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Home » Business Owners

Leadership Tips From Tony Hayward (or not)

On April 20th 2010, an explosion on an oil rig in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico gave rise to the biggest ecological disaster in history.  The company operating the oil rig, BP, has been much maligned by the media, the US Government and the US Senate House Committee on Energy and Commerce, with the BP board allocating $20bn towards clean up and compensation payments to those affected by the disaster.  Criminal charges may well follow.

No one can be more maligned than the former Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, who lost his job earlier this week.  A person that The New York Daily News describes as the most hated and most clueless man in America, but at least he only lost his job.

The subject of Tony Hayward’s handling of the disaster will be the subject of Business School Case Studies for years to come, as a ‘how not to lead in a crisis’, where at times he appeared insensitive and at others completely out of touch.

Maybe he followed some ‘anti management’ school of leadership thought in how to manage?

This post is written not with any particular insight into Mr Hayward, BP or the disaster, but on observations based on interviews in the press and on TV.

Here’s some lessons you should apply whenever you’re in crisis, or road rules if you aren’t:

I have read in the press that Mr Hayward should have resigned earlier. Personally I’m not so sure about this. In my opinion resigning when the problem appears to be fixed (at least temporarily) was the sensible thing to do. Leaving a job half finished is like leaving a boat without a rudder and labling yourself as a quitter.

Good leaders must face facts, prepare for the worst case scenario, draw on the whole team, show constant concern for others acknowledge mistakes and not make the same ones twice, and do the honorable thing if getting in the way of company progress.

No one knows whether BP did a good job or not – the technical difficulties in resolving the problems so deep below water are hard to imagine. Investigations by the authorities will be the judge of that. But whils BP mobilised thousands of current and former employees from around the world, Mr Hayward became the main attraction.

Jim Collins in his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t introduced the concept of Level 5 leaders. These are the leaders in an organisation which help differentiate the performance of the truly great companies from the also rans.  Here’s a summary of the attributes of a level 5 leader:

* Level 5 leader is an individual who blends extreme personal humility with intense professional will.

* Level 5 leaders are the one who takes companies from good results to great results

* Getting right people and creating a culture of discipline (which consists of disciplined people, disciplined thought & disciplined action) are important factors along with Level 5

From the evidence in the press and from interviews it would appear that Mr Hayward is not a level 5 leader. But, for the sake of the shareholders and the employees and the other stakeholders in BP, we hope that Bob Dudley, Mr Hayward’s replacement, that he is.


  • Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire said:

    Hey Matthew,

    You’re right. The BP mess will be talked about in management school for years to come. There is definitely no perfect solution there.

    It think it’s all about airing out your dirty laundry when you make a mistke. That is something that I hope that this new wave of honest bloggers (such as yourself) will create a new thought process behind corporate ethics.

    In Michigan, USA, where I live, we just had a small-scale oil spill where 800,000 gallons of crude oil were released into one of our rivers by yet another company that tried to hide some safety violations.

    That’s all people really want. They know that everyone is human. It’s all about facing the facts and raising your hand when you really screw something up… and then fixing it of course. You can only ruin your integrity so many times before you no longer have any.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  • Matthew Needham said:

    Hey Joshua, thanks for the comment.

    I personally don’t believe that BP were sitting about doing nothing, to be blunt, the loss of oil, if nothing else, would have focussed atttention.

    I know that 800,000 gallons is smaller than the Gulf of Mexico disaster, but netherless that’s far too much!

    I think you’re right. People go to work and make mistakes all the time, it’s just that they don’t have such far reaching ramifications. Being up front (and honest) is the first step to being authentic.


  • Theresa Bradley-Banta said:

    Hey Matthew,

    Interesting post. Good to Great is an excellent book. That’s great you included a summary in your post.

    You said something that really struck me. Don’t make it about you. That should apply to almost anything. In business, in life, with your friends,with your family. Don’t make it about you.

    Thanks for the post.

    I’m glad I came across your blog today. I’ll return.

    Thanks again,


  • Steve Scott Site said:

    I still think BP doesn’t “get it” or maybe they have a lot more faith in Hayward than the rest of the world.

    The big news is that he is “retiring” with minor grumbling about all the bonus he is getting for his “great performance” I guess…

    The thing that struck me is he is really being demoted and only very slightly on that. On first look when I heard he was taking over BP’s Russian division I thought it was a “literal” send him to Siberia from BP. But not really, Russia is one of BP’s crown jewels and accounts for over 1/4 of their total revenue.

    To make things worse the guy that is replacing Hayword was chased out of Russia over some dispute with shareholders. So that does not engender confidence in me, that he could not handle the job Hayard is getting.

    Well, I will back off BP for a bit, the new guy is ALSO the one who is overseeing the current clean up and I have not heard of any Hayward-like gaffes from HIM.

    Sorry for a little off point rant, but the letters B and P do that for me these days…

    You were on the mark that this case will be used by business schools as a solid example of some things NOT to do for years,