What the heck happened to Chris Christie?
Christie was the favorite. He was the Republicans' golden boy. I've never met him, but it's clear that he's a good guy. He's straightforward and real. He jokes around with Jimmy Fallon and handles town hall confrontations well. He has his flaws. But that makes him genuine. He seems like the perfect Republican candidate: a believer in lower taxes, less government, reduced entitlements and a strong military. And yet, he can't get traction with voters. His poll numbers, never impressive to begin with, have dropped so far that just last night he was demoted to the Junior Varsity debate. It seems like he's on his way out. And he probably is. But why? And what does this have to do with your business?
Everything. Particularly if you're growing. If you've learned anything from watching the downward spiral of Chris Christie you can take away this: you don't want to make the big mistake that he made. And that mistake was "Bridgegate."
Bridgegate was the scandal back in 2013, remember? That was when huge traffic jams were created across the highly trafficked George Washington Bridge to and from New York City, allegedly through collusion by certain members of Christie's staff and political appointees. The likely reason? Revenge on a nearby opponent (the mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey). Indictments were issued. Christie denied any involvement and it was never proved that he knew what was going on. But it didn't matter. When voters look at Christie, they think about Bridgegate. It's the Bridgegate issue that has most stuck to him all through this presidential campaign. It killed him. But it was his fault.
Sure, he seemed to handle the situation as best he could. He held press conference after press conference, public meeting after public meeting, all where he denied any knowledge of the scheme. He fired senior staffers. He testified in front of committees. Investigations into his conduct found no smoking gun. No one could ever prove that he was involved. But he was the boss. And this was a management failure. And now he's paying the price.
There are many lessons here. You're only as good as the last thing you do. Your people are representative of you. Your tone matters. A good diet, combined with plenty of exercise, can help you lose weight (sorry, couldn't resist). But here's the most important thing that every leader can learn from the sad fall of Chris Christie: you may not be ready for a bigger stage.
Christie had too many problems in his own state to launch a presidential campaign. Taxes are still too high. The state's transit system is in disarray. Budget deficits continued to plague his government. Many tasks and promises remain unfulfilled. And as these problems continued to mount, Christie began to lose local support. His poll numbers, never strong in a Democrat state, fell and have continued to fall throughout his presidential campaign. In short, he still had a lot of things to accomplish in his own state.
And yet he ignored these problems at home and chose to spend a significant time on the national stage, building a campaign, appearing on TV, spending time on the road at party events and fundraising activities, all preparing for a 2016 White House run. Calls of "absentee governor" became more frequent. And it's obvious his staffers were left without enough supervision. Otherwise, it's very possible that stupid things like Bridgegate could have been avoided. Christie chose to grow nationally without first getting his local house in order. So how about you?
Is your house in order? Are you as profitable as you can be? Is everything humming along and managed well? Do you have a good organizational structure in place with a good system of reporting and oversight? If you can answer yes to these questions, and you desire to expand, then go for it. But take it from Chris Christie: if you don't completely have your act together in your own home state, you may want to hold off on those big-time aspirations until you do. There are many lessons to be learned from the sad fall of Chris Christie. But for business leaders, growing before you're ready is probably the most important one.
A version of this column previously appeared on Inc.com.