How New York’s Andrew Cuomo Became “America’s Governor” During the Pandemic

By Susie Adams

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A Playbook on Leadership Communications

Why do most of the nation’s news channels carry his daily press briefing live every day? The state of New York, particularly New York City, is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak. But there is more. Governor Andrew Cuomo embodies the leadership communications style that our country is hungry for. And he brings it in every press briefing and tv interview. He uses the tried and true techniques of great speakers to inform and inspire, and he breaks some rules with aplomb. Let’s explore:

He is direct.

“Well, I want it to be over tomorrow. I get it. I want it to be over tomorrow. I want it to be over tomorrow more than you want it over tomorrow. But that’s not reality, so let’s calibrate our expectations.”

He is hopeful.

When talking about the challenge of testing and contact tracing in his April 14 briefing, he said:

“50 years ago, this week, Apollo 13 gets damaged 220,000 miles from earth. Somehow, they figure out how to get a spaceship back 220,000 miles 50 years ago. That’s America. Okay, figure out how to do testing. Figure out how to use technology to do tracing.

That’s what we have to work on, and we have to do that together. We have to do as a government what our people have done, right? Sometimes political leaders can learn best from following people who are normally ahead of the politicians. Look at how people have been selfless and put their own agenda aside for the common good. Can’t their leaders be as smart as they are? The answer has to be yes.”

He is honest.

He talks about cabin fever and his dog, Captain. (Spoiler Alert – They are getting on each other’s nerves.)

He uses PowerPoint effectively (words I never thought I would write).

This is apparently a norm he has had since he was a Cabinet secretary under President Clinton. He presents with PowerPoint, but he does it masterfully, in a geeky sort of way. The slides generally prompt him to speak extemporaneously about the few words on the screen, but he also uses them to show data – when you talk about flattening the curve, it helps to see the curve.

When he was warning young people, who were ignoring social distancing requirements, the slide bullet read “You are wrong.”

When he is using the analogy that a “chain is only as strong as its weakest link” to show the interrelationship between hospital beds, medical staff and supplies, the graphic makes that point:

And when talking about Personal Protective Equipment donations:

He employs the triple threat of great communicators – story, quote, analogy – Boom!

Story –

When talking to young people about the importance of physical distancing he brought his daughter, Michaela to the press conference and talked about advice he had always given his daughters:

Governor Cuomo: “But, I did say to all three of them, from as soon as they could crawl, I used the one line. What is the one line I used to say?”

Michaela Kennedy Cuomo: “Risk, reward.”

Governor Cuomo: “Risk, reward. Risk, reward. Just pose the question. I couldn’t offer an answer because whatever answer I would offer they would do the other. Risk, reward. It makes no sense to go expose yourself to these conditions and expose other people. Expose other people.

Michaela, was graduating this year and her school closed to online courses. So, she’s not going to have the graduation…. But she was deprived of the last year and the last few months of college which I am sure were very intense study period and that’s what she’s deprived of that intense study period of those last few weeks.

I remember those last few weeks, a lot of studying. But, that’s a shift in life. But she was going to take a vacation on spring break and go with friends and take a trip and risk, reward. Luckily, she made the right decision and I’m proud of her for that. No prompting from me, besides the question: risk, reward.”

Quotes –

When talking about “where we are” in our response, he quotes Winston Churchill. “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

When talking about what went wrong, he quotes George Santayana by saying, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Then adds, “I don’t want to repeat what we just repeated, what we just went through over this past month.”

Analogy –

Here he talks about the need to mandate the state’s “PAUSE.”

“I said from day one, this is science and math. Watch the trajectory – you have the density control valve. If the numbers start to go up, tighten the valve. If the number doesn’t slow down, tighten the valve more. If the number doesn’t go down, close the valve. We’re closing the valve.”

He is human.

He named the sheltering provisions designed to protect seniors and vulnerable populations Matilda’s Law after his mom. He talks with deep affection and some exasperation about his three daughters. When announcing Matilda’s Law:

“I call it Matilda’s Law. My mother’s name is Matilda. Everybody’s mother, father, sister, friend in a vulnerable population – this is about protecting them. Protecting them. What you do, what you do highly, highly effects their health and well-being. The instinct to love – I want to be with them. I want my kids. Mom wants to see the kids. Be smart. My mother and your mother.”

He is funny.

And he is never funnier than when he spars with his brother, Chris, on the junior Cuomo’s show, Cuomo Live. Brotherly love at it’s best. And the Saturday Night Fever outfit is a little embarrassing.

He says, “Thank you.”

On Monday, April 12 he returned 35 ventilators to a nursing home in Upstate New York. And like all good guests, he brought food, cookies baked by his daughters.

“And that a nursing home would come forward, unsolicited, gratuitously, and say we want to lend 35 ventilators in case our neighbors downstate need them. What an incredibly beautiful, generous gesture. I want to say thank you on behalf of all of the people of the state. The family of New York we talk about. We talk about that we’re a family, upstate, downstate, we’re all one family. That family is there to support one another and I want to say thank you on their behalf.

But I also want to say thank you, personally. I also want to say thank you on a personal level because this hasn’t been easy for anyone, but I want the team here and the people at Pathways to know that they gave me an inspiration and they gave me energy and they gave me resolve. Their gesture was so beautiful and so kind and so symbolic of everything we want to be at our best. Everything we aspire to be. Everything we’re all trying to be. Listen to our better angels.

Be better, be more generous, more gracious, more loving. Get to that level. That’s what Pathways did, and they did it for me and I wanted to say thank you very much. Thank you and God bless you.”

He inspires hope.

“And we’re going to get through it because we are New York, and because we’ve dealt with a lot of things, and because we are smart. You have to be smart to make it in New York. And we are resourceful, and we are showing how resourceful we are. And because we are united, and when you are united, there is nothing you can’t do. And because we are New York tough. We are tough. You have to be tough. This place makes you tough. But it makes you tough in a good way. We’re going to make it because I love New York, and I love New York because New York loves you.

If we can help you channel your internal Cuomo, let us know at info@interactstudio.com.