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Article by Mike Bloomberg - You're In Charge: Do the Hard Things First

February 07, 2020

This article was written by Mike Bloomberg.

Pick the low hanging fruit. Make some layups. Get some small wins under your belt.

Most of us have heard those management clichés, especially when we take on a big new job. My advice? Do the opposite.

When I first ran for mayor in 2001 I was a newcomer to the world of politics. Most New Yorkers didn't know much about me or what I'd done over my career. So when I was elected, some insiders told those very things. They said that taking on controversial or unpopular issues would only make my job harder. Better to do some popular things first, to build up political capital.

It was conventional advice, and I had no intention of following it.

I was elected weeks after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. New York City was in recession, and people doubted the city had much of a future. Hard decisions had to be made immediately – and some of them I knew would be unpopular.

For instance: The city faced huge budget deficits, and we had two choices: either slash budgets for schools, police, fire, sanitation, and social services, and conduct mass layoffs – or raise taxes. So I raised property taxes and later income taxes on upper-incomes. Critics said that the tax hikes would worsen the recession and lead more people and businesses to leave. But the opposite happened: They allowed us to preserve essential services that people rely on, and they gave us the funding necessary to make investments that would spur new economic growth and create the benefits – like more top-quality public schools, more mass transit, and more parks – that help attract and retain families.

As if raising taxes wasn't enough, in my first year in office I also proposed and succeeded in passing a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. Again, critics howled – they said it would destroy the city's restaurants and nightlife, and that tourists would stop coming. And again, the opposite happened: the restaurant and bar industry boomed and more and more tourists started coming. In fact, countries with high rates of smoking, including Ireland and France, soon passed bans of their own, because they saw it could work in New York – and their own citizens were visiting New York more than ever.

After 18 months in office, I had the distinction of having the lowest approval rating of any New York mayor in history – and maybe of any mayor anywhere. But when I ran for re-election, I won by a wide margin, in no small part because enough time had elapsed for people to see the results of the decisions: a safer and healthier city, with better services, more jobs, and a stronger economy. If I had waited until later in my term to try to enact those policies, I might have lost re-election – and the lesson my successor might have drawn would have been: Go slow. Don't rock the boat. Pick the low-hanging fruit. Thankfully, that didn't happen – and we kept our foot on the gas pedal.

People elect leaders or appoint CEOs to fix big problems and get big things done. Every day those big items get pushed back the likelihood of success diminishes. Doing big things requires time and persistence. Your first attempt might not work out as planned, and you'll have to tweak, retry, repeat. You may fail completely and have to try again. If you put off the big problems until later, you may run out of time – both to implement the solutions, and to give the public time to experience the benefits. Besides, "easy wins" inevitably have their own hiccups, and you'll wish that you'd focused on the important things first, where stakes are highest.

The best time to tackle tough issues is right away. The longer you wait, the tougher they get.

Michael Bloomberg, Article by Mike Bloomberg - You're In Charge: Do the Hard Things First Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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