THE BLOG
01/21/2014 03:20 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2014

Chris Christie, 'Bridgegate' and a Question of Values

"A world without values is a world without value." -- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie finds himself at the center of a stormy scandal. But the good news is that he has a chance to rise above the storm and start talking about the importance of values.

Hire on competence but fire on character.

That is the motto of many corporate leaders.

Competence is to be treasured. But ignoring character leads big companies or government entities to big problems because they hire a lot of competent crooks.

As a result of character flaws with executives who were hired based on their competence, JP Morgan Chase, Lockheed, Barclays, Pilot Flying J, to name a few, have suffered the consequences of shame, fines and lawsuits. Others, such as Arthur Anderson and Enron imploded because of rogue wrongdoing and aggressive sales cultures, driven by executives who had great credentials but lacked the ability to tell need from greed and right from wrong.

Now New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is claiming betrayal by top aides who ranked high on competence but low on character. He said they lied to him and betrayed his trust.

Gov. Christie told reporters he had no idea that his deputy chief of staff and other people at the top of his organization engineered the closing of two out of three lanes of the George Washington Bridge, causing gridlock and paralyzing traffic for days in Fort Lee.

Apparently the governor's top aides believed they were acting out of loyalty to his political ambitions by punishing the mayor of Fort Lee for not endorsing Christie's re-election. The governor now says he does not know what he did to encourage such a culture of corruption in his office.

With Enron, the scandal that broke apart the venerable Arthur Anderson accounting firm, the aggressive president of the company also failed to see the lack of character, lack of values that led to off-the-book trading schemes, obsession with profits and then disaster.

Ditto with New Jersey, where the governor saw his aides make winning elections and power into an obsession that trumped good values.

The governor's political aides fell over what we referred to in a prior article as "The Values Cliff" -- a decline of moral values regulating our ethical behavior and how we treat others.

There are more and more people falling over this "Values Cliff" in our society:

*Rampant cheating in high schools and colleges, including grade inflation;
*An epidemic of bullying in America's schools and workplaces;
*Spikes in sexual assaults among young people and in the military.

Where a culture perpetuates bad values, it's hard to push back. Dr. Jeffrey Wigand, "The Insider" who blew the whistle on the tobacco industry was ruined financially, blackballed, divorced and ostracized before he won his legal battles against the industry, ultimately rebounding as a consultant.

Chief executives such as Governor Christie, Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and others may be the latest "victims" of questionable or illegal practices.

But they are now in position to halt the bad behavior.

Culture gone awry is like a runaway train, hard to control without extensive intervention. Culture defines what's popular, cool and acceptable. Culture can be driven by values or the lack thereof. Where culture evolves into behaviors that skirt ethics, social responsibility and the greater good, bullying behavior, financial irregularities and the like are logical and likely outcomes.

Leadership that values common purpose, service to others and excellence results in good work and greater community value. It is a proven formula.

Governor Christie now can restore his presidential hopes or, at a minimum, bipartisan leadership in New Jersey, by focusing on values, speaking out about values and making values his trademark.

His troubles have created a unique opportunity for him to introduce mandatory values training for top officials of his administration.

We are talking about values training that focuses on shared responsibility, humility and servant leadership to state government. This would be a great example for all of New Jersey, all political leaders in our nation and a step toward helping young, ambitious Americans recognize that values, as much as competence, will lead to success.

Studies in corporate values and school culture have shown that, principles must be consistently reinforced and internalized to be effective.

So, to Governor Christie, step up and lead. Set the example for recognizing the value of values. Your political career will prosper, and your humanity and humility will grow.

Juan Williams is a columnist for The Hill, author and Fox News contributor;
Stuart Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Project Love/Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialog around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us