Friday’s snow presented a crucial first test of the days-old de Blasio administration’s ability to run New York. Crucially, though, de Blasio used the storm as an opportunity to introduce his leadership style to the city, and his handling of the storm contains useful lessons in leadership communications: especially for those who are new on the job.
What de Blasio understands is that every gesture, no matter how small, makes a statement about leadership priorities.
In an early morning encounter with the media in front of his Brooklyn row house, de Blasio bantered with the press, offering advice about lifting with the knees. “Get low. Scrape a little,” instructed de Blasio, “You rise up with your knees—that’s the crucial point.” With this bit of hoary winter wisdom De Blasio was not just aiming to keep constituents away from the chiropractor. He was making a statement about his leadership style—and political priorities—at a crucial moment in his days-old administration.
The content of what de Blasio said was for the most part trivial. After all, who needs shoveling tips? The theatrics of the moment, however, were everything.
Shoveling snow was a gesture that established a personal style and set a political tone, showing de Blasio as a regular guy who puts his back—or rather his knees—into his political rhetoric. But it was also a chance to establish rapport with New Yorkers and the press.
The mayor took, literally, an unbuttoned tone with reporters when he undid his coat in response to a question about how many layers of clothing he was wearing on a bitterly cold morning. He also let reporters into his home life a little, showing himself as a father. He mentioned that his son Dante lobbied him for the day off from school—if he didn’t, de Blasio joked, “there’d be something wrong with him.”
This intimate tone established rapport with the press, which de Blasio handled masterfully. He understood that reporters need copy, especially on a day when weather is the main story. Once the snow has fallen and streets are clear, it’s a slow news day, especially if municipal functions have been performed without a hitch. (Few things are as boring as municipal competence.) On a day when people were talking about the weather, he gave them a much-desired conversation topic: himself.
In all, de Blasio converted the storm into a chance to build goodwill for his administration and introduce himself as a media presence on a day, early in his administration, when everyone had an eye on him. By understanding that as a leader he’s always on, de Blasio showed that he had shovel-ready—pun intended—strategies for introducing his new, common-touch leadership style to New York.