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Katherine Tyler Scott
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Katherine Tyler Scott

Katherine Tyler Scott is Managing Partner of Ki ThoughtBridge, a leadership consultancy, and is author, most recently, of Transforming Leadership: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century. She is a board member of the International Leadership Association.

Four lessons from Christie

Q: New Jersey's new Republican governor, Chris Christie, has forced cutbacks in pay for teachers and superintendents, capped local property taxes, cut pension benefits for state workers, canceled popular public works projects and closed a $11 billion state budget deficit. Yet in spite of these highly controversial initiatives and a blunt speaking style, his popularity in a heavily Democratic state is rising. What is the lesson here for other political leaders?

Several important lessons can be learned from watching Chris Christie.

The first is that history matters. The personal narrative of a leader reveals considerable information about what shaped and formed their character; what values and beliefs they have demonstrated through words and actions; how they have responded to adversity; how they have handled success. Some of Governor Christie's appeal certainly comes from his past as the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. He established a reputation as a fearless leader committed to taking on the toughest problems. The issues he tackled had broad public backing and could not be easily politicized or lead to divisiveness. The Governor is seen as someone who can solve seemingly intractable problems in a non-partisan way. The safety and security of the public were his chief concerns and appeared to be more important than political ambition. He has told the truth in the past and is believed to be telling the truth now.

The second lesson is if you can communicate to people what you are doing in clear and compelling ways, they take notice and frequently conclude that your ability to help them understand a complex issue (and how they will be affected) translates into their capacity to actually solve the problem! Understanding an issue is the first step in galvanizing people to act or to change things. The communication of meaning is a priceless leadership skill, especially in times of such dis-ease and uncertainty. We teach leaders that when they are in this in-between time they must multiply their communication strategies by ten. You can't communicate too much when you are asking people to change, to endure loss without a guarantee of a certain outcome.

Christie's style of communication is direct and to the point; he is tenacious and results oriented, which are great attributes of a successful attorney tackling corruption. So far he hasn't tried to change this style because it seems to be working now. Whether it will be effective in the long term is a question.

The third lesson is that leaders who possess high self-awareness have an advantage in leading through complex change. Many people are drawn to leaders who are comfortable with who they are and who don't need to deny anyone else's humanity in order to feel important. Governor Christie appears to be comfortable with who he is, faults and all. Because of this sense of self, he can work with many different people of different persuasions to get things done. So far he has not joined the chorus of vitriolic, irrational, hostile, partisan rhetoric of some in his party; he remains focused on what is important to him and what he wants to accomplish. This is the antithesis of his political party's behavior and shows that he is likely more loyal to principle than to party. This certainly appeals to reasonable people.

He is imperfect; a recent example is how he cost his state millions of dollars in education funding. Although he tried to place the responsibility for this on others, most seemed to forgive him.

The last lesson is that style of leadership is contextual. In observing Governor Christie, we can learn how being direct and even aggressive has an appropriate place and time in the repertoire of a leader. In anxious and uncertain times, those most affected often perceive a leader's desire for collaboration as a weakness; a more authoritarian style is palatable, even preferred, by those wanting security. In these times of severe economic loss and volatility, when so many cannot delay gratification, it's effective to tie sacrifice to some semblance of stability now rather than to a hope of change in the future. Christie seems to have figured this out. Whether he knows how to sustain the support of actions that won't show any benefit to the electorate for years will be a true test of his leadership.

By Katherine Tyler Scott

 |  October 13, 2010; 11:35 AM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Economic crisis , Government leadership , Leadership personalities , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Christie is taking a short-sighted approach | Next: Does elitism still rule?

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