Are You Ready for Your Spotlight?

Are You Ready for Your Spotlight?

Can BP CEO Tony Hayward help himself?  For that matter, can anyone on his top management team help themselves?  Since shortly after the April 20th accident on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform it appears that BP executives have made headlines more for their unfortunate comments than for their decisive actions.  Hayward himself has sought pity for the ordeal he has been enduring since the spill by lamenting on just how badly he would like his “life back.”  He has tried to frame the ongoing oil spill that weeks long ago became the world’s worst natural disaster as a drop in the bucket, relative to the size of the ocean.  Randy Prescott, one of Hayward’s lieutenants, helpfully pointed out to exasperated restaurant owners along the Gulf Coast that there were lots of other places, besides the waters off Louisiana and Mississippi, to get shrimp.

It might be the happiest executives as the result of all this are those at Toyota – whose communication challenges over product failures and model recalls have been forgotten by many and now seem minor by comparison to those few who do remember.

What is remarkable about all this is that these gaffes have taken in a period when one would reasonably conclude that media training is a de rigueur occurrence for executives long before they get to the c-suite.

From a career game perspective, Hayward’s series of mis-steps are a great example of the sort of move we call a blunder.  Disasters like this allow great leaders to shine – or they reveal mediocre leaders for what they are.  Calls for Hayward’s dismissal are heard widely and one would have to imagine it will be difficult for him to recover his career in any meaningful way.  Fortunately for him, he had the foresight to sell a large stake in BP before the Deepwater Horizon Accident.

For the rest of us, a lesson to take away is that you never know when the spotlight will find you.  As a result, you have to work to always be ready with vigilance and discipline.  And when the spotlight finds you because the company you lead has become synonymous with the most damaging environmental disaster of our time perhaps it makes sense to be ready with comments that convey concern for others, a commitment to accepting personally the responsibility everyone rightly associates with your position, and a desire to restore everyone’s faith in your company’s ability to operate as a responsible part of the business community – rather than comments that attempt to deflect blame and ask for pity – makes sense.

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