Balancing 2 Powerful Leadership Communication Traits: A Role Model

Ed Koch served three terms as mayor of New York City in the late 1970s through the 1980s.220px-Ed_Koch_95th_congress

He was re-elected to his second term in 1981 with 75% of the vote.

Amazingly, he was endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican parties.

He won 78% of the vote in being elected to his third term.

How does a leader get the support of that high a percentage of those he leads?

With the right communication style that balances two paradoxical traits.

Directness and candor balanced with humility.

It may be the best leadership communication style.

Koch is quoted as having said, “I don’t get ulcers, I give them,” in discussing his direct/candid communication style.

Koch felt that by speaking his mind he wouldn’t hold things in that would cause him stress and lead to ulcers.

When it came to humility, he was always looking for feedback and being held accountable by his constituents.

Before being elected mayor, Koch coined the phrase “How am I doing?”

While serving in Congress Koch would often go to subway stations to hand out political literature.

Initially, people would just walk by, ignoring him.

Then, he started asking, “How am I doing?”

Koch’s humility as a leader also came across in his expectations for his constituents.

These two particularly telling Koch quotes show his humility:

“If you don’t like the president, it costs $90 to go to Washington to picket, if you don’t like the governor it costs $60 to fly to Albany to picket, if you don’t like me it costs 90 cents (the cost of a subway token in the early 80s).”


“If you agree with me on nine out of 12 issues, vote for me. If you agree with me on 12 out of 12 issues, see a psychiatrist.”

Koch was a master at balancing direct/candid communication with humility!

Are you?

In last week’s blog article I promised a simple strategy for gleaning feedback.

The simple strategy is to model Mayor Koch.

Just go to your direct reports and simply ask, “how am I doing?

Give it a try and leave a comment to let us know how it goes.

Tell me what you think and continue the conversation.

’til next time Communicate With Power!

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8 thoughts on “Balancing 2 Powerful Leadership Communication Traits: A Role Model

  1. Kristine says:

    Great article about leadership in the political arena. Naheed Nenshi, the current mayor of Calgary, Alberta, Canada is a good example of the comments regarding direct communication and humility in this blog, worth looking up and learning more about him if you are interested in strong political leadership today.

  2. Skip Weisman says:

    Thank you for your comments and suggestion. I will check out Mr. Nenshi. I remember during my time there hearing some things about him and also the big political change in the province of Alberta, too. I try not to comment on political leaders still in office as it is just too inflammatory and comes with out a perspective of time necessary to truly reflect on the pros and cons of a political leaders’ impact. Thanks, again and please come back and comment in the future. Thanks for reading.

  3. Kristine says:

    Yes, good point to leave commentary be until they are out of office and time has passed for their performance and results to sink in. Lots of change here in Canada of late, interesting times.

  4. Dov Gordon says:

    Excellent post, once again. (That’s how you’re doing.)

    I grew up in NY during the Koch years, but I hadn’t realized he’d been that popular.

    Is there a Koch bio that you recommend?

  5. Skip Weisman says:

    Thanks, Dov, glad to have you join the conversation here. Funny, I haven’t read any Ed Koch bio’s. I just have a vivid memory of his “how am I doing?” thing and did some online research and found the WSJ article from when he passed away a couple of years ago. We should probably look up a biography of him and read it.

  6. Thomas Diersch says:

    Great article.
    I like the Koch approach and it is something that I’d like to model. I meet with my staff on a regular basis in 1:1 and this is a question I’m going to add to my list.

  7. Skip Weisman says:

    Thanks for being inspired to try the Koch strategy and for being inspired to stopping by here and leaving a comment.
    One thing to be aware of, which I will write about next time, is that it is somewhat different for a politician in asking for feedback because typically they work for the constituents. In a business setting you may be asking your subordinates to give feedback to their boss. Different dynamic. If the culture and environment is not previously set up for it, you may not get what you’re looking for. So, be sure to preface the question with the fact you want the truth and there will be no negative consequences of anyone who speaks up. You are looking for this feedback to truly “get better” as their leader and want to know what you can do.

    Next blog article I’ll write some specific questions we should be asking to foster real ideas to be offered.
    Thanks, again for contributing here.

  8. A. K. M. Suzaur Rahman says:

    The issue is today leaders go to media, religious guru, lobby group, corporates for funding more and if still time left, lets face the ordinary people boys!!
    But leadership one and only objective is to serve the people.
    Best of wishes SKIP ????

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