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Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: Was Nothing Real?

By Kevin O'Toole, July 11 2019 12:00 am

“We accept the reality of the world with which we are presented.”  

I was watching the movie The Truman Show and it reminded me of life, for some, in politics. 

It is an odd place to be the captain of a seemingly political corporation while remaining connected to reality.  

As a former legislator who occasionally played at a relatively high political altitude, I had the privilege of seeing how staff reacted to a power player senator, governor, federal officials or highly contacted power broker – sometimes it was like watching a chess match, other times you wanted to tap out for them. Being the front line defense for the principal in those situations is something not many are built for – despite their pedigree or high level of self-confidence. One thing is for certain – you ONLY want to give the boss good news. 

Therein lies the disservice. I learned a long time ago that strong leaders must want smart and opinionated advisers around them. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. The seat of power brings with it an unspoken silent zone of isolation and intimidation. It is human nature to never want to be the bearer of bad news and in politics the messenger usually gets “shot.” 

If the political storms are brewing, it is rare for advisers or top staff to be strong enough (or encouraged) to tell the boss the bad news. Most of the time the CEO or head of a political enterprises live in a false utopia – Seahaven Island if you will. 

Note to future leaders: Have the courage to surround yourself with strong staff that are willing to stand up and tell you when you are wrong.  

Note to staffers: Don’t be afraid to speak up with the harsh realities of the world. If you’re working for someone who doesn’t want to hear it, then it might be time to find a new employer because that person will eventually implode.  

Don’t wait like Truman to crash the boat into the stage set before reality sinks in. 

You don’t want to wait around until a random object falls from the sky to ask the question “was nothing real?” 

As Jim Carrey asks, “Was nothing real?” The Creator (Ed Harris) replies“You were real…There is no more truth out there than there is in the word I created for you. Same lies.  Same deceit.  But in my world, you have nothing to fear.” 

This is where movie life and politics take different roads.

In politics, the boss needs to hear and fear the truth. There is too much reality riding on it.  

“In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”

This column originally appeared on InsiderNJ.


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