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Chris Christie and the Question of Trust

Mon, January 13, 2014 11:03 AM | Robert Hurley (Administrator)

Chris Christie did a masterful job of trying to restore public trust at his news conference yesterday. But was it authentic or was it just a good performance by a savvy political actor who was well coached? The answer to this question requires that we have keen insight into what makes any person or organization trustworthy.


The need for Christie’s damage control news conference came from the "Bridge-gate" scandal that erupted after emails documented that some of the Governor’s aides had manufactured a massive traffic jam near the George Washington Bridge in retribution for the Mayor of that town not endorsing Christie for re-election. Christie took responsibility for this breach of trust yesterday, held the guilty parties accountable by removing them and sent a strong public signal that he finds this kind of behavior reprehensible and will not tolerate in his administration. He also said very clearly that he himself had no involvement in the planning or execution of this major violation of public trust.  A very impressive performance.


But here is what he did not explain or take responsibility for. How is it that one of his trusted advisers who has been with him for years could possibly think that this act of revenge, which inflicted pain on citizens, would have been acceptable to the Governor? Did this previously sane and competent aide lose his mind temporarily? Christie has given us the bad apple defense most recently used by News Corp to deflect their phone hacking scandal: "This terrible thing that has happened is due to a few bad apples in the barrel. The barrel is big (I have 65,000 people that work for me); I cannot know what each apple is doing! Most of the barrel (my organization) is good and virtuous and now that we have rid ourselves of the few bad apples, all is well."

But Governor, please tell us what caused these apples to think that being bad was ok? Major trust violations DO NOT happen by accident. They happen because something is wrong with the organizational system. This was true for BP (oil spill), Goldman Sachs (Abacus deceptions), Wal-Mart (Mexico bribery) and every other organization that has paid billions in fines for violating the public trust. Trust violations occur because some disease has infected the apple tree.


So, I applaud Chris Christie for taking action, facing the public and sharing what seemed like a genuine and sincere apology. But until he reforms the system that enabled the bad apples, I remain skeptical.  The fact that he did not clearly own up to the fact that he set the tone that enabled these untrustworthy behavior, tells me that he may not understand that reforming his organization may require that he change some things about himself. It is not yet fully clear if he really “gets” the lesson here. The only way that we will really know if he is a trustworthy leader who deserves our confidence and trust is if we see future actions that tell us that he does understand, can reform things and is the real deal – an authentic, competent, self-aware leader. Stay tuned, watch the video (actions) more that the audio (words). We need to get better at discerning who is trustworthy that as those great rock philosophers the WHO advised, “we don’t get fooled again.”

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