Someone forgot to tell former Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie that leadership is no day at the beach.
Managers, in the public and private sectors, frequently have to make tough, unpopular decisions. In such instances, the best approach is to lead by example. Workers—or constituents—are more likely to understand your decision if the consequences affect you too. You can earn loyalty from transparency.
Say, for example, you are a governor in the US and you shut down your state government because a spat with the leader of your state legislature means you can’t agree on a budget plan. As Americans elsewhere gear up to enjoy the July 4th holiday, your state’s operations screech to a halt. Essential services such as those performed by public-safety agencies remain available. But visitors to state-operated beaches and parks will be turned away.
Sharp politicians know that empathizing with those affected would help. Indeed, this is precisely what Christie, New Jersey’s outgoing governor and a 2016 GOP hopeful, did when he found himself in exactly this situation: “I’m upset because this will inconvenience the people of New Jersey,” he solemnly said.
Another option, though not recommended, would be to blame someone else. Christie also did this, by authorizing the creation of signs that had a photo of his legislative adversary Vincent Prieto, the Democratic leader of the state assembly, and the words, “This Facility is CLOSED Because of This Man,” printed on them:
Possibly the worst approach would be to take brazen advantage of one of the perks you have as governor, namely that you have a private residence at the state-run Island Beach, where you and your family can catch some rays. Unfortunately, Christie did this too: “I didn’t get any sun today,” he told reporters Sunday afternoon.
This is especially not good when there are pictures of you on the sand on the ocean shore of your state-supplied beach house.
The thing is, it turns out Christie got a lot of sun that day. And so did everyone with him. This hardly makes for a happy state—just look at the ridicule launched his way:
Managers can learn from Christie and note that even if a local news organization isn’t flying overhead, a flagrant disregard for how others are inconvenienced will not endear a workforce, a state populace, or the internet to you.
It didn’t work for Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, when she banned employees from working remotely then set up a nursery in her office to look after her kids. Nor did Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney find people in Detroit enthused to hear his wife drives “a couple of Cadillacs,” shortly after he told them about the dire state of the economy back in 2012.
Call it a lesson lost on Christie, who had told reporters he wasn’t concerned about looking out of touch by heading to his officially provided beach retreat when other New Jersey residents could not. “That’s just the way it goes,” Mr. Christie said the day before the aerial photos were snapped. “Run for governor, and you can have a residence.”
Maybe he thought he had little left to lose after the disgrace of the Bridgegate scandal, the dismal failure of his presidential bid, getting bounced from the inner circle of eventual US president Donald Trump, and ending his term as governor with a record-low 15% approval rating.
Turns out, there were new depths to plumb.