#BridgeGate – Is Chris Christie Showing Strong Leadership?

Is Chris Christie showing strong leadership in the wake of #BridgeGate? Or is he just a bully? Anyone who has crossed the George Washington bridge from New Jersey into New York knows first-hand how challenging it can be. Lots of cars, flared tempers – and that’s on a good day.

So imagine if you found out that the reason it took you 2-hours to cross that bridge, keep in mind, that’s about the same amount of time it takes to drive from New York to Philadelphia, was because of political pay-back.

Whether you believe Governor Chris Christie is lying is irrelevant, at the moment. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Though…the subpoenas are rolling in so it seems we should hear an update shortly.

However – the damage has already been done. Whether or not Governor Christie knew of the scandal prior to last week – the operation happened under his watch as leader. An operation that, as the Governor stated, is his “full responsibility”.

Granted – running your business isn’t like running a state (even though it may feel that way sometimes) – and let’s hope forms of retaliation don’t occur to innocent bystanders like those relating to closing lanes on a bridge – though incidents like this can happen to any leader.

So what leadership qualities will help you prevent a problem like this, or if it should arise, how can you avoid the PR nightmare that would ensue?

  • Transparency: When making strategic decisions, successful leaders are transparent about how these matters arose, their thought process for dealing with them, and how their solutions may directly impact those they lead. Governor Christie did this; however, there is a group of people out there who think he isn’t transparent enough. If he was transparent all along, why would those who work for him be afraid to tell him they took such actions, as he claims was the case. Non transparent leaders often have non transparent employees.
  • Accountability: Good leaders just own it – the good or the bad! In the words of Governor Christie, “…be a grown-up and suck-it-up.” Ok, points to the Governor for accountability. Accountable leaders acknowledge that things don’t always go exactly as planned – they don’t whine and make excuses – but let employees and customers know they see it too. Make an effort to relate to what employees or customers are going through, share next steps you plan to take to reevaluate and improve. That’s what builds trust in a leader – and trust in leadership is correlated to high performing organizations with committed employees, loyal customers and constituents, and increased performance!
  • Awareness: Successful leaders have a heightened level of self-awareness; they have an understanding of themselves, their behaviors and actions, and how those behaviors and actions are interpreted by, and directly impact, employees, customers and constituents. Chris Christie is perceived as a bully by many, as a tough guy tell it like it is leader, not always the most endearing qualities. This could contribute to some people having a lack of trust in him – though by his approval ratings these traits still appear an asset – I wonder if his persona will be a selling point in the long-term. Professional coaching is a great well to help further develop leader self-awareness and balance. Be proficient and competent, know yourself and your strengths and weaknesses, and do take responsibility and lead by example. Always be open to further growth and learning.
  • Communication: Being in a leadership position can sometimes be a solitary role. Often leaders make decisions in a vacuum and rely on managers or supervisors to communicate important information downward. Given Chris Christie’s “plausible deniability” over #Bridgegate it appears he and his office experienced a “…failure to communicate!” Successful leaders lead through two-way communication. Much of it is nonverbal. People value direct interaction and communication from leaders. This not only helps to show that leaders are remaining committed to the people in organization and those they represent, but also offers an opportunity for them to step out of the “tower” and build relationships with employees.

The basis of good leadership is honorable character and selfless service to the organization; compassion for employees and stakeholders in both their professional and personal situations.

When a person is deciding if they respect a leader, they don’t often think about attributes, rather they see what leaders do. Governor Christie has done many of the “right leadership things” in the wake of the #Bridgegate scandal – though if he had done them all along would the scandal have even occurred. Great leadership is necessity all the time – not just when times are bad!

About Scott Span, MSOD: is CEO & Lead Consultant of Tolero Solutions – an Organizational Improvement & Strategy firm. He helps clients in facilitating sustainable growth by connecting and maximizing people –> performance –> profit™, creating organizations that are more responsive, productive and profitable.

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Dale M. Posthumus

I believe Christie is doing the right thing, assuming he is innocent of ordering/knowing what his staff did. Time will tell on that point.

Being a good leader, doing all of the right things, does not guarantee that bad apples will always be kept out of one’s staff/employee. But, that is also part of being a good leader — dealing with the bad apples when they arise, and accepting a leader’s responsibility. Another example, not exactly of the right moves, is DC Mayor Gray. There have already been a number of people connected to his election campaign who have been convicted of a variety of corruption-type felonies. The Mayor has chosen “plausible deniability” not to accept any leader’s responsibility for these bad actors. The result is a loss of credibility. Most of those who are critisizing Christie today are largely those who critisized him before. Little has changed. But, Gray is being critisized heavily by people who think he has done a good job as mayor, but feel he has done little to settle the storm around him.

The real take-away, IMHO, is when something goes bad, get the whole truth out quick, shoulder the responsibility as a leader, solve the problem, do what it takes to prevent such things from happening again, and then move on. BTW, I believe this is also true for you if you are the one who did something wrong. It probably won’t keep you from getting fired or suffering some other consequences, but at least you are showing a little bit of integrity that may help you in the future, assuming you will stop doing bad/stupid things.