It’s One Thing to Criticize Business Leaders But it’s Quite Another to Offer Actionable Programs that Solve Problems
The horrendous economic and environmental damage caused by the failure of a British Petroleum oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico has created a gusher of “cheap shots” A cheat shot, of course, is an unfair verbal or physical attack on a vulnerable target. It’s what weak, frustrated leaders use as a weapon when they’re presented with a situation they cannot control. The cheap shot is used to deflect attention away from the real issue and the cheap shot artist’s inability to solve the problem.
In the political world, the cheap shot becomes a WMD (weapon of mean destruction). Politicians know that if you don’t have an answer to an issue raised by an opponent – take a cheap shot at him. It’s like the baseball pitcher who is frustrated by back-to-back home runs who then beans the next batter. It is a cheap shot that does not solve your problem, but it does deflect attention from your failings and makes you feel better.
Clearly everyone is rightly frustrated by the inability of BP and the government to stem the flow of oil in the Gulf and to clean up the environmental and economic disaster it has created. However, reducing the problem to a cascade of cheap shots only exacerbates the situation. What is needed is leadership, not the cheap, excoriating theatrics we have witnessed in Congress.
Of course, one could reasonably argue that BP and its CEO Tony Hayward have earned the scathing attacks heaped upon them. The actions of BP prior to the spill are now transparent examples of corporate greed. And the way Hayward reacted after the disaster struck is an unmitigated example of poor leadership.
Clearly BP is guilty of trying to squeeze as much oil as possible out of the Gulf on the cheap. BP obviously gave short-shift to the potential risks inherent in the type of approach they took primarily to make more money. Of course, in the end, this disaster will cost BP much more money than it would have had the company properly calculated the risks of a spill and then invested in the equipment, manpower and materials necessary for adequate protection.
From a leadership standpoint, Tony Hayward has become the poster child for exactly what a CEO should not do in a crisis. His failure is also a great leadership and management lesson from which we all can learn.
Solid Guidance—Not Cheap Shots
To be effective, the leader in any situation needs to carefully balance between a laissez-faire style of management and micro-management. The “hands-off” leader leaves the followers rudderless, and exposes the leader to the risks of not knowing what is happening. The micro manager may know everything that is happening in the organization, but that is because not much is allowed to happen.
Ideally, the leader should communicate the vision, establish the rules of engagement and then empower others to accomplish the goal, while establishing a communications channel that allows early notice of problems.
Mistakes and problems will always occur. The most difficult problems for the leader are the problems they are not aware of. Because of this the leader must establish a clear channel of communication so that when a problem does arise the leader can quickly become involved.
By the way he acted at the start of the crisis and his own words at last week’s Congressional hearing, BP CEO Tony Hayward clearly demonstrated his leadership failure. His “I don’t know,” “I was not involved in that,” and “I don’t remember that,” were the responses of a leader who was not aware of problems within his company and did not become involved in the details of the cause and solution.
While BP took the cheap way to harvest deep oil, Tony Howard took the cheap way to manage the company. No wonder BP and Hayward have been exposed to so many cheap shots.
And the Moral of the Story …
Many can lead when all is well, but real leadership is defined by how one responds when an unexpected crisis arises. Yet, the truly effective leader is not even measured by crisis management alone, but by the structure put in place to quickly identify, analyze, confront and resolve the issue.
No leader can predict the unexpected, but an effective leader does expect the unexpected and has in place a plan to deal with it. Tony Hayward was not this type of leader and as a result, he positioned his company and himself to be perfect targets for the cheap shot.