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Good Leader/Bad Leader

October 12, 2011

In April 2011, an oil explosion on a BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and caused the greatest oil spill in U.S. history. The CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, uniquely rose to the occasion with what will surely become known as the most self-absorbed leadership quote of all time:

“What the hell did we do to deserve this?”

Mr. Hayward was certainly operating under an extremely stressful situation at the time, immensely more intense and tragic than any of us might ever face in our careers.

But, still.

It is clear that Mr. Hayward was a wee bit preoccupied with himself and the career-branding implications of this tragedy, rather than seeing the bigger picture and stepping up to lead the organization through an epic crisis.

Compare this behavior to Farzad Rastegar, CEO of Maclaren USA, who was faced with a massive baby stroller recall in November of 2009. Those strollers claimed the little fingers of dozens of toddlers due to faulty hinges, and were under fierce public attack. “It was one of the most difficult times of my business life,” Rastegar writes in a Harvard Business Review story, “But good did come of it. I learned a lot about myself, my role as CEO, and what it means to lead a growing, global company.”

Farzad goes on to discuss the influential role his company is now taking with other manufacturers and retailers in setting higher standards for stroller safety in a surprisingly unregulated industry. He faced the crisis head on and found ways to lead an entire industry towards the greater good.

We may want to scoff and throw spitballs at the wayward CEO of BP, but really, he was just doing what we all do – which is to take our jobs and careers too personally.

Self-protection is often our first instinct in dealing with stress. Feeding into a self-centered approach to your career inevitably leads to a smaller-screen version of Tony Hayward’s response in the face of difficult situations. What does everyone else think about me? Will I get blamed? How will this affect my promotion? It can be exhausting.

Thankfully, there are alternatives for rising above this self-centered self-management, and they are endless.

Instead of hiding, face the truth.

Rather than blaming others, take responsibility.

Pay attention to the needs and hurts and anxieties of others.

Influence the outcome towards a higher ground.

Inspire others towards a brighter future than what is in front of you.

Give of yourself first, cover your ass later.

Influence, inspiration, care and compassion – this will build legacies, which are more important than resumes.

Image thanks to Nan R.

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 6:36 am

    In a crisis situation, the first instinct of bad leaders is self-preservation. The first instinct of good leaders is solve the problem. Good post, Brad.

  2. October 12, 2011 7:00 am

    I see it all the time around my shop. ON the other hand, I see some great leaders rise to the occassion. It truly is the mark of leadership to steer a ship back on to course without panic

  3. October 12, 2011 7:14 am

    Thanks for a great post!

    You know, I have always heard it said that when squeeze a tube of toothpaste, it is toothpaste that comes out. Whatever is inside someone is going to come out under stress.

    I think the lesson is that we cannot wait for the crisis to come and then expect greatness from our response if we are normally self-absorbed. The best way to prepare for greatness during those extreme situations of stress is to practice selfless thoughts during our normal days. Then, when the squeeze comes, we won’t be surprised (or disappointed!)!

    • October 13, 2011 10:11 am

      Hello Chris,

      I like your perspective. Hard though it may be to stay consistent and keep focusing on other people first while solving the problem, it is trully the best way forward if you want to be a great leader. Tough, but true!

      • October 13, 2011 10:38 am

        Thanks Ophelia!

        Most things worth having are tough to get, right?

    • October 14, 2011 2:24 pm

      Good advice, Chris. It does required practice and self-awareness beforehand, or all along the way, in order to be ready for the challenges when they come. Too many of us are just oblivious, going with the flow and not intentionally planning for who we want to become.

  4. October 12, 2011 1:02 pm

    Oh, so true. So true. It’s in the crisis that the true you comes forth. Scary thought!

  5. October 12, 2011 3:52 pm

    Wasn’t he the one that also said about how he was eager to get past the situation and “have his life back”?
    Crises expose good leaders for who they are and bad leaders for who they are not. The key is that their character and leadership ability is only revealed – it develops before a crisis. Now think about that when Monday rolls around!

    • October 14, 2011 2:26 pm

      Yes, he also made that comment to a newscaster “I just want to get my life back” – and this after being seriously coached by a PR firm on how to better handle the media. Not surprising that he got canned shortly after that. I think this tragedy was just more than he ever felt he bargained for as a CEO.

  6. October 12, 2011 7:04 pm

    This topic is so very applicable to my daily work as a physical therapist, Bradley.

