No one could have predicted that N.J. Gov. Chris Christie and President Obama would be standing side by side heaping praise on each other at the flood-ravaged Jersey Shore just days before a presidential election. For months the Republican governor had been blasting Obama in an effort to garner support for Mitt Romney. But that was before the biggest disaster in New Jersey’s history. That was before Hurricane Sandy swiftly obliterated towns and uprooted millions of lives.
So when the governor was asked by the media what effect the storm would have on the elections, Christie sincerely and appropriately said this isn’t the time to think about politics. So candid. So refreshing. So human. Yet, so surprising to so many. Election pundits and tweets expressed shock that the two politicians would dare to be seen, much less work together days before the election.
Kudos to the governor for his candid heartfelt words and actions that made those comments look so trite and small-minded. Kudos to both Christie and Obama for putting aside differences and exhibiting bipartisan leadership and resilience at a time when it is needed most. And kudos again for focusing on putting victims first regardless of their political preference. The motto should be “together we can weather.” It’s unfortunate that it takes a hurricane to remind us what’s important, but often natural disasters and human suffering become lessons in leadership. Here are the lessons, good under every weather condition:
Speak from the Heart — When we speak from our hearts, our words are genuine and unscripted. Unlike other high-profile events peppered with spin and carefully crafted message points tweaked by disclaimers and legalese, these messages are raw and real. If you want to make sure your messages are credible during tough times, read them out loud to people not as close to the situation as you are. If they give you a blank stare, your message is devoid of concern and compassion and you need to work on it.
Constant Communication — We didn’t have to look any further than Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to understand what leadership communication is about. No matter when I turned on our portable radio as we were among so many without power, Nutter was briefing the public on the latest information. Keeping people informed keeps people calm.
Calm in the Midst of a Storm — Strong leaders show up well prepared and deliver crushing news with calm and confidence. Nutter did it. Obama did it. Christie did it. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did it as did many others. When leaders appear confident, they inspire confidence in others.
Put Victims First — Stories are not about you. They are about those affected. If a crisis hits your workplace, advise your leadership or employees to leave their egos at home. Make sure they help you understand the magnitude of the situation and are not afraid to tell you what you need to hear. No one wants a yes man or woman at the expense of others.
Candid Clarity — People want the truth. Don’t tell them it will be OK when they are knee deep in loss. Simply let them know you are there for them. Together Obama and Christie did just that. The president pledged no red tape, telling victims: “America is with you; we are standing behind you; and we are going to do everything we can to get you back on your feet.” It doesn’t instantaneously fix the problem, but you know others have your back.
As my family weathered Sandy’s aftermath at a local eatery bubbling over with many others waiting for their power to come back, there was a sense of community and generosity that reminds us despite our differences we’re all the same. Together, we really can weather anything if we’re willing to put those differences aside.