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Can Governor McCrory Reset in Year 2?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.


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