02nd Nov 2010

Safety is Not the Issue at BP

Bob, you need to realise that it is neither safety nor public relations that are your most pressing leadership issues. Instead, it is a systemic lack of leadership and lack of humility at BP that has brought your company to such a difficult place. 

Yes, you have done the obvious and ‘right’ thing to keep media critics and the Americans satiated by setting up a new Safety & Risk Management Unit – but I hope it is backed up by a less obvious but more important leadership insight that you also need to seize the opportunity in your first 100 days to begin the transformation of the collective leadership attitude at BP.

The safety problems and public relations crisis last summer are symptoms of a much greater problem endemic in your company: arrogance. In today’s corporate climate, leaders are only playing with fire by being arrogantly presumptuous (as your predecessors were about issuing safety dictates and assuming that was enough) or by being arrogantly tactless (as Hayward was in his dealings with the media during the Deepwater Horizon crisis).

You need to have the leadership courage and strength to develop a new more humble but stronger ethos for the company and you need to be sure that you have the right leadership team in place to help align the whole company along this vision. Setting up a new function is ‘easy’ – changing the whole ethos of a company, now that’s a lot harder, but it can be done and you can be the guy to do it, if you yourself are both humble and strong.

As a long-standing employee, you are already on the back foot – because of all the leadership challenges associated with internal promotion: inward thinking, cultural myopia, institutionalised views, pre-set relationships, harder to challenge the way things are etc. What you really need is a fresh external leadership advisor who can bring a fresh and challenging perspective. It is hard to get good advice. After all Brown and Hayward’s advisors did not bring forward any good advice in the end, but in my experience poor leaders pick poor advisors. Good leaders pick good advisors.

Mr Dudley, if you’re reading this, and want refreshing and robust leadership insights and solutions on how you can lead the company forward, and transform the situation so that BP can renew itself to become a role model in your industry, I would welcome your contact on niamh.okeeffe@CEOassist.com

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