Today Rob Christensen writes in the N & O about Pat McCrory’s difficult first year as governor. He argues that McCrory can bounce back from his challenging year because the economy is recovering, he is likable, and time is on his side. All of these can help McCrory improve his favorability ratings with North Carolinians, but I think he must change his approach to leadership to become an effective governor.
Political scientist Fred Greenstein argues that there are six qualities to effective executive leadership: emotional intelligence, policy vision, political skill, effectiveness as a public communicator, organizational capacity, and cognitive style. Although every political leader, including successful presidents and governors, has deficiencies in one or more of these areas, most successful leaders have strengths in several of these domains that compensate for their weaknesses.
Below I will analyze Governor McCrory’s leadership style using Greenstein’s categories and offer observations of what it would take for the governor to adjust his leadership style so that he can become an effective chief executive for North Carolina.
- Emotional intelligence is described by Greenstein and others as the ability to manage one’s emotions and not be hijacked by them. Some leaders, like Chris Christie, have lost their temper on occasions, while other leaders, like Barack Obama, are almost too stoic or unemotional at times. Showing too much emotion, particularly more negative emotions can cause problems for a leader, as can being seen as unemotional. Governor McCrory’s main issue with emotional intelligence is his inability to show empathy, particularly when he signs legislation cutting benefits to the unemployed or that rejecting Medicaid funding for the poor in North Carolina.
- Policy vision is the ability to communicate a compelling set of overarching goals. Franklin D. Roosevelt was an example of a president who had a clear policy vision on domestic issues, while Ronald Reagan was very clear on his foreign policy agenda. Pragmatist, like Pat McCory often have difficulty in inspiring citizens about their policy agendas. Although McCrory is conservative, he does not communicate a policy vision like that of Senator Phil Berger, but he could help citizens understand his view of North Carolina’s future is he avoided getting distracted by topics such as the architectural style of state buildings.
- Political skill is the leader’s ability to be a political operator, especially with other politicians, such as legislators. Christensen is correct in his assessment that the legislature cut McCrory out of the policy-making process and even some last minute vetoes by McCrory were overridden without much discussion. Lyndon Johnson is revered by many for his skills as a political operator, while Barack Obama seems unwilling to exert interpersonal influence over members of Congress. Although presidents have more power over members of Congress than the NC governor has over legislators, McCrory needs to find a way to channel more of LBJ and charm, cajole, and even threaten legislative leaders toward his policy agenda, instead of being cornered by theirs.
- Effectiveness as a public communicator concerns a leader’s ability to persuade through the spoken word. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama have strong rhetorical skills, while Jimmy Carter and George H. W. Bush had their moments, but generally lacked the skills necessary to move the nation in major addresses. Pat McCrory is an affable speaker who seems comfortable delivering prepared remarks. His speeches, however, often lack the memorable lines or passionate delivery of more effective orators. McCrory would be well served heading into the second year of his administration to add more “bully” to the bully pulpit that executive leaders possess. His speeches need a more clear policy vision with lines and stories designed to produce more of an emotional response from his audiences, rather than a list of talking points about how North Carolina can become great again.
- Greenstein defines organizational capacity as the leader’s ability to forge a team and get the most out of it, including minimizing the tendency of subordinates to tell him or her what the leader wants to hear. Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, for the most part, encouraged cabinet officials and advisors to challenge them on policy alternatives and they intentionally chose experienced subordinates who did not always align politically with their views. Governor McCrory’s selections for many of his staff members have been highly questionable and have lead to problems during his first year. Problems in the Departments of Health and Human Services and Public Safety have put McCrory on the defensive too often during his first year in office and many of his critics believe that his budget director, Art Pope, is too influential. McCrory would be well served in terms of his perceptions as a leader if DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos and budget head Pope would leave the administration and both were replaced with experienced, but less polarizing figures.
- Leaders vary in their ability to process information and use that information to make decisions. Jimmy Carter was roundly criticized for not being able to see “the forest for the trees,” while Richard Nixon has come to be appreciated as a strategic thinker on foreign policy by “thinking outside the box” with the Soviet Union and China. Pat McCrory’s greatest strength as governor, especially during his first year, is that he has brought new ways of thinking about policy issues in North Carolina like transportation and economic development that had become stagnant over the years. Continuing to pursue new ideas after examining the data on issues should continue to serve the governor well.
