8 leadership lessons from Andrew Cuomo and how those apply to your work

Sivan Hermon
9 min readJun 2, 2020


This article was written before Cuomo was accused of sexual harassment by multiple women. Agnostic of his actions on that front, I find the observations and leadership lessons below valuable.

I have to admit: before the start of this latest pandemic, I had no clue who the governor of New York State was, nor did I pay attention to his leadership or actions. You see, I don’t follow the news, or politics for that matter. Yeah, I’m one of those people. But soon after COVID-19 started, as a New York City resident, I couldn’t avoid the Cuomo exposure any more. And once I did, I was hooked and fell in love.

No, not like that, I’m not in love with Andrew, I’m in love with his leadership style. As a wanna-be-good-leader myself, leading a large team in a very large software company, it is quite amazing and rare to see so many important leadership attributes demonstrated in a single person. When I watch him, I listen twice, once for the information (as a resident) and once for learning his principles of great leadership.

I’m not saying Cuomo is perfect, I don’t know enough. I’m just saying I noticed some kick-ass leadership attributes, and I’d like to share those with you:

Be Consistent and Present

First and foremost, Cuomo is a constant and a present leader. For over 90 days, since COVID had hit New York, every day, on the dot, like a Swiss clock, Cuomo engages with the public via daily news conferences.

I mentioned this before, I don’t read the paper nor do I watch the news, I do, however, watch Cuomo videos almost every day. Why? That’s my rock, that’s my source of information, that’s how I know what happened, why it happened (as he always explains the logic and reasoning behind decisions and actions) and what will happen next, and what I, as a single citizen, can do to affect the outcomes.

In addition to his dedication to an open dialogue with the public, he gives a sense of order and certainty for listeners by consistently addressing the same topics via a repeat format. He makes sure to say what day it is, how long it has been, and shares data and facts. While at times, I find myself saying “c’mon, again? We get it, let’s move on” the benefit is clear. When the entire world faces so much uncertainty, that’s huge.

⇒ How you can apply this as a leader

Over the past 20 years, I’ve noticed repeated appreciation for leaders’ presence and structure. In the workforce, we talk so much about empowerment, autonomy and independence that many of us run the risk of overdoing it and become negligent. Most team members really value presence, attention and repetition. Examples: if you praise something once, you’ll be expected to praise it all the time. If you celebrate someone’s life event, be sure to do the same for others as well. That’s one area where frameworks like Agile really shine, they offer predictable rituals that make up the team’s heartbeat.

Show Compassion

Cuomo doesn’t let himself or others get so focused on data and goals to the extent that they forget the human side. If it was me looking at a daily death toll, I’d run the risk of forgetting these are people’s lives taken and just treat it as a “yay, today’s number is smaller”. Cuomo’s combination of consistency and compassion is demonstrated in his daily pause while he reads the numbers and says something like: “These are people who lost their life, these are families who lost their loved ones. Any and every number here is a tragedy”

This quality is so rare, and so so valuable in times like this, you know, pandemic and all.

⇒ How you can apply this as a leader

As a leader, in the workforce, we’re often laser-focused on goals and outcomes, you might think “how can I squeeze more out my ‘resources’” and many times, showing compassion and true care for the humans you work with, goes much further in terms of outcomes. I found myself many times doing what I considered as “shoot myself in the foot”, like encouraging a person on my team to take 12 consecutive weeks of parental leave, knowing very well I’ll miss their skills and capabilities. It was the right thing for them, and work could handle that, so that’s what you do.

Focus on the Larger Picture

Cuomo does a really good job reminding us what matters the most and why we are doing what we do. He unites us as a community around a shared goal. This is not only about protecting ourselves, we are first obliged to protect others in our community. He also consistently reminds us this is a long term effort through sharing a benchmark and citing prior world events and pandemics. Well done!

⇒ How you can apply this

As a leader, this is about reminding your team to zoom out, recall the high level goal they are trying to achieve, reminding them the importance of their goal for the organization and — if possible — for the world. E.g. This isn’t about this feature, it’s about helping children learn better by helping teachers assess correctly and fast. Remember your high level objective, and help your team do so too.

Be Candid

Cuomo tells it like it is. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he does not sugar coat, he states the facts, cleanly, and from a place of giving a lot of damn (#radicalcandor).

