What has become known as ‘Bridgegate’ has probably dashed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s hopes of becoming US President. On the one hand, in leadership terms, he did many things right. On the other, the scandal may have revealed aspects of his leadership that will rule him out of senior office.
‘Bridgegate’ involved deliberately creating gridlock on the George Washington Bridge for three days in September 2013. The bridge is one of the busiest in the world and had three lanes approaching toll booths reduced to one. The closure was reportedly an act of revenge by Christie’s staff on Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich who had refused to endorse Christie for the New Jersey gubernatorial election for Governor.
Following email evidence that the closures had been a scam dressed up as a traffic study, Christie publicly fired a key administrator, apologised, promised to investigate further and shouldered responsibility using ‘the buck stops here’ argument. All good stuff. Fast and symbolic response to a problem – no dithering – plus contrition combined with a promise of specific action. Exactly what the leadership manuals would recommend.
However, the scandal has left question-marks about an office culture that would support such an act. The emails indicate that the chaos was viewed as humorous and justified. This is similar to the rationales provide by perpetrators of violence; that the victims had been ‘out of order’ or ‘disrespectful’. Christie prides himself on his pugnacious and confrontational style that entails calling people “stupid” and the rapid escalation of conflict. There are many YouTube clips of Christie behaving in these ways. In addition, his first response to the emerging scandal was to look for blame, not explanations.
Such behaviour at the top will inevitably legitimise extremes of response and lack of compassion about the suffering of others. It may be that the people of the US like that and want to elect what would be the 6th ‘fat’ president (apparently there have only been five obese presidents previously). On the other hand, someone that can swing from bellicose to humility quite so rapidly might not be the dream occupier of the White House.
The question for the rest of us is:
What impact do our actions have on the culture of our organisation?
Hopefully, they are what we intended.