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The BP oil crisis: What leaders will emerge?

The BP oil spill that began with the April 20th Deepwater Horizon explosion is now estimated to be the largest oil spill in history. Multiple story lines have evolved from this disaster, and each provides an opportunity for leaders to succeed or fail in remarkable ways. To follow are five ongoing themes from the disaster that have the potential to offer lasting lessons on leading through crises

1. CEO Survival

From the beginning, BP CEO Tony Hayward has seemed to bungle his way through the crisis. From the minimal early estimates of the amount of crude gushing into the Gulf of Mexico to his perplexing attendance at a yacht race and subsequent cancellation of a speaking appearance at an oil conference, Hayward has been consistently inconsistent. While the BP Board offered the embattled CEO public support, his role as the public face of BP has already been diminished, and there's speculation that the CEO will be terminated after the well has been capped. Can any leader rebound from the sheer number of gaffes following a disaster of this magnitude?

2. Obama's Legacy

Nearly two months after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon, President Obama addressed the nation. Obama was his usual calm, cool, and collected self, but pundits on the right suggested that Obama hadn't talked with the executives at BP soon enough. Those on the left suggested he missed the opportunity to call for substantive carbon cap legislation. However, Obama was quick to acknowledge that he failed to reform the Mineral Management Services with sufficient urgency, and he also convinced BP to create a 20 billion dollar fund for Gulf Coast residents who have been impacted by the spill. Obama's legacy will be shaped, in part, by his handling of this disaster, but how will that narrative evolve?

3. Leader(s) of Clean-up Efforts

While it's certain that there will be a significant environmental impact to the Gulf Coast, the extent of the damage is still unknown. The Niger Delta may be the closest example of what happens to an area after repeated oil spills, but the size and scope of this spill, combined with the depth of the gusher, have never been encountered. Early efforts were quick to rely upon releasing oil dispersants into the gulf, but they may have their own unintended environmental impact.  While BP continues to tout their clean-up efforts, some suggest they are more for show. This presents a huge opportunity for smaller players to emerge. For example, Kevin Costner has invested in a project that has created a centrifuge that separates oil from seawater, and three of his machines are presently being used and 32 more have been ordered by BP. Who else will emerge as a leader, and who will galvanize Gulf Coast residents with their clean-up efforts?

4. Clean Energy Leaders

While not directly related to the BP oil spill, emerging energy companies have been offered a window to introduce their products to a public that may be fairly receptive to new energy ideas. For example, Ginkgo BioWorks has engineered E. coli bacteria so that it converts carbon into transportation fuels. And Bill Gates has funded TerraPower, a company that uses depleted uranium (previously viewed as nuclear waste) to create clean energy. Will emerging leaders in private industry like Gingko BioWorks and TerraPower be able to create momentum with their products and reduce our dependence on oil?

5. Us

Many of us may have ties to the Gulf Coast, but unless you are a resident, it is difficult to imagine the sheer magnitude of this disaster. Yet the constant coverage of the oil spill has the potential to push the disaster to the background while more novel stories slowly grab the spotlight. After all, that's the nature of modern media. Some have already issued a call to arms. But the larger question remains: will we learn and apply lessons from this disaster, continue to focus attention on clean up efforts, and help reduce the odds that a future event like this occurs?

This disaster will have widespread implications for years. It has already hurt the fishing, tourism and oil industry in the Gulf Coast, and other supporting businesses. In the long term, it has the potential to impact oil consumption habits and shape future drilling policy. But the above are the major themes we've been following. What story lines have you noticed, and how will leaders have an impact?

Have an idea for what we should write about next? Be in touch at info@menoconsulting.com or visit us at Meno Consulting.

By Joe Frontiera  |  July 4, 2010; 9:39 PM ET  | Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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The US Government has promised transparency in all matters pertaining to the Gulf Disaster. Maybe it is time to seek further assurances that the sea food is truly safe to eat, the air is truly safe to breathe and that the rains which are falling, supposedly to nourish the land, are not toxic at all. Assurances too that BP will pay your claims!! ....... And yes Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.

A final word Mr. President: Are you feeding seafood from the Gulf of Mexico to your children? Are you going to send them down to the Gulf for a vacation, to play on the sand and breathe in the air? Will they go swimming in the warm waters also?


Posted by: justmeint | July 7, 2010 5:11 AM

Disaster recovery goes far beyond food, water and medicine. It's about infrastructure, education, economy and emotional healing. A new documentary shows what disaster recovery looks like in the long-term, by examining three survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. "Kepulihan: Stories from the Tsunami" follows the lives of three survivors over the course of the four years immediately following one of the worst natural disasters in human history. It will air on ABC on November 21, 2010. For more information, please visit our website at www.thetsunamifilm.com, or find us on Facebook by searching for "Kepulihan: Stories from the Tsunami."

Posted by: peggy9 | July 6, 2010 10:39 AM

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