As is usual when I’m writing about a person who’s involved in politics, I will continue to say first that I eschew and hate politics of any kind – governmental, organizational, personal – because politics, by its very nature and at its very core, is both corrupt and corrupting. Politics is self-serving, dishonest, manipulative, and driven by greed and a desire for power. This is universally true. There are no exceptions.

Politics and quintessential leadership are, therefore, incompatible.

This post is not about politics. Any feedback that tries to bring that subject into the discussion will be ignored with the upfront advice that the trolls and hijackers go somewhere else to spew and vent your venom.

This post is instead about a person in a leadership position who is at the crossroads of determining whether he will be a quintessential leader or not. It’s a place that all of us in leadership positions come to at some point, although, fortunately, most of us don’t have to go through the process on a national stage under the intense fishbowl scrutiny of 370,000,000 other people.

governer-chris-christie-change-quintessential-leadershipBy now, everyone knows the basic details of what happened to bring New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to this defining moment of what kind of leader he will be going forward, so I will not rehash that here.

We also know that Governor Christie took a first quintessential leadership step forward by taking responsibility and making amends (firing the senior staff member involved and apologizing to the mayor and citizens of Fort Lee, NJ), as well as acknowledging publicly that he has a lot of soul-searching to do.

However, as admirable as this is, this was only a first step and Governor Christie has a lot of work ahead of him to firmly and permanently establish himself as a quintessential leader. That work will require change, not only in how Governor Christie thinks and is, but in how he leads and the example he sets for his team.

So the quintessential leader issue that immediately faces Governor Christie now is self-examination. He has to ask and answer for himself what it is that he has done and said and how he has done and said those things that developed the culture and mentality of his team to believe that the incident involving the closure of part of the George Washington bridge as a retaliatory gesture was okay. 

Because even though there is a scapegoat that has taken the fall, this incident didn’t happen in a vacuum. Governor Christie implicitly, by the example he has set of bullying (he said repeatedly yesterday that he’s not a bully, but he is, whether he has accepted that or not) and vengefulness to get what he wants bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for this incident.

In the way that Governor Christie has, up until now, set the example as the leader of his team, there was no reason for this senior staff member to not think retaliation against someone who didn’t support Governor Christie was okay.

Governor Christie wears his Jersey street cred on his sleeve like a badge of honor. He basks in his “in-your-face,” profanity-laced confrontations with people until they back down or go away. And, in that way, Governor Christie is like a lot of people born and bred in the Tri-State area who deal with all people like this as a matter of course.

However, people in leadership positions and quintessential leaders distinguish themselves from everybody else by setting the highest standards of conduct and behavior, maintaining that highest standard, and living 24/7 by that highest standard – even when it’s the polar opposite of what everyone else is doing and being.

This is where Governor Christie has failed in quintessential leadership and where he personally is going to have to make and maintain significant changes everywhere in his life.

quintessential leaders changeThis will be a lifelong process for Governor Christie: it will not happen overnight.

It will be one where Governor Christie will fail from time to time for the rest of his life because how he does things now is so deeply ingrained in who he is, and no matter how much he changes for the better, those remnants will continue to surface in the most surprising ways at the most unexpected times.

However, Governor Christie’s path toward quintessential leadership demands that he undertake this most daunting issue and move forward and persevere in it.

It is here, at this point, where quintessential leaders get separated from everyone else, because this kind of transformation is the hardest work a person will ever do in his or her lifetime.

It requires constant diligence, constant vigilance, constant commitment, and an unwavering determination to get up and move forward again in the face of colossal failures – because there will be – along the way.

Another quintessential leadership issue Governor Christie is going to have tackle is the team he has chosen. Although as I’ve said already, Governor Christie ultimately sets the example for his team in conduct and behavior, the reality also exists that each team member is responsible for his or her own individual conduct and behavior as well.

It is clear that Governor Christie’s team needs change as well, whether that results in more terminations or it requires each team member to individually change.

communication-quintessential-leaderEmbedded in this issue is another quintessential leadership issue that Governor Christie must face and resolve. That issue is communication between Governor Christie and his team.

Governor Christie must communicate – and this is not just in memos and meetings, but by his example – in the clearest of terms what he expects from his team members, what is acceptable and what is unacceptable, and what the consequences of not meeting the standards going forward will be. There must be explicit buy-in from his team.

