Thursday, February 22, 2007

Giuliani - Balancing heroism with management and other personal skills

Jacob Weisberg, the editor of the US online magazine Slate, generally provides compelling reading in his weekly column every Thursday in the Financial Times.

Weisberg was living in New York through September 11 in New York City, and he says that he will always be grateful to Rudy Giuliani. The mayor’s quick instincts and judgment that day prevented panic. His calm authority got the city through the worst hours in its history and set it on the path to recovery. This was not a given. President George W. Bush’s initial public response to the attacks was shaky, late in coming and far from reassuring.

However, Weisberg writes that the presidential bid Giuliani announced last week is staked on more than that Churchillian moment. It is also based on the notion that he is an effective manager who tamed an out-of-control metropolis and ran it efficiently.

Weisberg says that Giuliani was a frustrated and not very popular mayor on September 10 2001. Today, most New Yorkers do regard him as a hero – but also as a self-sabotaging, thin-skinned bully.

Weisberg writes that the leadership/management dichotomy runs through Giuliani’s two terms. When he took office in 1994, New York had become ungovernable and was increasingly unliveable. A bloated public sector soaked up more and more resources to deliver less and less. Like former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher, Giuliani arrived bearing a message of “enough!”. With a rare relish for combat, he took on a long list of civic tormenters, including municipal labour leaders, racial demagogues and uncompromising civil libertarians.

While acknowledging, the change brought to New York's urban life, Weisberg says that Giuliani’s personal limitations became increasingly evident. Instead of taking on new challenges after his re-election in 1997, he dedicated his second term to vanquishing his remaining enemies. Fran Reiter, who served as a deputy mayor under Giuliani, describes him as depressed and directionless after being sworn in for the second time. “He can get mired in the petty stuff,” Reiter says. “He doesn’t suffer political opponents well and there are times when he doesn’t compromise well.”

In his second term, Giuliani showed himself to be a classic micro-manager, unable to delegate and unwilling to share the spotlight. He had already driven out William Bratton, his triumphant chief of police, in a battle over credit. Bratton’s fate was sealed when he appeared on the cover of Time. Nor could Giuliani abide ridicule. He went to court to try to stop New York Magazine from advertising itself on the sides of buses as “possibly the only good thing in New York Rudy hasn’t taken credit for”.

Weisberg says that Giuliani’s weaknesses as a manager have become more evident in the light of his successor. Michael Bloomberg has neither a whim of steel nor a populist bone in his body. Arriving in 2002 at a City Hall that had no e-mail system and no computerised payroll, he quietly cleaned up a mess of no-bid contracts without faulting his predecessor. He and Ray Kelly, his police commissioner, have made continued gains against crime without becoming obsessed with press clippings. Above all, Bloomberg has taken on the big problems Giuliani never faced.

Everyone has their strengths and their weaknesses, including politicians. Personal quirks are part of leadership in every area of life.

Margaret Thatcher took on some key vested interests in Britain and traditionalists in her own Conservative Party but she branded the Party as being insensitive to the parts of society that could not be foot soldiers of her slash and burn economics. The current leader David Cameron, is trying hard to bury that image.

Giuliani may be a classic micro-manager but wouldn't that have been a virtue in the White House in 2003 when pertinent questions about a post-invasion Iraq should have been asked? Then again, it wasn't a great virtue to have, during the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.

Even one of the great presidents of the 20th century Franklin D. Roosevelt, was also prone to overreach himself as in 1937, within months of a landslide election and with his own Democratic Party controlling Congress, his plan to "pack" the Supreme Court was rejected in a 70-20 vote.

Despite, his negatives, Giuliani was in a are situation for a leader. He was truly tested by fire and triumphed.