New Jersey Governor Chris Christie this morning called a live press conference to address allegations, apparently true, that his staff repeatedly closed lanes on the George Washington Bridge as "part of a politically motivated vendetta" against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, N.J.
The Governor's words and actions during this crisis either strengthen his brand as a straight talking, trustworthy leader, or weaken his brand if he dodges responsibility or tries to cover up what happened to make himself look better.
In his statement, Governor Christie used phrases like:
- "I was blindsided (by the revelations)"
- "I'm sorry."
- "I'm embarrassed."
- "You deserve better."
- "...(in regard to previous statements from his office)...that was a lie."
- "I am heartbroken."
- "...anyone on my staff...so stupid...so deceitful..."
- "I am responsible...we fell short of...excellence in government."
- "Actions have consequences."
Gov. Christie described consequences to a variety of advisers and staff members, then said don't be confused about where responsibility really lies: "Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens under my watch."
Leaders, both private sector and public sector, often are accused of hiding and covering up, rather than speaking clearly and honestly about actions. Gov. Christie's "brand reputation" is a forthright leader who shoots from the hip and works across the political aisles. In today's compelling news conference, Christie lived up to his brand reputation by talking clearly and plainly about truth, loyalty, lying, the public's expectations, and consequences.
While none of us on the outside can attest to who knew what when, Chris Christie looked and sounded like a leader who was addressing a crisis with the truth he knows, explaining what happened, how it fell short of public expectations, and what was going to happen next to address what was wrong.
Gov. Christie said the Mayor and people of Fort Lee deserve an apology, and that he is going to go to them and apologize personally. When Christie does that, he will strengthen his personal brand and model the kind of behavior we should expect in our leaders.
In response to a reporter's follow-up question, Christie said, "I am not a focus-group driven, blow-dried politician." He isn't, and that is a good thing for his potential as a leader.
Note: The author does not live in New Jersey nor has any relationship with Gov Christie. This is an outside commentary from a public affairs expert on how leaders lead, if in fact they do lead.