If I were in Governor Christie’s shoes, I would use a signed agreement for each team member (and this includes Governor Christie, so he would sign one too) that includes clear expectations, the acceptable standard of conduct and behaviors, and an understanding of consequences if the agreement is broken by any team member.

Starting with explicit communication that gives no-wiggle-room parameters within which all the team members operate is the key to changing the team culture. Those who don’t want to be bound by a signed agreement will take themselves off the team. Those who are bound by a signed agreement all start out on the same page.

arrogance-vanity-unquintessential-leadershipThe other most important quintessential leader issue (there are many, but these are the most immediate) that Governor Christie faces, and I’ve already alluded to this, is arrogance.

To be a quintessential leader, vanity and arrogance have to be replaced by humility.

Instead of swaggering, smirking and gloating, and patting themselves on the back all the time, quintessential leaders are often hard to pick out in a crowd, are genuine in their relationships, and are constantly highlighting the contributions of others without ever mentioning their own.

This too will be a lifelong uphill battle for Governor Christie if he choses to face this quintessential leader issue and change it.

Yet unless Governor Christie rigorously and determinedly tackles this and the other quintessential leader issues before him, then he will just be another person who took a tiny step in the right direction and then quit (failed) because the rest of the way forward was too hard, required too much, and, in the end, wasn’t worth it.

  1. iammarchhare says:

    I agree with most of what you wrote. You’ll notice that in my last blog post, I shied away from calling Christie a quintessential leader or any of its synonyms because the story truly is not yet settled. I try to look on the bright side of people, and I’m hopeful that he truly will emerge in the non-leader environment that has become national politics.

    And, yes, I truly mean “non-leadership” and not just unquintessential leadership. Leading from behind is not leadership. That’s what cats do. They look to see where you are going, and then they try to lead the way. Once in a while, they stop to look to see where you are going, and thus you either trip over them and get hurt, or you step on them and/or kick them, and they get hurt themselves.

    I think the term “bully” has in general been overhyped, and like most media overhyped terms, it has become meaningless through the endless regurgitation of facts and opinions, not to mention downright misuse. I have a problem with the concept that someone cannot ever legitmately tell off someone when they deserve it and absolutely need to be shaken up.

    In fact, when you consider King David of the Bible. He was a mighty warrior, and even as a youth he was courageous in defending his flock from predators. He had no problem confronting others when it came to why no one was opposing an “uncircumsised Philistine”. When you read the story of David, in fact, his largest failings came when he did not confront people when he should have. He did not confront two of his sons over the incident with Tamar, and it was a disaster in each case. He did not appropriately deal with some others, and his son Solomon had to clean up the untied strings after his death. Not confronting people when you should is just as bad as confronting people when you should not.

    You know, a police officer is not a bully when they forcibly arrest someone. A psychologist is not a bully when they confront someone’s drinking problem graphically (as happened to me, BTW, and led eventually to a program of recovery). A victim of murder or rape is not a bully for telling the perpetrator off before they are hauled off to jail after sentencing, and neither is the judge or courtroom for allowing it. The same type of behavior in another context and circumstance makes all the difference in the world.

    In a nutshell: a leader must know when to confront and when not to, and that can make or break that leader. Each circumstance and the personalities involved make it almost impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all formula for such things. However, confrontation overused becomes meaningless as well, and that will drive away good people who aren’t confronted as well as those who needed it.

    Christie, perhaps, offers honest communication for a change. I’ve heard the sound clips of him calling this or that “stupid”, but in all honesty there is a lot of stupidity in our political system. I am against political correctness in all forms. It fixes nothing, masks real issues, and it is used for political advantage. It has a lot to do with the sorry state of affairs in this country. Furthermore, politcal correctness has absolutely nothing to do with politeness, and it is often used against a political opponent in a very rude (being an understatement) manner.

    The question is whether or not, and it is honestly hard to tell, is whether or not he is using bluntly honest dialog or just forcibly pushing forward his own agenda. The latter is no better than political correctness, and just another means to the same end. This little scandal might show which side of that fence he is really on. His initial moves are the right ones, and even at that are ones that are too sorely lacking in today’s political environment. That in itself is an improvement, but by no means is it the end goal.

    However, as they say, it ain’t over til it’s over. The federal investigation will be interesting, to say the least.

    Sorry if this is too long. I’ll stop now. You may edit it if you wish.


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