Leadership Lessons from BP & Tony Hayward
Many lessons can be learned from the BP crisis as it continues to unfold and do considerable damage to the environment. It is an excellent example of how crises demand extraordinary leadership not required in times of stability. Leaders in crisis must dig deep to guide during uncertainty and in unchartered waters. BP’s attempts to deal with the oil spill highlight some lessons for future leaders in similar situations:

Step Up to the Plate
It is easy to lead an organization when things are good. Leadership is truly called into question when the going gets tough. It is during these crises that everyone expects a leader to step up, take responsibility and action. This is where Tony Hayward of BP has fallen short.

When met with the crisis, BP’s CEO should have been more involved in the recovery process. During crises, leaders need to show confidence, credibility, and commitment. According to Crisis-A Leadership Opportunity (Harvard, 2005), “Organizations under crisis want leaders who provide assurance, direction, and inspiration”. Hayward has missed the opportunity to step up to the plate with strong leadership and direction.

Take Responsibility for their Actions
In Skip the Yacht Race, Daniel Gross argues that in theory Tony Hayward’s “leisure pursuits”, like yachting during the BP spill, should be his own business. The reality is that all eyes are on a leader during a crisis. Everyone looks to them for direction, solution and comfort. In these situations their actions don’t speak louder than words they actually yell.

Hayward, as CEO of a global organization in crisis, should have been smart enough to realize this. He also could have been more empathetic, a critical skill of emotionally intelligent leaders, to consider that a yacht race might not have been the best choice given the thousands whose livelihoods’ were jeopardized by the spill. As a true leader, he could have chosen a more private and modest activity to deal with his stress.

Bring in Outside Expertise
Effective leadership often requires a leader to look for outside expertise to overcome a crisis. BP has done a poor job in the past few months. For example three days after the crisis began the Dutch were willing to provide ships that could have greatly aided in the clean up. Yet as mentioned by the Houston Chronicle, they were turned down. Eventually, seven weeks had to pass for BP to realize the Dutch help was needed.

Clearly, one’s chances of managing a crisis can be greatly increased by consulting outside help. This was seen in the Tylenol crisis of 1982. In Chicago 7 people had died and tainted Tylenol was suspected. Johnson & Johnson took immediate action seeking the aid of the FBI and the Food and Drug Association (FDA). Through their co-operation, they were able to identify the suspect and develop future safety measures. Had BP consulted external expertise earlier the situation might have been further ahead. Leaders need to focus on what’s best to manage a crisis recognizing when they are over their heads and require outside help.

From an outsider’s perspective, no one can accurately understand Hayward’s and BP’s obstacles. One hopes that by learning from their experience future leaders in crisis can Step up to the Plate, Take Responsibility for their Actions, and Bring in Outside Expertise. As any successful leader knows, “With great power comes great responsibility” (Stan Lee).

Author's Bio: 

Wendy Woods is a certified laughter yoga leader and has developed unique programs to bring laughter into the workplace to reduce stress, improve relationships and boost productivity. For more information, please contact her at wwoods@watershedtraining.ca, follow WatershedFlow on Twitter, or visit http://www.watershedtraining.ca for more information.