The softer side of 'Rahmbo' Emanuel?
Rahm Emanuel, Obama's departing chief of staff, may have ridden to the top on his hard-charging style. But now that he's entered the race to become the next mayor of Chicago, he's presenting a gentler side to voters. In his campaign announcement video on YouTube, Emanuel is almost soft-spoken, talking about his neighborhood listening tour and his roots in the city. There's scarcely a whiff of the bare-knuckles approach that earned him the nickname Rahmbo.
Which leaves me wondering: Can Emanuel shake his abrasive image without losing his reputation for being a tough fighter? How much do leaders need to be likeable?
While conventional wisdom may say it's more important to be respected than likable, some leadership books posit that a charm offensive matters more. The reigning buzzwords in leadership circles are not command or control, but humility, authenticity, and the faddish "servant leadership." One need look no further than the popularity of Stanford professor Bob Sutton's quirkily titled but research-based book The No A**hole Rule to know that in the leadership world, if nice is in, mean is out.
Rahm's first fight may be getting the legal approval to actually run for the mayor of Chicago after living in D.C. for the last 18 months. But his next is sure to be convincing voters that he's not really the profanity-laced caricature he's become. At this point, so many people associate Emanuel with the sharp-tongued Washington insider fighting for the president's agenda that seeing him as a mayor magnanimously trying to help all Chicagoans may be a stretch for some.
At the same time, Emanuel can't back down too much from his penchant for a fight: It's one of his biggest strengths, and one his potential constituents will expect from him. So what should Rahm do? Start by walking the middle ground, at least until the election. While he shouldn't do anything that draws unnecessary attention to his rough edges, he shouldn't try to hide them, either. Kissing too many babies and sitting around too many photo-op friendly kitchen tables may not look authentic, and no matter how much of a buzzword that may be, it really does matter. Oh, and leave the dead fish at home.
October 4, 2010; 10:56 PM ET |
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