    I hate when a person returns to the clinic and says that their lower back pain, knee pain, etc. pain is the same or worse. I don’t need to take it personally, but I do, even knowing that a persons pain status is far more complex than what I do or don’t do with them for 30 or 60 minutes in PT.

    I do need to think less about how their outcome relates to my performance as a PT, and more about doing every single thing that I can to help us learn something and move to higher ground.

    • October 14, 2011 2:27 pm

      “It’s not about me. It’s not about me. It’s not about me.” That’s sometimes what I have to chant in order to move to that higher ground. And, seriously. It really isn’t about me.

  7. October 12, 2011 10:59 pm

    Agreed. I try on occasion, but not as much as hubby to keep up with this stuff. I actually heard they are not doing so well and these stations here may be closing down to cover their losses (the silly part of me wants to say what begins with an ‘a’ but the English version). I always tried to take criticism and mistakes to heart, so I could correct myself in most aspects of life, and myself being a leader in my own home found myself repeating that quote.

    Great post as always Camel…

  8. October 13, 2011 10:14 am

    Something to certainly think about and change…

    Thanks for the post Bradley.

  9. October 13, 2011 12:23 pm

    “Self-protection is often our first instinct in dealing with stress.”

    Also…
    Stress is a self-defence mechanism of the body, caused by a perceived threat of an upset.

    Job stress is one of the main causes of personal stress. There is also major life change stress, and emotional stress.

    Long-term stress is believed to cause serious health problems.

    Your suggestion of looking at inspiration, care and compassion is very helpful.

    I would also like to suggest, for those that have a belief in Jesus, instant prayer and giving self and situation to God, even if it is only a very short prayer.

    At certain times it is good to already have a person or people that one can trust to talk things out with.

    • October 14, 2011 2:29 pm

      Nance – “Instant prayer” is a fantastic phrase. Because it works, and it is so accessible, and we can DO it. I sometimes will write out my prayers at my office computer, because it helps me to see the words and watch how I am literally (literally, literally!) giving over the situation to God.

      • October 14, 2011 3:19 pm

        I like the “instant prayer” phrase as well.

        It reminds me of Nehemiah’s response to King Artaxerxes. The king noticed Nehemiah’s countenance was not sunny as usual and asked what was wrong. When Nehemiah told him about the condition of the wall in Jerusalem, the king asked, “What is your request?”

        I love the next verse…

        “So I prayed to the God of heaven and answered the king…”

        This is “instant prayer” at its finest! I want that same response to be instinctive and natural for me!

  10. October 13, 2011 12:58 pm

    brad, this post is so different to your normal writing tone. i really got so much out of it. due to a situation that arose in our office this week, i have clammed up and although i was not covering my ass, i was not giving fully of myself as i usually do.

    this post has challenged me to the core. i need to give fully, even when i don’t feel like it.

    • October 14, 2011 2:31 pm

      Really, is it so different? You can tell? I call this my “book-writing” tone. Maybe a bit less personal and more journalistic, or something like that. I still make a point, though. Right? Don’t ever hold back from giving of yourself, Claire. That’s not who you are!

  11. October 13, 2011 8:18 pm

    Oh, I like this. Give of yourself first, cover your ass later. Can I tweet that if I give you credit?

    Seriously, I didn’t read this until after I just wrote my draft post –sent you earlier –about screwing up at work. I hate that my first instinct is often to protect myself, even at the expense of others.

    Need to re-read this one.

    • October 14, 2011 2:33 pm

      Yes, I saw that tweet! 🙂
      And don’t we all do that. It’s being aware and trying to rise above it that helps us move to that higher state.

  12. October 17, 2011 5:16 pm

    I’m all about instant prayer and use Nehemiah to “help me find favor with these men”

  13. October 19, 2011 11:41 am

    Instant prayer: “Your will here.”

    That’s my favorite. I lean on it all the time.

  14. December 14, 2011 3:14 pm

    “Give of yourself first, cover your ass later.”

    My new motto since October.

  15. December 22, 2011 8:55 am

    Last week I saw a vacation commercial for all of the Gulf Coast states. I thought it was unusual for all of them to promote themselves in one shot, but I liked it. Then I saw that BP had sponsored it.

    Maybe BP thought of themselves first when this fiasco began, (and maybe this commercial is still self-preservation,) but I felt good will here.

    • December 22, 2011 7:55 pm

      Sam, Haywarrd got booted out of there shortly after this comment and a couple other gaffes that showed he was not the right leader for this crisis period. Since then, yes, you can see that BP has been working hard to make it right (if that could ever be possible)

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