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Saturday, January 11, 2014

A Leadership Crisis: Who Is Responsible, Anyway?

Hey All --

Yes, my schedule is a little bit altered.  But, since a few close family members sometimes chide me for never "deviating" from my normal itinerary, here's my chance to prove otherwise.

This week, the magic of email, and its permanent qualities, ended the employment of several high-ranking officials in the New Jersey Governor's administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.  Allow me to explain how.

For those who are not in the know, the George Washington Bridge, with upper Manhattan on once side and Fort Lee, New Jersey on the other, is one of the most heavily-trafficked bridges in the country.  This past fall, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was up for re-election in what was expected to be, and became, a cakewalk.  However, the mayor of Fort Lee did not endorse Christie's re-election efforts.  Accordingly, some members of his administration apparently conspired with contacts with the Port Authority, which regulates the bridge, to reduce the available lanes for Manhattan-bound traffic on the New Jersey side of the bridge, thus making the traffic even worse.  These emails explicitly stated that it was "time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee."

In a thuggish endeavor to punish, bully, and intimidate the mayor of Fort Lee, these miscreants instead managed to punish, bully, and intimidate anyone who expected to drive eastbound across that bridge in September of 2013.  Commuters who had their schedules uncontrollably altered because their attempts to get to work timely were thwarted.  School children were prevented from arriving at school on time, through no fault of their own.  And since emergency services were delayed, at least one person who required medical attention expired before it could be provided.  In shorter words, it was a mess!

It was only this past week that these emails were released to the media, and Governor Christie's leadership and intentions were called into question.  So how did he handle it?  With a show of respect and responsibility that we should all learn from.  The authors of those smoking-gun emails that were in his administration were immediately terminated.  Those co-conspirators who worked for the Port Authority stepped down before consequences resulted, which they would, since the governors of both New York and New Jersey control the Port Authority.  He even made a special trip from the state capital to Fort Lee to personally apologize to that town's mayor.

He then gave a long press conference in which he called out those who had engaged in this behavior, but also admitted that as governor, it was his responsibility, despite the fact that he knew nothing about this plan when it was happening.  Call it damage control, call it what you will, but this will either derail or severely impact his expected run for the White House in 2016.

I'll admit it, I think he's telling the truth.  Notwithstanding the reputation that New Jersey has for political corruption, I don't believe Christie plays dirty, partisan politics of this sort.  If you remember what happened during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Christie welcomed President Obama with open arms to the Jersey Shore.  No matter how much his fellow Republicans took him to task for accepting their sworn enemy in such a friendly way, he maintained that he was doing his job as Governor -- he wanted to rebuild the extreme damage that New Jersey had suffered because of the storm, and the President was willing to send all the federal aid that New Jersey needed to assist in the effort.  Christie even went so far as to say that he didn't "care about the election," no matter how most Republicans wanted Obama unseated, because rebuilding the shore after the hurricane was a thousand times more important than what the polls had to say.

If he could welcome the assistance of the scourge of his own party, and risk being seen as a traitor or a softie, then I doubt that he would play dirty against a mayor who chose not to endorse him in an election that would require no effort to win.  As long as they kept the information away from him, it was shockingly easy for his staffers to engineer this assault on commuters seeking to travel to Manhattan.

As beta males, we most often work for someone else.  So we know that, even where you have a boss who micromanages you, they can't watch you 24 hours a day.  For this reason, there is a certain level of trust given, with the assurance that you won't do anything they wouldn't want you to do, or vice-versa.  Sometimes this trust can be exceeded, when you catch something your boss didn't see, prevent a catastrophe from happening, and look like a big hero.  Provided you also make your boss look like a hero, this is a good thing.  But if you assume that your boss wants something, and you go ahead and do it without realizing what the ramifications could be, you invite trouble like this.

And if you do supervise others, you know that you can't always be on top of them every second.  Sometimes you have to just trust that they'll handle their responsibility.  And if they can't or don't, something must be done.  For most screw-ups, a simple talking-to followed by a simple apology will usually remedy the situation.  But something like this, that makes headline news?  Someone needs to go.

Bottom line, this was not Christie's fault.  He has handled the situation with dignity and class, and this should only improve his chances in the 2016 presidential election.  And all the others involved may have learned that not every politician seeks to play such dirty tricks, and neither should they.

And as beta males, hopefully we're above that most alpholish way of being.  And if we're not, use this story to get yourself right.