He also doesn’t dish out BS and freely admits situations where he just doesn’t know the answer.

Be Human

Bringing in his family (brother, mother) and joking around with de Blasio exposes a less serious side of the Governor, again reminding us that he is a human being like you and me, and also gives much needed comic relief.

⇒ How you can apply this

As a leader, you don’t need to pretend you are perfect or a robot. People like and respect other people, you can be yourself, maybe not 100% of the time, but maybe more than you think. I’m often a goofy person, but I can also be intense and serious. The people who work with me don’t think less of me for being vulnerable or breaking out of character, it seems they appreciate that and it lets them open up and feel human. Similarly, as a leader, delivering honest feedback, even when it’s hard, because you truly care, will surpass any BSing approach. Non-destructive honestly builds credibility

Create shared goals

This slide below, was the one that made me fall in love with his style and approach. How often do you see a politician think like this? If you ask me, never. Seeing this message of “I don’t take crap excuses, let’s make it ALL work” really caught my attention. He didn’t fall into the trap of solving localized problems (per region or hospital) he rolled up his sleeves and started load balancing supply and demand to make sure all New York’s needs would be met, holistically, consistently. Marvellous!

⇒ How you can apply this

As a leader, you can help teams move away from optimizing for what they need, to collaborate and optimize for what the larger organization needs. After you explain the larger picture, you can easily point to shared goals and drive better outcomes. BTW, a friend really recommended this book (which I’m mid-way through) for creating shared goals for teams.

Be Data-driven

Well this one is easy, in every communication Cuomo starts and ends with the numbers. “The numbers don’t lie” he says, “follow the numbers”. “Facts and data vs. emotions and politics”. Cuomo makes it very clear that he is logical and data-driven, which is highly appreciated by most educated human beings and a great way to introduce this approach for people who have not considered it.

I personally also think that this helps against potential accusations of bias, as he is transparent and clear about the data that leads the decisions and actions of New York’s leadership team.

⇒ Applying to work…

As a leader, training your team to use data correctly and frequently will carry the same results: removes biases, creates shared understanding across multiple people (who all look at the same numbers) and then teaches how to make decisions drawing conclusions from the numbers. Value add for every team.

Get out of the Ivory Tower

I’ve noticed recently that Cuomo changes his press conference location every day, moving across the state to engage with the local people but also to show that he’s not stuck in some ivory tower, detached from reality.
He also periodically invites others to speak and get some airtime, examples are the mayor of NYC Bill de Blasio, Chris Rock, Rosie Perez and several others.

⇒ How you can apply this

As a leader, this is about walking the floor, sitting among your people, not hiding in a meeting room or an office. Even if your team is remote, there are many opportunities to show your face, visit team meetings and engage with folks, don’t shy away and don’t skimp on thoes.I know a great leader who every day, as he arrived at the office, skipped the efficient way to get to his desk in favor of the desks-route, where all his employees sat. That made him more accessible, visible and he could also learn a little bit about people from their desks and habits.

Be Inspirational

Cuomo holds himself and us to a higher bar. His encouragement to not just reopen New York, but rather make it better, his history lessons, such as the one about how Jones Beach was built (TL;DR it wasn’t a beach, people made it a beach) inspires us to think bigger, to believe in ourselves and in our capabilities, and to take advantage of the situation to improve things around. Relevant quotes: “Today is another day to do better”, “even a governor can do it”

⇒ How you can apply this

As a people manager or leader, it’s about pointing far into the future, but not too far, and reminding people of all they are capable of. Find the moments in the past they didn’t believe in themselves, or find something amazing they did and forgot about — and use it to cheer them on when they are aiming to do the next hard thing. Doing the unimaginable.

So yeah, Cuomo is my new role model for advanced leadership communication. Tough times can bring out the worst or the best in people, tough times are when you need a good leader, and he has shown himself as such hope you can find something in there too. Thank you sir!

Also, this list of the top slides was an amazing find: https://yello.substack.com/p/the-31-best-andrew-cuomo-slides



Sivan Hermon

Leader, parent, daughter: loves leading teams that build loved products, travel, cooking. Google, Columbia MBA, read me: https://chibban.medium.com/membership