23 Jul 5 Leadership Lessons I Learned Working For Mayor Bloomberg
Mike Bloomberg’s salary for his third term as Mayor of New York City was a whopping $1 per year. One dollar. One single dollar bill. He may have even given it away. If that is true, he was the Mayor of the largest city in the U.S., for free.
I don’t know if you love, hate or couldn’t care less about Mike Bloomberg. I happen to be a big fan. But at the end of the day, I am not trying to convince you to like him. It doesn’t much matter to me. It probably does not much matter to him either.
He brings a whole new meaning to the old phrase, “Work like you don’t need the money.” He works. He does not need the money. He is one of the richest men in the world. He ran his third re-election campaign on this idea. He positioned himself as the only candidate that could not be bought. He did not have to please the special interest groups. He cared about the people he would serve, and no one else. This was his core campaign message (ultimately, a good one).
I worked on that campaign. I got to see things up close and personal. I ran the volunteer recruitment and training for his Northern Manhattan office. We worked in Harlem and Washington Heights. It was a great job. Actually, the job was kind of hellish. We worked 70 hour weeks and it was hot outside because it was the summer. We ate the same lunch everyday. And it was hot outside (still). But I loved it. Years later, I thought about why I loved it so much. Here are my best answers. All of them are in some way related to Bloomberg as a boss and leader. Since he not only ran the largest American city for more than a decade, but owns one of the most powerful business entities of our world, I hope this will help you become a better leader. Even if you hate Bloomberg, these are sound principles. At least I think they are sound principles. You can decide for yourself.
1. Work more than your staff. A man named Bradley Tusk ran the Mayor’s entire campaign. He was a genius. We loved Bradley. He was brilliant, yet approachable. He worked far more than 70 hours a week. I don’t know that for sure, but I would hedge that bet with almost complete confidence. He was writing emails and conducting meetings at 5 a.m.. He would send out more around 11 p.m.. Who was responding? Mayor Bloomberg. If Bradley worked a 16 hour day, the Mayor did, too. It kept me inspired to work 70 hour weeks. If the Mayor could do it, and if his campaign manager could do it, I could too. Bloomberg was not traveling around Europe. He was walking around NYC. He was calling Bradley. He was meeting with us. Which brings me to point no. 2.
2. Show your face. This is important regardless of how “high profile” you are. It is even more important when you are a well known figure in the public or within your company. People (i.e., me in those days) want to know who they are working for. The more I get to know you, the more willing I am to work hard for you. The Mayor had a daily lineup of events, press conferences and meetings. He was busy. But he would come to our office when he was in the neighborhood. Even if only stayed for five minutes to ask how things were going, or hold a quick meeting for voters in the community and our volunteers, he was not a mystery. He was a real person. We appreciated that. We worked harder because of it. We didn’t need a lot. Just a hello, how are things going, and I appreciate you. If we got that once a month, we were charged for the next four weeks. And we got that once a month. We always got that.
3. Celebrate small victories along the way. Bloomberg was a pro at this. A few months before the election even took place, he threw a massive party at the Chelsea Piers on the West side of Manhattan, along the Hudson River. Why? Because we were in the game. Because it was a close race and we had a small lead. Because we were a few months away. Because he wanted his staff to feel appreciated and celebrated. Because he wanted to bring his constituents out to co-mingle with the people that were knocking on their doors. Because he wanted to show everyone he could not and would not be bought! He paid for the party. He said multiple times he would not cater to the special interest groups. People loved that. It made them feel safe. It made them trust him more. It made him a different kind of politician. He celebrated that. We all celebrated that. He applauded his staff and future voters and supporters many times throughout the night. People felt like they were running for mayor. They wanted his success. They wanted to be a part of something big. He hadn’t won yet. But that night, we celebrated like he had. We worked for the next 2 months so we could have the actual feeling of victory that we tasted that night. We were all running for Mayor. Who doesn’t want to run for Mayor? It’s fun. He painted that picture for us on Chelsea Piers. That made all the difference.
4. Build a community within your staff. Every other week, we met as an entire campaign at the Headquarters office in Midtown Manhattan, across the street from Bryant Park. Every borough, every team, every two weeks. And guess who ran the meeting? Bradley. Sometimes the Mayor would be there. Sometimes Mayors from other cities would surprise us. But Bradley was always there. Every week. We would report our numbers. There was a lot of clapping. There was laughter. We would have lunch afterwards. For those moments at HQ, we did not care about our 70 hour work weeks. We had a community. That is what we cared about. We would not have built that level of connection if we were not forced to convene every so often. If you can build a community and have productive meetings, great. But be clear on why you are gathering people. I suspect Bloomberg knew these meetings were not earth shattering in terms of productivity. We could have reported our numbers over the phone. But we were together. We encouraged each other. We built up some healthy competition. We were a team. We had a leader. We had a goal. We had a vision. We were a family. And families don’t like to report numbers over the phone. Families like to laugh and eat and clap together.
5. Reward good work. This is likely the most important thing I learned working for the Mayor. Three days after his re-election, every person in the campaign received an “exit” interview. Three days later! Every person. He did not have to do this. He just won an election. He should be resting or traveling or traveling and resting. But he cared. He wanted everyone to receive feedback on their performance. Every person on the team. I thought it was going to be a typical, “Here is what you did well, and here is what you should improve” type of meeting before I was released into the world to never hear from anyone again. I should have known better. Here is how my exit interview sounded. “Brian, you did an exceptional job. We want to help you. We want to keep you in the Administration. What do you want?” What?!?! I could not believe it. Three weeks and several interviews later, I was offered a job in Bloomberg’s Mayoral Administration. He followed through. They listened to what I wanted. Nothing builds brand loyalty faster. And I was not the only one. Dozens of us that worked on the campaign ended up working for him after his victory. He rewarded good work. He built a loyal employee base. He continued to be a good boss, and implemented the leadership principles displayed during the campaign. I am still an email away from being in touch with my “Bloomberg family,” even to this day. That means something. It was designed through good leadership.
It is no accident Bloomberg achieves at such high levels. I was lucky to work for him. I was lucky to learn from him. Today, I am lucky to write about him.
I think I’d like to pay for his next year’s salary.
So I must go look for a dollar now.
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