I’m working on two client projects with the same objective: helping the CEO engage employees in company direction.
So, even before recent revelations about the latest news from New Jersey—the infamous George Washington bridge scandal—I was thinking about leader communication, and how a leader’s words and actions set the tone for the organization.
Newly promoted leaders have trouble comprehending how everyone in the organization constantly watches them for cues about what’s important and how to behave. And even seasoned leaders forget how every message carries weight. CEOs or other senior leaders are often surprised when they make a casual suggestion in a meeting and a short time later it’s acted on. Then, almost immediately, that suggestion is policy.
Governor Christie, I’m talking to you. Let’s assume you’re telling the truth when you say you didn’t order the lane closures that turned Fort Lee into a parking lot last September. What you certainly did do, however, is signal that the following behavior was acceptable: Aggression. Political pressure. Intimidation. Payback.
Here’s a great example: This week when you fired Bridget Anne Kelly, your former deputy chief of staff, you made a point of saying she was “stupid.” So you let everyone on your staff know that name-calling is an appropriate way to communicate.
At your marathon news conference, you said, "This is not the tone that I've set over the last four years in this building. It's not the environment I've worked so hard to achieve." But I have to agree with the premise of the Daily Show segment where Jon Stewart took out a pitch pipe and showed a highlight reel of Christie's interactions with the public, deciding in the end that the tone's been "F U sharp."
You may not have directly asked for retaliatory action against Fort Lee. But your communication was just as clear as if you had spoken the words.