How to lead in times of crisis – 6 leadership lessons from BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward

finger pointing, no self accountability, passing the buckIn times of crisis, how a leader fronts and deals with the situation can either fan an already out of control situation or they can take full responsibility and become part of the solution. Sadly, BP’s CEO – Tony Hayward’s words, behaviour and demeanour have only but fueled the situation.

The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a disaster on many levels. And it appears that it could have been avoided. Questions are being asked of the CEO but answers to date have not been forthcoming – answers which could provide a deeper, systemic understanding about what went wrong and why and how best to deal with this major catastrophe.

Here are 6 leadership lessons that can be learnt from BP’s CEO:

1) Take responsibility for what’s happened

You are the leader and the buck stops with you. Period. No ifs, buts or other excuses. You can’t afford to come up with distancing and disowning excuses such as, “I wasn’t involved in the decision-making process” and you didn’t know about the problems until very recently. For the Kiwi readers – see a Tui ad coming along? Imagine being one of the employees on the rig and this is the support you get from your CEO? You and your company’s reputation are at stake. Taking responsibility allows you to lay the foundations for moving forward. Unless you do this, it’s all gas.

2) Be authentic

Saying “I am deeply sorry” isn’t enough and means very little when your overall conduct and demeanor – everything else that you say, do and are being – does not demonstrate a true sense of contrition and remorse. “Sorry” is meaningless unless it’s backed by genuine feelings and actions. If others see you as inauthentic, it creates even more anger and distrust. Ask any victim who has had an offender mouth sorry to get a lesser punishment but wasn’t really genuinely caring or empathic. It leaves people feeling angrier and with an even greater sense of injustice.

3) Actions follow intent

Regardless of what you say – the old adage – talk is cheap holds. As a leader, your actions will be story boarded and subject to scrutiny. The compounding effect of your behaviour and actions will tell a consistent story and outshine what else you may be saying. Your outcomes are a result of the actions you take which in turn are reflective of your intent. People quickly see through that.

4) Practice humility and develop empathy

It keeps you grounded. Some of the best leaders are also very humble and have the best interest of others around them. Organizational leaders have a responsibility not just to the shareholders but also the communities they operate out of and the people they serve. Gone are the days of arrogance and self aggrandizement.  Karmically too, it doesn’t work as sooner or later, things come back to bite you – call it the law of universe.

As a leader, “it’s not all about you!” No matter the eleven lives lost, the impact on the coast, wetlands and marine life, those “small people” whose livelihoods have come to a halt, the CEO is noted for declaring “I want my life back” and to his executive team, “what did we do to deserve this?” Where is the empathy – a core component of emotional intelligence?

5) Be respectful of others

While you are being questioned by the Congress isn’t quite the time to be looking at your watch. I have had a number of clients who have reported how discounted and disrespected they felt when their manager sat in a meeting with them while also immersed in his blackberry. On one occasion it was while they were going through his performance review. This is a sure way to create disengagement and make someone feel like they are not valued. Become aware of your non-verbal and other unconscious behaviour, its impact and how it’s undermining your leadership.

6) Walk the values talk – be in integrity

BP says its code of conduct is the cornerstone of our commitment to integrity. As Tony Hayward, the group chief executive, affirms: “our reputation, and therefore our future as a business, depends on each of us, everywhere, every day, taking personal responsibility for the conduct of BP’s business.” Really? The four BP values are progressive, responsible, innovative and performance driven.  Responsible is defined as follows – “we are committed to the safety and development of our people and the communities and societies in which we operate. We aim for no accidents, no harm to people and to damage the environment.”

If you think these leadership traits are somehow distant from us, just consider the political events in our own country in the last two weeks! Within any crisis are also the seeds for phenomenal change – the birthing of deeper learning, growth and development. I wonder if Tony Hayward will learn the true meaning of the word responsibility and what it really takes to be a great leader?

Knowing how to deal with a crisis is part of becoming an authentic leader. Jasbindar Singh is business psychologist, leadership coach, author and speaker. Get in touch today to discuss how Jasbindar can help you or your company or follow Jasbindar on twitter.

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3 Responses to How to lead in times of crisis – 6 leadership lessons from BP’s CEO, Tony Hayward

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