Even in my whirlwind holiday state of mind the last few weeks, I saw a big picture around the concept of leadership emerging from some high-profile figures in the news. Ultimately it boiled down to the simplest of messages to bring into 2011 and beyond – take a vacation, get some sleep and don’t be a hypocrite.
Common sense, right? Take a look.
During a morning newscast after the blizzard hit the Northeast last week, I listened as a young woman who was trapped in her car with her grandmother for nine hours and counting on the approach to the George Washington Bridge talked about how she came to be in that situation.
As it turns out, they were supposed to be on a flight out of Newark Liberty International Airport, but when all flights were cancelled due to the storm, they opted to rent a car. You can read those words again, but I assure you they won’t be any less astounding. Because, of course, the logical thing to do when the Eastern Seaboard is paralyzed by three feet of snow and blinding wind is to get yourself behind the wheel of a car. Bonus points if that state – New Jersey – happens to be in an official state of emergency.
I am a New Jersey resident who is not all that politically aligned with Gov. Chris Christie, but I would like to know what would have been different if he had been present in our borders as opposed to vacationing in Florida with his family. Nothing, that’s what. There would still have been folks ignoring the edict to stay off the roads. My parents’ retirement community near the Jersey Shore would still not have been plowed for four days. Greedy retailers would have still required workers to report in for their shift. That storm was a formidable force of nature no matter how you slice it.
So in the events that have transpired since, this is what I learned about leadership from Gov. Christie – take vacation! I’m not being flip or sarcastic here. There is nothing more annoying in a leader at any level than one who doesn’t prioritize time off. Have you ever worked for someone who is so Type A and thinks they’re so indispensible that they never, ever take a break? It’s an impossible standard.
Here we saw the flip side at work. A confident leader is one who has systems in place, can comfortably delegate and isn’t so focused on ego that he needs to swoop in and be the face that saves the day. The governor couldn’t have saved anything with his presence. Instead, he delivered on a promise to his family.
Over the course of the same week, I was delighted to see a clip of Arianna Huffington’s talk for TEDWomen and her simple (or not, depending on your personality) suggestion to improve your life.
“My big idea is a very, very small idea that can unlock billions of big ideas that are at the moment dormant inside us,” she said.
Guess what? The idea is sleep, and when the word came out of Huffington’s mouth it drew applause and laughter from the audience. She talked of how it’s so often worn as a badge of honor to get little sleep, to be too busy. She went on to tell a story of a man who had recently bragged at dinner with her that he had had four hours of sleep and all she could think was that if he’d had five it might have been a more interesting dinner.
“I urge you to shut your eyes and discover the great ideas that lie inside us,” she said.
That brings me to Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who often gets razzed on Twitter because of his non-stop, full-throttle devotion to his job. He is unquestionably a workaholic with a passionate, hands-on style, but in a bold move he has put his health goals on display so as to be practicing what he’s preaching in his role as Honorary Co-Vice Chair of the Partnership for a Healthier America. According to a piece titled Hypocrisy that he wrote for The Huffington Post, it is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “larger national campaign against obesity” called Let’s Move!
“As I sat with the First Lady exhorting Newark school children to eat healthy foods, exercise more, and have fun while doing it -- my stomach was still trying to digest the French fries and cookie dough from the night before, and I hadn't exercised for more days than I could remember,” Booker writes.
This prompted the mayor to go public, complete with numbers, and invite people to gauge his health progress this year on Facebook and Twitter.
“Oh, and this isn’t about dieting; it is about lifestyle,” he writes. “It isn’t about getting skinny; it is about getting healthy. It isn’t about denial; it is about living a more abundant life.”
Love it. In fact, I wrote a Game Plan column last week pretty much saying the same thing. Just one suggestion, Mr. Mayor -- If your focus is truly on setting an example by being your healthiest self, make it about the long haul and not a quick fix. Pledging to lose a set amount of weight in a set amount of time feels temporary compared to vowing to take better care of yourself for the rest of your life.
Leadership class dismissed.