Christie Needs to Manage his Enormous Hunger
In 2012, Governor Chris Christie represented the state of New Jersey on an important trade mission to Israel. As could be expected, Mr. Christie brought an entourage with him to represent the state; unfortunately these were not economic advisors, civil engineers, or scientists. Instead, as reported by the New York Times last week, his entourage included his wife, three of his four children, his mother-in-law, father, stepmother, four staff members, former law partner and a state trooper. Mr. Christie described it as any loving father would: “I relish these experiences and exposures, especially for my kids,” he told a reporter for the Times last summer. “I try to squeeze all the juice out of the orange that I can.” And, it was in 2010 that Mr. Christie set up his juice press by signing an executive order allowing the Governor of New Jersey to accept gifts from foreign dignitaries. He notably failed to discuss that they flew across the Atlantic on a private jet chauffeured by billionaire and casino owner, Sheldon G. Adelson. This is, of course, the same Mr. Adelson who donated $98 million to several Republican candidates for president in 2012, and also has several interests in Atlantic City.
Troublingly, this behavior is not unique for Mr. Christie. At the beginning of the month, Mr. Christie showed off his sports passion attending an Arsenal match in London. And, it was recently that he went to several Dallas Cowboys games as a guest of another billionaire, Jerry Jones. Mr. Christie, often made fun of for his ‘regular, cheesesteak eating” attitude and waistline, clearly has developed a refined palate for first-class travel, food, and experiences. This seemed to be the case with the multiple desert parties King Abdullah of Jordan threw him, while covering his $30,000 weekend stay.
Managing One’s Hungers
There are different types of hungers we feel each day. The most literal one expresses itself when we’ve gone too long without eating. The other hungers are complicated expressions of our human needs. These include the basic needs for attention, affection, approval, and admiration. Usually most of us keep these needs at bay. But, in times of great pressure or strain, we become vulnerable to these needs. They intensify, leaving us weaker in our response, not able to practice the self-discipline that usually keeps us even-keeled. Ironically, it’s quite common for individuals in prominent positions of authority to fall prey. And thanks to 21st century media, it’s even easier to to recall an ever-growing list of politicians, executives and celebrities who have fallen from grace by succumbing to the insatiable appetite these hungers present. What is it about Mr. Christie that has allowed him to make these questionable decisions?
Ron Heifetz & Marty Linsky, faculty at the Harvard Kennedy School, explain that these hungers can be classified into three types: power & control, intimacy & delight, and affirmation & importance.
Power & Control – All of us expect to control our own choices and have influence over our future. It is very common to have a strong desire to impose our will on other people and influence a far greater spectrum than just our own life.
Intimacy & Delight – From the moment we are born, we have an innate desire to be held. That desire, as well as all of our whims, are catered to without us even asking. Later in life, when our parents are no longer anticipating our needs, this desire evolves into an emotional craving.
Affirmation & Importance – Being given a consistent stream of positive feedback helps to inform when we are on the right track. But, too much adulation can flood our senses making us believe that we are better than we actually are.
Connecting Hungers to Christie
This last hunger of affirmation & importance seems most relevant in the context of Mr. Christie. Beyond the funded trips he has taken, he dances in several celebrity circles, something many other Republican politicians shy away from. Last January he attended Howard Stern’s birthday party at a ballroom in Manhattan, and last August, he was seen (literally dancing onstage) with Jamie Foxx at a celebrity benefit.
There is a seduction that occurs when we are in high demand, when all eyes are on us. We tend to accept all the faith and attention people are pouring on us. We want to believe that we are as great as our fans make us feel, that we are as important to their hopes and expectations.
The risk with belief in such grandiosity is that it is fleeting, clouding our judgment and fogging our vision.
The goal soon becomes doing whatever we can to maintain this found sense of importance, rather than the purpose that brought us here in the first place. If Mr. Christie doesn’t refocus some of his effort into managing his hunger of affirmation & importance, it may soon lead to his own undoing.
Managing Hungers in Your Role
While few of us are receiving invitations from King Abdullah to weekend at his palace (if you are and don’t plan on running for President, I suggest you go!), each of us face invitations that tempt our hungers. They test our desires to be the center of attention, our need to matter, or our desire for unique experiences.
Think of the last time you received an invitation you ordinarily wouldn’t receive. Or, perhaps someone on your team has recently remarked that your insight or participation was critical to solving a problem. Maybe you had swooped in like a superhero in the middle of the night to save the day, only to be longing for the next time you can don your cape.
These common experiences may not seem as nefarious as being called on by a billionaire casino-owner, but can nonetheless seed the misperceptions that we are greater than we are and can fulfill all sorts of needs.
It’s important to strike the balance between being proud and deserving, and when we are failing to manage our hungers.
To that end, we have developed an approach that can help you assess whether you are falling victim to these natural hungers for affirmation & importance. The strategy centers around answering three critical questions, which refocuses you, especially in moments when its hard to access balanced, sober thinking. When trying to determine whether you could be at risk, ask yourself:
What is the goal you are ultimately trying to achieve?
How could your actions further you in that goal?
What are the consequences and are there any that could be catastrophic?
How would Christie Answer the Questions
It’s helpful to speculate as to how Governor Christie might have answered these questions, especially if he were answering them honestly as opposed to politically. From here we can draw a conclusion whether Mr. Christie believes he has managed his hungers well through his tenure.
1. What is the goal you are ultimately trying to achieve?
While no official announcement has been made, Mr. Christie looks to be preparing for future residency at 1600 Pennslyvania Avenue. He has started a political action committee and made numerous trips to Iowa, all common steps when starting a presidential campaign.
2. How could your actions further you in that goal?
By accepting invitations from Mr. Adelson and Mr. Jones, Mr. Christie is building relationships with high net worth individuals who could donate to his campaign. They are also likely to broker connections to other potential high net worth donors able to max their political contribution.
3. What are the consequences and are there any that could be catastrophic?
The line between “squeezing all the juice out of the orange” and being tried in the court of public opinion on dubious ethical behavior is a thin one, with the most obvious consequence being losing the trust of his constituency.
Even if Mr. Christie is able to keep his wits about him, the mere appearance of indebtedness or a quid pro quo situation could spell disaster. In this circumstance, real or perceived improprieties carry the same penalty.
The invitation that Mr. Christie accepted that is most worrisome is that of Howard Stern’s birthday party. Mr. Stern is widely known to feature salacious behavior on his talk radio show and it is no stretch of the imagination that such elements might be also be present at his party. In a time where the greatest hope of Christie’s opposition is a lewd photo that could end his political career, why take the chance?
In this situation, our recommendation would be to refocus on the ultimate goal. Mr. Christie, dial back your public appearances that appear to signal impropriety while keeping the relationships alive with key donors. On the celebrity side, decline invitations for high-risk events, and assess tangible benefits for all other invitations. (The celebrity benefit with Jamie Foxx might have been okay, but we want to know the objective).
Managing hungers is one of the most critical things that you will need to do as your authority grows, both within your team and with those external to your organization. How will you refocus to your original goal and objectively assess the best course forward when the torrent of respect, admiration and adoration crashes upon you, leaving you unable to trust your instincts?