The Measure of the Man

Last night I was watching a news program relative to the ongoing saga of British Petroleum and the lack of responsiveness to the oil crisis, the passing of the mantle from Tony Hayward to Bob Dudley, and the ongoing ’20-20′ hindsight commentary of how the company’s leadership responded to the crisis.

I am certain there will be many business case studies written about this situation and what could have been done differently to resolve the crisis, and potentially prevent another tragic accident like this in the future. The industry will certainly learn from the incident and BP will have the scars to prove they were the company to chart the way toward improved operations across the oil and gas industry’s safety records and ongoing precautions.

In listening to Bob Dudley navigate the damning commentary from the media interviewers, I have been struck with his poise and his direct unflinching response to accusations and negative judgments. In fact, one interview started off with the talk show host stating he had drawn the ‘old maid’ card in this new position – what a way to start a dialogue! (Click here to view this specific interview)

The reporter went on to drive a hard interview attempting to get a rise from Mr. Dudley and even trying to get him to throw Tony Hayward under the bus. We can learn a great deal from his example on how to respond – honestly, openly, and authentically – of the challenges they are facing, the mistakes that have been made, and the commitment they are making going forward. However, most impressive to me was how he refused to condemn Tony Hayward. His direct response to this hard driving reporter was this  (paraphrased):

“Tony worked for BP for 30 years and loves this company. He is devoted to this company. He was the captain of the ship during a severe accident. He has been very gracious in the passing of the mantle and wants to see this through. He believes stepping down was the right thing to do, though he is very sad about it. He wants what is best and that is the measure of the man.”

We can argue over cocktails about all the things that “coulda, woulda, shoulda” been done in this situation. Regardless, one take away I have from these past few days is the resolve of new leadership not to condemn prior leadership for the issues and problems inherited. What can we all learn from this example? What could our leadership in Washington DC – on all sides of the partisan equation – learn from this example?

3 responses to “The Measure of the Man

  1. I agree with Mr. Dudley, Mr. Parcells, and you about this media trashing of
    Mr. Hayward. While this terrible event was happening, I was impressed by the calm personal approach of Mr. Hayward. If the event had ended 30 days earlier (before his comment about wanting his life back), he may have gone down in the history books as the example of how to handle a disaster. The media sells bad news and does not care who gets hurt even if they are doing their best for the good of all concerned.

  2. Your points are well made Kristin, although out of this fiasco we should remember that most of us are tainted in some way. Sure companies should be run ethically, to the highest safety standards and acknowledge that the buck has to stop somewhere. That aside there are two significant points that get less air time which I would like to offer as a pro-American Brit:
    1) The undertones of US nationalism about this disaster, at several levels, leave a sour taste in some peoples’ minds particularly when remembering the Bhopal disaster in the 80’s:

    2) This planet has an insatiable appetite for oil, more so in the US than many other countries. This current disaster, which is not the first or last of such spills, only goes to highlight that the ‘oil junkie’ shares some responsibility for the mess, not just the ‘oil trafficker’.

    Perhaps these points stray from the moral maze ethics of leadership and employing resolve not to blame outgoing leadership, but as leaders we might sell ourselves short in denying that the sins of the fathers will be visited on the sons unless we break free from the underlying error of our ways.

    The global economic financial crisis is a great example of the futility in pointing fingers and blaming others; a massive challenge for incoming political administrations, as in the US and the UK. Many are culpable but finger pointing does not get the problem solved. Not to dwell on or exploit our predecessor’s wrongs is commendable but perhaps the real measure of a man is not in clearing up the visible mess but in how he prevents another one ever happening, even if it makes him unpopular with those around him by getting to the root of the problem.

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