Thursday, July 29, 2010

100 Days and Counting

Rag on Tony Hayward of BP if you like, but his crisis management shut down the oil leak, and established a $20 billion restoration and victim compensation fund was established to be independently administered and prepay claims. He was then sacrificed at the altar of Foot in Mouth Disease, and what I fondly refer to as “lip dislocation” (the failure to engage the brain before operating the mouth).

Hayward’s successor, Robert Dudley, has a far tougher challenge. The legacy of Hayward is the legacy of thousands of victims, their fears, concerns, trials, and tribulations along with hundreds of public officials (at all levels of government) who are beginning their campaigns and will use BP and Dudley as their punching bag, bayonet receptacle, and all-around whipping boys.

Dudley can overcome the enormous, in fact, devastating burden he’s about to undertake by remembering the calculus of leadership during crisis.

Job #1: Establish moral leadership by spending extraordinary amounts of time in the very beginning to understand, work with, and accelerate the relief of victims, which include people, animals, and living systems.

Job #2: Set the tone at BP and in the petroleum industry in America to be one of humility and understanding, and to learn from yesterday, establish new safeguards for today, and work with the U.S. and other authorities to put in place tough, independent oversight those measures that will detect, deter, and prevent similar situations from happening again.

Job #3: Keep most of what he does, decides, and talks about simple, sensible, constructive, and positive.

Those who counsel Dudley to be “a little bit ruthless” (as mentioned in The Wall Street Journal) are giving bad advice. Dudley’s job is to build and keep peace in the family; avoid the creation of new critics, enemies, and naysayers; and stay focused on resolving the difficulties this catastrophe has caused for the real victims. Besides, critics and victims never die. They are always looking for the next opportunity to attack.

As if this weren’t enough, Dudley’s natural allies have already signaled that they are going to become his strongest critics and complainers—these are the folks from Wall Street and Fleet Street. Who needs friends like these?

The risk to Dudley is extraordinarily high—from victims; a news media disappointed that the oil is disappearing rather quickly, and that there wasn’t more extensive damage and greater victimization; politicians who, regardless of how well BP responds and reacts, will attack the company for political reasons and from President Obama who, when he had the choice to act as a statesman, instead choose to behave like a neighborhood community organizer angry at a local business. It’s unlikely that this problem will be settled over a beer in the White House backyard with Joe Biden cracking wise.

It was Winston Churchill who said that Britain and America were two great peoples separated by a common language. When the history of this oil spill is written, it will probably be shown that the better course of action for BP would have been to appoint a Canadian to oversee BP’s Gulf response. Everyone likes Canadians. They have extraordinary experience and survival skills being peacekeepers in hostile territory. The Canadians tend to reduce the impact of events and de-escalate the attractiveness of the messy media nonsense that will occur during the next phase of the recovery.

One hundred days and counting; we may yet have to learn the words to “O Canada” before this is all over.

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