Change Agent Tip #13: Know When to Say When

Oct 08, 2011 4 Comments by

I watched New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s big press conference the other day. For those who missed it, the popular politician announced that in spite of heavy pressure to run, he would not be a candidate for President of the United States in 2012.

The Bottom Line: He summed up his decision by saying: “Now is not my time.” and “New Jersey, whether you like it or not, you’re stuck with me.”(I thought about what my friends from New Jersey might think of that last revelation…)

Whether they agree with his politics or think he’s downright awful, most reporters and political junkies agree that Christie is a colorful orator and an interesting character who is very comfortable in his own skin.

The Message is the Matter: His eagerly-awaited press conference went on for nearly an hour and essentially had two main communication points:

1.  “Thanks for asking.”
2.  “I’m not running.”

Just an observation, but it seemed to take several iterations for the non-candidate to get these seemingly simple points across.

Many cable news political pundits seemed disappointed that he had made this decision – maybe because he would have provided great fodder for those who are paid for expressing their opinion. The current field of Republican candidates all appeared to be relieved that he had withdrawn.

An Observation for Change Agents: It’s no secret that the Governor enjoys the spotlight more than the average human being – which can be a good thing or a bad thing for a politician. Too shy and you look like a heartless cad. Too verbose and you look like a self-promoter who threatens to upstage his own message.

The spotlight can also be a dangerous thing for Change Agents, so I watched the press conference from that frame of reference.

The Good: I noticed three positive things that those of us who guide change can learn from Christie’s press conference:

  1. Know your message before you get in front of your stakeholders.
  2. Be yourself.
  3. Don’t duck stakeholder questions.

The governor certainly knows his stuff and has no problem playing the role of “The Boss in Charge” in front of the media. The media loves this guy and he loves the media.

His direct answers to reporters questions are legendary.  My favorite quote came during the preparation for Hurricane Irene when he made his expectations clear to beach-goers:

“Get the hell off the beach!”

The Bad: So Chris Christie got his points across and the logic of his decision was clearly laid out. This should put an end to the public petitions and private arm-twisting that strove to draft him as a 2012 candidate. However, I did notice a couple negative lessons Change Agents can draw from Christie’s performance:

  1. Say What You Need to Say, then let people get back to work.
  2. Focus on Your Delivery and avoid wandering off on tangents that might distract listeners.
  3. It’s All About the Message: Avoid the appearance that you’re trying to make the messenger (yourself) the center of attention.

The Ugly: Again, I’m neither a fan nor a detractor of Governor Christie’s policies, but I do like his candor.  I appreciated that he went through a diligent thought process before he made his decision. But after 30 minutes of talking, this communication event struck me as almost painful.

Change Agents might notice the good, the bad and the ugly elements of his delivery and avoid having the same impact on their stakeholders.


Question for Chatter:

  1. How does the delivery of a message reinforce or detract from how well the message is heard?

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Team Dynamics

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I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

4 Responses to “Change Agent Tip #13: Know When to Say When”

  1. Wendy Appel says:

    Great read Steve! Well written, entertaining and useful. Chris Christie looks like an Enneagram Type 8–The Boss. Whether he is or not, only he knows. However, that direct, “say it like it is” style and appearing to be comfortable in your skin is what you would expect from Type 8.
    Love your tips! Keep writing–you are good at it and your points land easily.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Wendy! It would be interesting if candidates had to divulge their results on a standardized personality inventory as part of being nominated for important positions… :o) It might also scare off some of the deadbeat incumbents!

  2. Wendy Appel (@WendyAppel) (@WendyAppel) says:

    Fun and useful read! Change Agent Tip #13: Know When to Say When –

  3. chihos (@chihos) (@chihos) says:

    What communicators can learn from NJ Gov Chris Christie’s announcement: #leadchange #communication #PMOT BAot

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