Photo courtesy of Diana Robinson / Flickr

Reevaluating What it Means to be a 'Strong' Leader

In light of the recent allegations about Governor Andrew Cuomo, I couldn’t help but wonder how no one saw this type of alleged abuse coming. Always seen as a demanding and aggressive politician, Cuomo was applauded for his intimidating and strong demeanor. However, people overlooked this aggression because he still achieved his goals willfully but with charm. This continued throughout the stern lockdown period in the spring of 2020, as Cuomo became a spokesperson for COVID guidelines due to New York City’s centrality in the rising cases. 

Cuomo was like the strict dad no one could resist listening to, which put him on the national stage while former President Trump was unclear on what Americans should or, more importantly, shouldn’t do. Cuomo demanded that Americans stay home, insisted on mask use, and urged that the situation be treated with the utmost importance. In a sense, the way Cuomo operated as a politician beforehand was something that Americans needed during a time of so much uncertainty. When people lost jobs and were scared about what was happening, Cuomo served as a source of strength and resiliency. 

At a certain point, Cuomo was perceived among people in my life as more credible than the president. Being from outside of New York, my neighbors and friends trusted Cuomo’s word more than Trump’s. The daily briefing was something people across the country could rely on and look forward to as Cuomo would give the hard truth and a reminder of how important it was to take the situation at hand seriously. 

More than that, Cuomo provided a source of entertainment during the daily briefings as well. He jokingly talked about quarantining with his daughter’s boyfriend, something many people in his audience related to. He noted getting stir crazy, which people resonated with even more. I remember hearing neighbors remarking that he would make a great friend, he would make a great dinner guest, he would make a great president. No one questioned his leadership style when he was handling things so well. 

So when the negative side of his leadership style came to light, I wondered how people would react. Overwhelmingly, I found that anyone I spoke to about the topic wasn’t shocked at all to hear that he would make unprofessional and offensive comments, and acted in ways that were inappropriate and unwanted by the women who experienced them.

Now I wonder – is this a step towards people finally understanding that the creepy but demanding businessman or politician may actually just be a bully? Should we reevaluate what it means to be a “strong” leader? 

With accountability on the rise, I think it’s important to realize that there are many sides to people. While Cuomo’s assertiveness was appropriate for the COVID situation, the same cannot be said for the way he operates with respect to other politicians or aides on his team. While I too used to be a fan of his after watching him on television every day, I now realize that is the expectation Americans had for politicians - an attractive and charming leader who sternly makes his point. Now, that character is not enough.  We need people who act with the same integrity off-camera as they do on-camera. 

I now think about all the leaders who are looked back upon lovingly – did everyone have a dark side but there were no outlets to expose them? Though we can’t change the past, I wonder if former politicians would have the same reputation if their personal actions were a factor in their public persona. Regardless, this alarming story of Cuomo – who everyone I know loved so dearly this time last year – should serve as a reminder that no one is too powerful to be held responsible for their actions.