Lessons from Chris Christie, Jean-Claude Brizard and Marc Binioff

uncaptionedIt was a powerful moment. Late last week, The Today Show’s Matt Lauer asked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie what lessons leaders in Washington could learn from New Jersey’s recent success in passing a bi-partisan pension bill. Christie replied:

First the President could show up. You can’t negotiate through a secondary person.(1)

(Interestingly, this week, President Obama is negotiating directly with Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.)


You can’t lead through a secondary person either. Leadership is about inspiring and enabling others, and ultimately, it’s a very personal exercise. As Chicago’s new school chief Jean-Claude Brizard gets this. When he started his previous job as the head of schools in Rochester, NY his vision was to

…create an environment in the district where if he asks a school principal about a specific student and their dreams, aspirations, struggles and achievement, he and school leaders will be able to have a meaningful dialogue about that child’s future.(2)

As he moves into his new role in Chicago, Brizard is driving the same message,

It’s not about reform for reform’s sake, but how do we change the lives of children? That has to be the reason why we do this work.

uncaptionedSalesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff’s actions at his annual management off-site meeting also reinforces the need for leaders to engage directly with stakeholders. Benioff invited all 5,000 of Salesforce.com’s employees to participate in the meeting virtually and interact in real-time with the management team through their internal social network.  uncaptionedMeaningful dialogue did not start until Benioff himself posted a comment about a presentation while also injecting some humor.(3)

Certainly Christie did not solve his state’s budget issues on his own. Brizard doesn’t teach students anymore. And Benioff doesn’t sell anything himself. But much of what people deep in an organization think they have to do actually gets in the way of their ability to make an impact. These leaders cut through the red tape, change processes, step in, and show up at the critical moment to rally the team and make things happen.

Christie engaged in the debate with other political leaders. He led by doing. Many of Brizard’s choices around school employees have been controversial through the years, but no one can doubt his focus on his students. Benioff had a good idea and then modeled the behavior he hoped others would adopt.

uncaptionedWhile everything communicates, many won’t believe what you say. They’ll wait to see what you do. When leaders truly believe something is important they don’t trust in words alone. They show up – as did the members of the Continental Congress in America 235 years ago this week.

These are all good examples of step 5 of The New Leader’s PlaybookDrive Action by Activating and Directing an Ongoing Communication Network (Including Social Media)

Everything communicates. You can either make choices in advance about what and how you’re going to communicate or react to what others do. It is important to discover your own message and be clear on your platform for change, vision, and call to action before you start trying to inspire others. It will evolve as you learn, but you can’t lead unless you have a starting point to help focus those learning plans. Identify your target audiences. Craft and leverage your core message and master narrative. Monitor and adjust as appropriate on an ongoing basis.

Click here to read about each step in the playbook

Click here for YouTube videos highlighting each step


The New Leader’s Playbook includes the 10 steps that executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis uses to help new leaders and their teams get done in 100-days what would normally take six to twelve months. George Bradt is PrimeGenesis’ managing director, and co-author of The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan (Wiley, 2009). Follow him at @georgebradt or on YouTube.


(1) Today Show, NBC, June 24, 2011

(2) Meaghan McDermott writing about Brizard in The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, January 2, 2008

(3) Herminia Ubarra and Morten T. Hansen, “Are You a Collaborative Leader” Harvard Business Review – July-August 2011


(Chris Christie Image via Wikipedia)

(Jean-Claude Brizard Image by USDAgov via Flickr)

(Marc Benioff Image by Getty Images via @daylife)

(Chatter Image via CrunchBase)

(Betsy Ross Flag Image by scazon via Flickr)