#046: Five Lessons on Handling a Crisis from Governor Chris Christie

Regardless of your opinion of Governor Chris Christie, the recent crisis surrounding what is being called “Bridgegate” by some in the media provides insight into how an executive should react when managing through a crisis.

Chris Christie

As background, the mayor of Fort Lee, NJ did not endorse Christie’s recent run for governor. In what was seemingly a politically motivated punishment, some senior staffers conspired to shut down several traffic lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge, which connects NJ to New York, for four days claiming that the closure was to conduct a traffic study.

Christie said today when the news of the closures first reached him he assembled his senior staff and told them they had one hour to bring forth any information they might have about the closure to either his chief of staff or chief counsel. All the staff denied having any knowledge or role in the closures. Based on these interviews, Governor Christie conducted a press conference last fall saying that no one on his staff knew anything about the closure nor were they involved.

Yesterday (January 8) a news story broke in a local paper containing emails that indicated that the governor’s staff had indeed ordered the shut-down of the lanes. This morning Christie conducted a press conference to apologize, detail what he had learned, and describe the actions he had taken.

From his press conference I gleaned five lessons leaders should take when dealing with a crisis:

1)      Seek the truth. Before it even became a crisis, Christie took action by assembling his staff to seek the truth. Relying on that information he conducted a press conference saying his staff was not involved, but that his office would cooperate with the two investigations that were underway.

2)      Take immediate decisive corrective action. When the truth came out, and Christie saw the actual emails yesterday that implicated his deputy chief of staff, he confronted her and terminated her immediately because she lied to him. He also announced that his former campaign manager had been callous in his remarks, showing a lack of judgment. As a result, Christie told him to not place his name in the running for the nomination to state party chairman and to withdraw as a consultant to the Republican Governor’s Association.

3)      Apologize. Christie’s apology was directed to the people who had been inconvenienced by the lane closure, the mayor of Fort Lee, the legislature, and the people of New Jersey. His press release apology was direct, without the conditions that so many so-called “apologies” contain. For example, we often hear, “I am sorry if this offended anyone.” That’s not an apology for your actions, it’s an apology the other person was offended, as though the person was at fault for being offended! Christie took his apology a step further announcing that he was traveling to Fort Lee this afternoon to apologize to the mayor and the people directly and in-person, because he said, “they deserve it.”

4)      Take responsibility. Several times during today’s press conference Christie took responsibility for the actions of his staff. At one point he said even though there are 65,000 people reporting to him as governor, and he doesn’t know what they are all doing every minute of the day, he is still responsible for them.

5)      Make a promise. In his closing remarks, Christie said no government is perfect because it is made up of people who make mistakes. But he promised when a mistake is made he will be honest about it, deal with it head on, and take corrective actions to prevent similar issues in the future.

It will be interesting to see how this story unfolds, and what if any, further action is needed or taken. Seldom is all the truth known all at once when a crisis occurs, which makes it important that leaders continue to stay on top of the crisis, and continue to manage it carefully.

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As always questions and comments are welcome. How have you handled a crisis in your organization? did you do something different that worked well?

Category: Relationships | Healthy Alliances

 

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