Many of you may recognize the famous statement in the title of this article, as being attributed to BP CEO, Tony Hayward, though as of writing this, I guess I should say ex-BP CEO Tony Hayward. When I heard it, it really struck a chord in so many ways and got me thinking about leaders and disasters – and people’s reactions to disasters and the impact they have on their lives.
To me, it’s obvious that the pressure’s of managing a situation such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, can take its toll on everyone involved. Even leaders – those expected to managing the crisis – can’t hold it together for prolonged periods of time. But that is exactly what the media, corporations, employees and the general public at large, expect of leaders. Those that are impacted by the disaster are especially looking for from their leaders. They are the ones most impacted by the situation and don’t want to be told by someone else that they are a victim; claims like that automatically makes the leader a villain in everyone’s eyes.
I won’t get into the pro’s and con’s of what Mr. Hayward said or the context in which he said it (those articles are on the StoneRoad Facebook page ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/StoneRoad-Inc/104703829574185 ) but recently I wrote something about there being “no such thing as normal” https://stoneroad.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/bcm-dr-plans-there%e2%80%99s-no-such-thing-as-normal/ and that holds true with this quote. When a disaster occurs, people just want to get back to some level of normal as soon as possible – they want their lives back. This includes the leaders who are managing the disaster situation.
Often a leader is chosen based on their title within the organization – not because of their leadership, management or communication skills or ability. Sometimes the leader isn’t who you would think it would be. In 1939, no one would have guessed that Winston Churchill would have come back from political obscurity to lead Britain through one of its darkest periods – if not its darkest. It’s leading people through dark times that help defines leaders; dark times being crisis and disasters.
Sometimes a leader has to give up what is important to them and focus on what is important to others. In a disaster, the focus must be on those who are directly impacted by the situation; not on the shareholders or others who focus on the money. How many times have we heard the cost of the oil spill in the gulf and what the estimated tab is for the costs so far? Or, how much money has been set aside for court cases and continuing clean-up costs? That’s not what is important – though it might be the company who has to pay for it, but it’s not to the victims and those who are impacted by the situation. What is important is doing the right thing for people – regardless of the cost. A leader must know that
I sometimes wonder where everyone else in the company is? Where are the board members and what are they doing? Are they sitting back and waiting for the CEO to sink or swim? Do they even have a designated role in the overall disaster?
One thing I did find interesting in the BP disaster is; who was Hayward’s backup/alternate? In all our planning we state that everyone should have a backup just in case they aren’t available but also because they can’t be available 24/7 – they become ineffective after a time. If you know who that was, please let me know, as I’d love to look it up and find out the level of input they had in the overall management of the situation.
But let’s get back to the main topic of wanting your life back.
How about those living along the coastline; the ones that make their living off the waters and the tourism? Or how about the many other industries that are homegrown and are dependent upon the money that comes in from oil workers/companies? When are they going to get their lives back? I know there’s all sorts of talk about environmental impacts and estimates ranging from (what seems) abnormally low to incredibly high levels no one could ever fathom (and how could a cost ever be put on something like a life?).
Disasters affect much more than just a corporation, as I’ve said over and over again. It may be one thing for a corporation to get back to ‘normal’ (whatever that is) but it’s another for those impacted by the corporations disaster to get their lives back. People, regardless of what they do and the level of which they participate in Crisis/Disaster management, they want their lives back too. Did no one take Abraham Maslow in school?
Know that strong leadership, management and strong BCM plans can help bring people back to a level of normalcy. Funny enough (well maybe not for Tony), he’s going to get to start an entire new life all over again – in Russia. Didn’t the Russian’s send people off to Siberia when they wanted to get rid of someone? I guess we sent them to Russia in general…
Ah well. We could all do with some peace and quite – and get our lives back no matter where we are and what happens to us.
The new book by StoneRoad founder, A.Alex Fullick, MBCI, CBCP, CBRA, ITILv3, “Heads in the Sand: What Stops Corporations From Seeing Business Continuity as a Social Responsibility.” Available at www.stone-road.com **