Leaders need to set the tone for their organization's culture. While the governor's confessional might have been authentic, it raises questions about the ethical model he's created.
The CEO of New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie, gave us almost two heartfelt hours yesterday telling us he was "a very sad person" over his staff’s role in causing major traffic jams that brought a little New Jersey town to its knees. Fort Lee, New Jersey, best known for being the town just to the south of the country’s most heavily used bridge, was snarled in four days of traffic as political retaliation for the mayor’s decision not to endorse Christie for governor a few months back (The mayor is a Democrat, by the way. Christie, a Republican).
Reviews of Christie’s confessional were mixed, categorized between heartfelt and overly self-referential. But in authentic Christie fashion, it was blunt and he took every question thrown at him.
It's worth noting that two newsworthy events occurred before and during the press conference.
Before the press conference, heads rolled.Christie fired his loyal deputy chief of staff who sent the smoking-gun emails demanding that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee" to Christie loyalists at the George Washington Bridge authority.
During the press conference, the federal government weighed in. The U.S. attorney for New Jersey opened a preliminary inquiry into the four-day traffic jam and events leading up to it.
Meanwhile, Christie declared his innocence, claiming that he was "blindsided" by the emails made public this week.
While entrepreneurs are not politicians and politicians are not entrepreneurs, let's face it: No matter which heads roll or where the investigation goes, the buck stops with the boss. There's no way that four trusted aides, some of them childhood chums of the guv, would take an action that led to the delay of ambulances and school buses if they didn’t think the boss would approve.
An organization's culture can come from the bottom or the top. Either the employees provide the culture because of a leadership vacuum or else management leads the way. Either way, steering company culture is the job of management.
As leaders, we must set the tone for positivism in our organization's culture, teaching, exemplifying and rewarding it. And if we fall short of our goals, we must own up to it. Christie may have spoken from the heart at his press conference but his stance is irrational. His staff was following a cultural model that he's responsible for, whether through his own negligence or by his own design.