It’s easy to look at soon-to-be-former BP CEO Tony Hayward with a stern shake of the finger and mutter “tsk, tsk, tsk.” He’s an abundantly wealthy chief executive who stood on shores sullied by the company under his charge and openly lamented he’d “like his life back.” He was photographed yachting while beleaguered residents of the Gulf may never get to boat in their beloved waters again. He sat before U.S. Congress and stated he wasn’t part of the decision making processes involving the rig that took 11 of his employees’ lives when it imploded.
He hasn’t appeared cruel as much as he has detached, void of connection, lacking in heart and distant from responsibility. Each faux pas has been so basic, so “PR for CEOs 101,” I’ve wondered if his mother-of-pearl cuff links were acting as emotional deflector bracelets.
Between Hayward’s gaffes and those auto execs flying to their congressional hearings on private jets last year, we’ve all been reminded how very fallible and human those in power are. Unfortunately, humanness has equated to inhumanity in these instances. He yachts while we scoop tar balls. They jetset while we budget for our next tank of gas. It’s the modern version of “let them eat cake.”
Yet before we all choke on the cake of righteous indignation, it’s wise to pause, observe and apply what we’ve learned. We may not be CEOs of multi-billion dollar international corporation, but we’re all in charge of something as business people. We lead companies, groups of employees, projects, decision-making processes, customer interactions, the hiring of vendors, the management of accounts payable…and so on and so on. Better to learn from the mistakes of others than to make the same errors ourselves.
To that end, look at your business operations, from the mundane and day-to-day to the large-scale and visionary. Would you be knowledgeable and connected enough to be responsive and responsible should something go askew? If corporate culture comes from the top down, what culture are you purveying within your organization?
Maybe you’re a sole proprietor like me. We solo acts don’t have employees or traditional operations in a framework around our businesses. Nonetheless, there are relevant lessons and take-aways even for us. We’re reminded to be cognizant of those around us, to be cautious of the the ripple effect of decisions and to weigh the importance of preparedness for the unexpected. How promptly we pay vendors, the respect with which we respond to customers, the integrity with which we run our businesses—these things matter.
To not learn from all that we’ve seen in the Gulf and from the egregious missteps of the likes of Hayward? That would, in itself, be a nightmare and the biggest mistake of all.
Thanks for reading!
p.s. – More on BP’s lessons in crisis management can be found here.