As Gov. Cuomo Keeps Grip on Power, His Baggage Would be a C-Suites Career-Ender

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is hanging on as accusations of sexual harassment, inappropriate relationships and workplace hostilities pile up. The revelations are coming so fast that they’re hard to keep straight. Multiple women, including current and former aides, have detailed a list of inappropriate behavior. A broader narrative has also emerged about the sharp elbows, bullying and ruthless political tactics he has employed in his rise to power. Finally, he’s under FBI scrutiny over the way his administration reported Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes.

He’s lost key support from New York lawmakers, as well as senators like Chuck Schumer Kirsten Gillibrand and Jerry Nadler. But with his reelection some time away, many observers say he’ll likely stick it out.

Uncomfortable relationships with subordinates. Leadership marked by bullying and hostility. The accusations have a familiar ring in the halls of corporate America, but there’s a striking difference lately in the way they’re handled. A generation ago, executives and politicians alike usually skated when claims of sexual harassment and worse surfaced. That has changed in board rooms, at least.

Corporate boards today show very little tolerance for such behavior. Perhaps the most recent example is that of former McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook, who was unceremoniously cut loose shortly after he was hired over allegations that he covered up inappropriate relationships with three subordinates. He is now in a legal tangle with McDonald’s over his $57 million severance compensation. The Wall Street Journal reports that corporations are increasingly withholding executive pay longer, hoping to avoid the hassle of recouping money if execs are later found responsible for misconduct.

But Cuomo doesn’t have to answer to a board, and it doesn’t matter that most of his fellow politicians – even those among his party – don’t really like him. Ultimately, he only has to answer to voters.

A business, meanwhile, has to be concerned with goodwill.  Behavior like this by leaders – combined with a leadership style described by The Nation as “petty, controlling and grandiose” – is very harmful to business. 

Governments generally are not concerned about goodwill, so paradoxically politicians are not accountable, except for elections. But elections only go so far. If you have 51 percent support of voters, but the remaining 49 percent strongly disapprove, that is usually good enough. That doesn’t fly in the business world. A business – especially those that are publicly traded – simply can’t tolerate a 49 percent loss in business or impairment to its goodwill. Realistically, if this were a public company CEO, he would have already been shown the door. 

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