Leadership qualities, unlike personality traits, are not hard-wired in people. Some politicians, like Bill Clinton, learn from their early mistakes and adopt a different approach to leadership. Pat McCrory, especially with his business experience and years as the mayor of Charlotte, understands the importance of adapting to new situations. He may reset his governorship with some new approaches, particularly in the areas of public communication and organizational capacity. While a strong economy and friendly acumen can improve public approval ratings, it will take a more concerted effort to be perceived as a strong leader.
New Year’s Day is a day in which people make goals for the coming year and often very optimistic about the future. 2014 is a time in which state Democrats and Republicans can be optimistic about the coming year and set realistic goals. Although Republicans will not be able able to repeat their amazing 2013 in terms of legislative accomplishments, it still promises to be a good year. Democrats, after a horrendous 2013, will begin to see some light at the end of he tunnel.
Below are ten predictions for 2014.
1. Governor McCrory will have a better year. After a rocky year with personnel decisions and public relations nightmares, the governor should see higher approval ratings, ending 2014 around 50%. He will benefit from an improving NC economy, as all executive leaders do. More significantly, he will benefit from the likely departures of budget director Art Pope and DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, two lightning rods for his administration. Also, the short session of the General Assembly promises fewer fireworks than the long session and even some legislation that might soften McCrory’s tough positions on education.
2. Kay Hagan will win reelection to the US Senate, barely. Thom Tillis will win the Republican nomination after a run-off with Mark Harris. He will outspend Harris 3-1 with a lot of support coming from independent groups like American Crossroads. The money will continue coming into the state to defeat Hagan, but she will get a great deal of financial support from the DSCC and outside groups. Ultimately, this may be a $20 million campaign.
3. Outside money from Democratic-leaning groups will not, however, help in other races. The Republicans should pick up the 7th Congressional District seat held by Mike McIntyre with David Rouzer beating the incumbent in one of the nation’s nastiest House races. Alma Adams will win the special election to replace Mel Watt and win the heavily Democratic district seat. The net effect is that Republicans will have a 10-3 advantage after the 2014 election with Phil Berger, Jr. winning a close contest against Laura Fjeld for Howard Coble’s seat in Congress.
4. Gerrymandered districts will also benefit Republicans in state legislative races with Democrats making marginal gains (1-2 seats) in each chamber.
5. Healthcare will not be the top election issue, despite Republican’s desire to make the Affordable Care Act the major issue in the US Senate race and several House races. Although the economy will improve, there will be major areas of the state that will not see the improvements in employment and household income that the major metropolitan areas see. The Republicans will run on campaign issues such as continued reform to the tax system and fiscal restraint to continue the slow, but steady, economic improvements. Democrats will run on populist issues like increasing minimum wage to address the income disparity in the state.
6. The Moral Monday protests will continue throughout the state, focusing the anger and attention of supporters on the 2014 elections and benefitting, primarily, Kay Hagan. The issues discussed by the Moral Monday leaders will pivot in 2014 to issues like raising the minimum wage.
7. Many of the lawsuits brought against the state as a result of the last legislative session will work out for Republicans or be left unsettled. The case against the voucher law will be dismissed because it does not explicitly give parents funding for religious schools. The case against eliminating teacher tenure will also go the Republicans’ way. Suits against the state’s new voter laws will likely remain unsettled after 2014, but ultimately fail as the plaintiffs will have to prove the intent to discriminate against people based on race and the evidence will not be there.
8. Teachers will get get a 2 percent pay increase and the reestablishment of the pay bump for earning an advanced degree through legislation passed in the short session. The Republican rationale will be that the improved economy is producing more tax revenue, making it possible, while still being fiscally responsible. The business community will be the driving force, causing Republicans to make these changes.
9. No constitutional amendments will be on the 2014 ballot, despite the efforts of Skip Stam. He will push hard for an anti-annexation amendment to be considered by the voters, but it will be narrowly defeated in the House.
10. A bill reforming electoral redistricting will make it out of the Rules Committee in 2014 and narrowly pass both chambers of the General Assembly.
Even if all of these predictions hold true, North Carolina will end 2014 in about the same place it started the year, politically polarized with many North Carolinians fundamentally dissatisfied with their political leaders and the direction of the state.