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John R. Ryan
Military/Administrative leader

John R. Ryan

John R. Ryan is president of the nonprofit Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive education.

Govern like you don't care about a second term

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?

In his compelling study of modern presidential leadership, Eyewitness to Power, David Gergen (writing in 2000) said the 1980 presidential race between Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Jack Anderson was "the last truly good one the country has had because all three candidates provided clear choices for the electorate. ... Each man ran as the genuine article, and people knew what they were getting." We've of course had some fine public servants since then, but Chris Christie's rising popularity points to a lesson all politicians would do well to remember: many Americans feel it's been too long since they've seen politicians who aren't afraid to say what they think and act on it, even if it means risking their political future. Right now Christie is governing like he doesn't care about a second term. It's a refreshingly direct approach in politics. Christie has some real leadership attributes--authenticity, courage, solid communication skills and a willingness to buck convention among them--and voters are giving him credit.

Still, he needs to proceed with some caution -- and herein lies another important lesson for other politicians. In leadership, strengths can become weaknesses pretty quickly if we overplay them. Given the tough economic context of these times, residents of New Jersey seem willing to tolerate some of Christie's more controversial traits -- in particular, his confrontational style -- because his approach is getting the state's finances under control. If his efforts are successful, however, the state will ultimately be on better financial footing -- and that could be a danger point for him. If the sense of crisis subsides, will voters want a take-charge leader or someone who is more collaborative? We know from extensive research at the Center for Creative Leadership that more business leaders are fostering greater collaboration, rather than a top-down approach, across their companies because it's proving to be a key to innovation, engagement, better decisions and bottom-line performance. There will likely come a time when Christie needs to evolve his own leadership approach as well. He might start testing out those skills now. He's been out in front of many of his fellow politicians on leading real fiscal reform. He has a chance to stay out in front with his leadership skills too.

By John R. Ryan

 |  October 12, 2010; 10:54 AM ET
Category:  Government leadership , Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: No time for twiddling thumbs | Next: Leading a divided public

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It seems like Chris Christie actually has the skills necessary to govern. He hasn’t been out to win popularity contests – he’s been making the tough choices necessary to put his state back on solid ground. Ultimately, he’s probably gaining in popularity because people realize he’s doing the right thing and, as this article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-contact/who-were-they-designing-it-for) points out, working to design things with the people in mind.

Posted by: Julie-Ann1 | October 26, 2010 11:57 AM
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Actually, the governor's biggest problem is his deeds don't match his words. It's fine to talk like a conservative but acting like one is altogether different. Spending and taxes are up in NJ. And the governor has shown no inclination to oppose Obamacare, illegal immigration or Cap & Trade. The idea that he has taken on the unions is overblown as not one state worker has been laid off. His pension "reforms" do little to address the $173B liability the state has according to Mercatus. And the idea that he addressed an $11B "budget gap" is nonsense. You can read the facts about that here: http://tinyurl.com/255c8re

Posted by: MikeGSP | October 12, 2010 12:45 PM
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