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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