no one and who didn't have to disclose any information about his business or personal life to anyone else.

This kind of "like or leave it" mentality can make it difficult to get things done in politics, as most don't have city councils or other supervisory bodies that are "rubber stamps." Also, this attitude can quickly come across as abrasive and make voters cool on you relatively quickly. Bloomberg's isolated from this concern, as he's in his last term, but verbal gaffes can be costly for politicians.

New York is a resilient city, not so much because of the leadership of its politicians, but because residents must quickly acclamate to a life that often means putting up with a variety of temporary struggles, such as power outages, building issues, etc. But like any group of people, sometimes they reach a point that makes them feel they've had enough. They're definitely in that spot this week, which has Bloomberg feeling the heat.

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