Leadership Lessons from the BP Oil Spill


Obama BP When it's all over, the BP oil spill may be the biggest environmental catastrophe in my lifetime. It's hard to see the images coming from the gulf without wanting to know who is responsible and demanding they make it right. Both the government and BP bear responsibility for what's happened for reasons outline in the media…so I won't take the time to look at it here.
 

The entire incident is fascinating from a leadership perspective. Watching how BP and President Obama have handled this (or not) gives some interesting insights…including how easy it's been to predict how each side would respond.  

President Obama would label the incident "unprecedented" and talk about "the last 8 years." Finger-pointing would ensue – Bush, BP, global warming…whatever. We knew also that a push for some "comprehensive reform" would come from it. I didn't anticipate the a-bomb to Matt Lauer. He got me there. 

As far as BP goes…we knew they would try to distance themselves from it… paint themselves as equally concerned about the environment and willing to do everything they can to make it right. I will admit, their commercials are convincing. But they are commercials. Their actions will ultimately tell the truth of their convictions. They have already paid a brutal price…as seen in their current stock prices. Additionally, they will pay a minimum of 20 billion dollars in settlements by force to those impacted by the spill. They continue to be chided and humiliated publicly…and perhaps deservedly so.  I would imagine they will be doing whatever it takes to keep this from happening again…should they survive this. My lasting memory of their leadership so far is CEO Tony Heyward saying, just days into the mess, "I'd like my life back."

Thud.

Contrast the leadership of BP and President Obama with the leadership of General David Petraeus, who is also in town for an important meeting today. Yesterday, General Petraeus passed out during his testimony in front of Congress due to dehydration. He has good reason to be tired and dehydrated.

I always love watching him testify. He is non-anxious and the epitome of the well-differentiated leader. While Congress went to war over the war…he was busy fighting it and keeping the troops on mission. His testimony in front of a blood-seeking Congress during the dog days of the Iraq war was a master-class on non-anxious leadership. When the surge was successful, he didn't take the credit–though it was his recommendation and he had to fight hard to get the troops for it. When he didn't get the troops he wanted in Afghanistan, he didn't pout or blame. He simply stayed on mission. He took his position and stayed steadfast.

That's leadership.

There will be accidents or "spills" in your church (or in life for that matter) that may be partially or completely your fault…or not at all. When they happen, it's important that we respond appropriately. If we caused it—we must own up to it, plug the hole, and make it right. If we didn't or we only bear a small degree of culpability…we ought to do the same. There are some cases where we wouldn't want to do the same–criminal conduct, etc. However, most of the time, choosing to lead a church through a difficult time requires that we differentiate ourselves from the spill not by blaming others but by taking our own position and doing what we can do to plug the hole and make it right.

President Obama, Tony Heyward, and General Petraeus each have their hands full with major problems. At this point, only one of them seems prepared to lead in a situation of this magnitude. That may sound a bit harsh…but it seems true today. Tomorrow is another day. In the mean time, let's pray for an end to this awful disaster–and, as Scripture calls us to do, pray for our leaders.

Questions: What have been the biggest leadership mistakes and positive steps on the part of President Obama and BP? What would you do tomorrow if you were Barack Obama and/or Tony Hayward?

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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