Disclaimer: I was raised in Mendham, New Jersey (home of the current governor) and escaped by age 21, courtesy of the US Navy. Garden State tomatoes, corn and cukes are still the best in the world.
Any CEO of any sized company should be watching the drama unfold in New Jersey and the administration of Governor Chris Christie, asking themselves about accountability and actions of their executive staffs. These folks are traditionally brought on the team for their expertise and ability to take the company message out through the organization and marketplace. You, the CEO, most likely have personally and professionally vetted them. You recognize their strengths and weaknesses. You know they are dedicated, hard-working, smart and probably ambitious. They understand your style, and, often, speak and act on your behalf. There is the abiding rule – “let there be no surprises”.
Politics is different than business, but it is still rough and tumble and a “blood sport” for many. Although I would never vote for Chris Christie, I have always enjoyed his style in the typical homogenized political world – direct, suffering no fools, blustery at times, humble not. A Republican, he has had terrific success in a “blue” state. But, now with the latest traffic snafu in Fort Lee, New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge, the veneer of his administration and his infallibility may be crackling.
Mr. Christie is a very smart fellow, the consummate politician. He may not end up totally exonerated, as situations like this tend to have a life of their own and move in all sorts of directions. But, he is way too savvy to become stale and old news.
His inner circle has created several problems. The Mayor of Fort Lee, NJ (at the New Jersey portal to the bridge) had not endorsed the reelection of Mr. Christie. It appears some senior Christie staffers acted, in a pay-back style, to create a traffic snarl four days running in September at the world’s busiest bridge, connecting New Jersey and New York. Further, perhaps as a result, two of Mr. Christie’s appointees to the Port Authority (which runs the bridges and tunnels connecting the two states) have recently resigned.
Mr. Christie has claimed that he knows nothing about the situation, only what he has read in recent news accounts. He is humiliated and hurt that trust has been broken within his executive circle. He did not interview the administrative scoundrels before they were terminated by two senior staff members. This sounds like shades of a Hollywood movie and CIA plots which are not disclosed to the President of the United States – if he is not advised, he does not know anything. People doing the dirty work or pursuing what is good for the country, naturally subject to interpretation, particularly if caught. Or, remember the protestations of Sgt. Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes, “I know nothing”!
The Christie miscreants took their clues from somewhere. Their act was indeed vindictive and disruptive, if this episode is validated through investigations and the courts. They may have acted merely to buttress the “boom” of the boss without his knowledge. Paybacks are always so savory. This will all play out, probably ad nauseam.
Once again, what will you, Mr. or Ms. CEO, learn from this? And, what will you do? Blind faith is just not good enough. It might be a good time to have some sessions with your Direct Reports and review those “rules of the road” for your competitive practices. There is nothing worse than surprises! And, if you protest too much, that veil becomes tattered or even lifted.
John Hendrie is the author of the LRA blog 'A Guy Walks In'. LRA is a leading research and consulting company in the emerging discipline of Customer Experience Management (CEM). We work with our clients to help them design and deliver consistently exceptional customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, loyalty and advocacy, and company growth and profitability. We have built a range of quality assurance, mystery shopping, research, training and consulting solutions to help them do so.
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