Bridgegate -How Leaders Can Remain Grounded

IMG_4428The recent George Washington Bridge Scandal has many of us asking ourselves why elected officials and C-level executives continue to be embroiled in leadership snafu’s. Political consultant Steven Schmidt is quoted as saying that the path for mayors of the state of New Jersey is usually the express lane to the penitentiary! The Governors’ quickness to blame his aides and subsequently firing some of them, is not an act of responsible leadership. In the January 12, 2014 Los Angeles Times article, “Just New Jersey as usual?”, the very behaviors Gov. Chris Christie says are “embarrassing and humiliating” of his team members, are cited to be “quintessentially New Jersey”. So why is Gov. Christie expressing embarrassment? It is my opinion that this leader has fallen victim to what happens to leaders when we lose our way. As the great business philosopher Peter Drucker once stated, that for people in charge there is no such thing as power, only responsibility. The actions of Gov. Christies’ team are a clear violation of any kind of acting with responsibility toward those they are paid to serve.
As is becoming the norm rather than the exception, many leaders could avoid “crashing and burning” if they followed a few proven principles:
Recognize that leadership power can be intoxicating. As Marty Rubin states, “If you can abuse your power you have too much”. Authentic leadership is nonhierarchical. Formal authority or a title doesn’t make you a leader. When leaders are unaware of how their team members behave to get the job done, it is a clear sign of neglect and or willful ignorance. Leaders must behave the way they wish their followers would behave. As one CEO stated, “…I think it is unnatural for you to be dishonest and your people to be honest.” An organizations culture begins at the top and trickles down through all of management. If your team members are engaged in “embarrassing and humiliating’ behaviors, one may conclude that their actions are a ‘shadow’ of their leader
Self-awareness is an essential attribute and quality of effective leaders. Emotional awareness: recognizing ones emotions and their effects; Accurate Self-assessment: knowing ones strengths and limits; Self-confidence: a strong sense of ones self-worth and capabilities; are from Daniel Golemans’ Emotional Intelligence Competence Framework. It is unfortunate how many leaders throughout history have lacked that necessary self-awareness. Every leader is cursed with weaknesses and blind spots that can be overcome only with the help of others. The problem of self-awareness is further exacerbated for leaders when those who follow them fail to provide honest feedback and either live in fear or infatuation with them. Hans Christian Andersens’ The Emperors’ New Clothes is a classic tale of how a complete lack of self-awareness and obsession with oneself can lead one to engage in those self-destructive behaviors.
Accountability for leaders in the 21st century is not optional. The temptation to do leadership alone tends to create problems which could be fended off if leaders surrounded themselves with other leaders, as well as mentors and coaches. It is very lonely at the top! Executives often have (or feel they have) no one capable and trusted enough to share their challenges, aspirations, and insecurities. When leaders recognize that they have a responsibility to their followers and those they are serving, “going it alone” is an unacceptable approach and is recipe for failure. Wise leaders have the confidence to act upon what they know and the humility to doubt their knowledge. This is where mentors come in – and mentees. Leaders need to recognize that they can learn from those they lead and from their peers.
The Bridgegate scandal shows us what can happen when leaders lose perspective, fail to understand their impact on others, and abdicate their responsibilities by being out of touch with their team members.