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Scott DeRue
Leadership professor

Scott DeRue

Scott DeRue is Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan Stephen M. Ross School of Business. With Maxim Sytch, he created the student-driven Leadership Seminar discussion group.

The man who skipped 'Leadership 101'

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?

In the midst of what might turn out to be the worst environmental disaster in history, we have observed two very different approaches to leadership and communication during times of crisis.

On the one hand, President Obama had until recently kept himself in the background of the disaster and declined to make public prescriptions about how best to address the disaster. We will never know how much Obama was doing in the background to push, pull or aid BP, and now after calls for more direct government intervention, Obama is making his way to the front lines of crisis response.

We may have wanted Obama to be a more active, public force earlier, but again, we really have no way of knowing how much pressure he was applying to BP behind the scenes. If the answer is none at all, then yes, he failed us as a leader. But if he was leveraging his power as president to enable BP to more effectively address the disaster while recognizing that his public criticism of BP could interfere with those efforts, then I applaud his leadership.

In stark contrast, we have Mr. Hayward. The only reliable thing about the CEO of BP has been his uncanny ability to show how little empathy and concern he has for the people who are most directly affected or for the long-term implications of this disaster. In addition, he continues to provide completely unreliable statements about how effectively BP has been in stopping the outflow of oil. Eugene Robinson recently provided a wonderful analysis of Mr. Hayward's actions, and like many others, has called for his dismissal.

When Hayward looks back on all of this, I hope he learns three things about leadership in times of crisis:

First, you must acknowledge the gravity of the situation and take responsibility for your actions (or lack thereof).

Second, you must provide a vision of hope for the future and make it very clear that every resource available to you will be applied to addressing the crisis. Third, you must show concern for those involved and engage them in the solution.

Unfortunately, for all of us who will be impacted by this disaster for many years to come, Mr. Hayward forgot to take Leadership 101.

By Scott DeRue

 |  June 15, 2010; 2:52 AM ET
Category:  Crisis leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: First prize to Tony Hayward | Next: Not blame but responsibility


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You seem to forget that Mr. Hayward has also been dramatically affected by this event too as well as everyone else who works for BP. Frankly, most people of the gulf coast have been less affected than Mr. Hayward and BP.

Posted by: bruce18 | June 15, 2010 11:42 AM
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Forgive me but I think he did 1 and 2 but yes he failed to do 3.

He said BP will pay and clean up with the objective of putting things as they were (probably not possible) and compensating those who have suffered losses. Yes he got the size of the problem wrong but was that deliberate?
The White House has been confused on what its role should be because it couldn't do any better and has had to rely on BP. But isn't it obvious? They should hold BP to their promises. But of course as soon as this goes off the front page the White House will tire of it all and then it will be BP's chance to escape.
By the way given the US response to all of this who on earth would want to drill for oil there. You can bet oil compnaies will want to pull out and then there will be oil shortages (which will be the White House's fault of course). It is in the nature of people that they are totally irrational.

Posted by: 11OAKHAM | June 15, 2010 8:58 AM
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