[September 25, 2019] The U.S. presidential campaign by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is over.1 Like so many leaders of World War I variety, the NYC mayor made little effort to be present in the Big Apple when he was needed most. Senior leadership is very difficult because the greatest challenge is being able to communicate to as many people as possible; preferably people see you in person. Mayor Bill de Blasio is the epitome of what I call the absent leader.
Leadership means being present; it’s about knowing when to be at a critical point and at a particular time to ensure your presence will have the benefit. This skill is more art than science. A real leader can read the “tea leaves,” so to speak, to demonstrate that you are in charge and are not fearful, unknowing, or uncaring about what is happening.
Leaders are absent for a variety of reasons. Rarely can a senior leader be around everyone. When their authority stretches across vast geographic regions or extremely large numbers of employees or due to short-term commitments, the idea a leader can be everywhere is unrealistic. What the best leader does is to place themselves in a position that the majority of people can see and hear. The idea is effective communication of important messages and showing that the leader cares.
I use the example of NYC mayor Bill de Blasio today because he is a current example of a senior leader who has failed to show that he cares about people who elected him as mayor. Running for the presidency of the United States is extraordinarily complex and, of course, time-consuming. To do so is beyond my field of experience but de Blasio should have made an occasional appearance in the City via electronic means. He did not do so.
The citizens of New York City – a tough group, I will admit – were quick to pick up on the idea that de Blasio didn’t care about them because being President was more important. This is bad and any good leader would quickly act to quash such an idea. It should have been a high priority. When a political leader runs for another office, the old territory should not be abandoned.
The perception of not caring, fear, or ignorance is easily tagged as a trait, and one no leader can carry this without failure. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio abandoned his voters and unintentionally failed them. He should have known better.
- For those who have followed the more than 20 candidates, this will come as no surprise and may even be a mental relief to some.