In Crisis Management, From the Firm
Rumination #2 – The first step towards recovering from a crisis is honestly taking responsibility for your mistake

At first, I bought it.

The initial statement by Gov. Chris Christie at his epic news conference appeared to have all the element of a heartfelt apology.  And the initial seeds of recovery.  He expressed outrage, he demonstrated action (the two supposedly rogue staffers were summarily fired) and he mouthed the need to root out the evil in his administration.

And then I didn’t.

For one, Christie has yet to acknowledge that the vindictive behavior of his staff had any connection to the pay-back culture that’s characterized his office.  We’re getting hints of that from accusations by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, who’s been meeting with federal investigators to discuss her claims that Christie’s administration tied Hurricane Sandy relief funds to her approval of a major development project.

There have always been whispers that the strong-arm culture that pervaded Christie’s office was just business as usual.  In fact, all you have to do is get a look at a few YouTube videos of His Honor berating constituents who dared to question him if you want to know what happens when you cross him.  It’s hard to believe that such an attitude didn’t permeate the culture of his office.  To quote Jan C. Ting, a columnist for and a professor of law at the Temple University Beasley School of Law.  “Anyone familiar with politics knows that political aides demonstrate their loyalty by fulfilling the wishes of their bosses. Even if it can’t be proven that Christie gave the order for the traffic restrictions in Fort Lee, he has long had a reputation for petty vindictiveness against anyone demonstrating independence from the Christie line.”

In addition, nothing Christie said during his marathon news conference (or since) has indicated an honest acknowledgment of the mistake.  Or, a demonstration of the lessons he’s taken from it.  Nor, have the words “I’m sorry” passed his lips.”  You’ll want to check out Jon Stewart’s comments about the very omission obvious absence of the phrase “I’m sorry”  in Christie’s comments.

The closest the Governor’s come to demonstrating that he’s learned anything from Bridgegate was in his scripted remarks during his one hour and 48 minute news conference.  At least some aide was smart enough to include these words in the Governor’s statement: “One thing is clear: this type of behavior is unacceptable and I will not tolerate it because the people of New Jersey deserve better.”  Not exactly a real acknowledgement of a mistake, but the outrage is a nice touch.

Lastly, Christie’s use of the trite “Mistakes were made” was, well, a mistake.  This oh-so-comfy legalese showcases such distancing from responsibility that’s it’s almost laughable.  I think the first time I heard that one was during the Watergate hearings.  And we all know how that went down for those folks.

In any crisis, mistakes are indeed made.  But the key to recovering from those crises is demonstrating that you understand what they were, why they were made, what they teach you and how you’ll use that enlightenment to prevent them from happening again.  That’s how you get through and past a crisis with a little more wisdom than you had coming into it.  That’s how you take the first steps towards recovery.


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