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Michael Maccoby
Scholar

Michael Maccoby

Michael Maccoby is an anthropologist and psychoanalyst globally recognized as an expert on leadership. He is the author of The Leaders We Need, And What Makes Us Follow.

Calling captain safety

Q: President Obama finally meets this week with BP chief Tony Hayward on the Gulf oil spill. From a leadership perspective, which man has been the less effective in his handling of the crisis? What should he have done differently?

The leadership failures at BP began long before the oil platform blew up. John Browne, who preceded Tony Hayward as CEO was lauded by environmentalists for his successful PR of calling the company Beyond Petroleum and making symbolic investments in green technology. But at the same time, his hard-nosed emphasis on cost cutting led to cutting corners on safety. I have been told by someone who has worked with BP that the high potential managers avoided being sent to the Health and Environment Division which included safety. The road to the top ran through the commercial division. Hayward set out to change the culture to make safety a high priority, but the spill proves he did not act quickly and forcefully enough. Obama can also be criticized for not changing the culture of the government regulators who signed off on BP's plans.

There is no need to belabor the criticism of Hayward's inept response to the worst environmental disaster this country has suffered. However, if he remains CEO, he should take stronger measures to make safety a top priority. No manager should be rewarded for cutting costs at the expense of safety. Every high potential manager should spend two years working in the Health and Environment Division, including responsibility for safety. If Hayward is replaced, his successor should take these measures.

Obama should clarify what a president can do. Getting BP to put funds into an escrow account independently administrated to compensate people who have been hurt by the spill is a positive step. Helping the states to clean up the oil and restore the environment is another. And strengthening regulation is essential. The president can also use this opportunity to educate the public about the importance of competent and dedicated government employees, not only those who protect us from enemies, but also those civil servants who protect the nation's environment.

By Michael Maccoby

 |  June 15, 2010; 12:52 PM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Staying ahead of the tsunami | Next: Over-promising and under-delivering

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