Getting Elected as NJ’s Chief Executive is Hard Enough…However, Governing and, in Fact, Truly Leading is 1000 Times More Difficult

The New Jersey Constitution of 1947 makes our governor just about the most powerful state chief executive in the nation.  New Jersey does not have an elected Attorney General, we just started having a Lieutenant Governor, who is obviously tied directly to the sitting Governor. So, some might think that our new Governor, Phil Murphy, because of these “constitutional powers,” would have an easy time implementing his ambitious agenda.  Governor Murphy believes taxes should be increased for New Jersey millionaires.  He wants to legalize marijuana. He is an advocate for tuition-free community college.  He also supports a $15 minimum wage.  And as for the pension crisis, he’s talked extensively about putting more state dollars into the public employee pension fund, as well as fully funding New Jersey’s public school formula with more state aid. Like I said, it’s a very ambitious agenda that will take a lot of dollars and potentially even more “creative” math.

But there is a powerful lesson in leadership in all of this. In fact, there are many.  Governor Murphy’s effective leadership on this and other issues will be based largely on his ability to negotiate effectively with the legislature, most notably Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin.  His relationship building, particularly with Senator Sweeney, will be vital to his success given Sweeney’s experience, influence and insight into how the Statehouse really works. It’s hard not to like Governor Murphy’s enthusiasm and passion to implement his progressive agenda. But my sense is that one of the greatest lessons in leadership he going to face (like many governors) is that he not only is going to have to compromise, he is also going to disappoint some of the folks who supported him with the belief that his full agenda would be implemented.  You see, in writing my book, Lessons in Leadership, General Colin Powell once told me, “great leaders sometimes piss people off.” What General Powell meant is that the best leaders sometimes have to make difficult decisions that are necessary but often are unpopular. We’re talking Governor Murphy potentially having to cut specific state programs and reduce state funding for popular initiatives.  He won’t want to do it, and it will go against his ideological instincts.  However, getting New Jersey’s fiscal house in order and providing the dollars necessary or needed to fund his top priorities will require making these budget cuts. Doing this will in fact “piss some people off.”  

Finally, the other lesson in leadership that Governor Murphy and all chief executives must confront is the need to be an effective salesperson and public champion of his agenda. I expect Governor Murphy to be out there as if he were campaigning, not as a candidate for Governor, but rather as a leader with an agenda that must be sold to often skeptical audiences. So, simply put, running for and getting elected as New Jersey’s chief executive is hard enough.  For that, Phil Murphy gets huge points, especially since two years ago he was a virtually unknown in our state.  However, governing, and in fact truly leading, is a thousand times more difficult (clearly this is something our President Donald Trump, hasn’t figured out yet). So, for Governor Phil Murphy, while I don’t envy him given the leadership challenges he faces as our new governor, I do wish him all the luck in the world.      

Oh yeah, one more lesson in leadership. Leaders must have very thick skin, because once they do make these decisions, they are often faced with critics, cynicism and second guessing from the ever-present peanut gallery – which includes broadcasters, so called pundits, commentators, and just regular New Jersey citizens who always have a strong opinion on just about any issue.

What is the #1 issue Governor Murphy should take on?  Write to me at 

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One response to “Getting Elected as NJ’s Chief Executive is Hard Enough…However, Governing and, in Fact, Truly Leading is 1000 Times More Difficult”

  1. #1 – eliminate Public Employee Unions, #2 – cut taxes and spending. NJ is no longer competitive with NY, PA or most other states. IL and CT might be worse off than NJ. The days of NJ politicians’ free lunches at the expense of taxpayers are over. Raise taxes some more, and more people who pay taxes will leave. This will drive down property values and depress business investment. We are one step away from a permanent downward spiral.

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