Articles of Faith: Leadership Slippery Slope

Tony Hayward

This post is part of our Sunday Series titled “Articles of Faith.”
We investigate leadership lessons from the Bible.
See the whole series here. Published only on Sundays.

Are you the type of leader that has done regrettable things in your professional career? Have you allowed “poison” to leak into your professional demeanor and damage your team’s reputation? Has your trouble come to the surface for everyone to see?

Blood in the Water

Like most of us, Tony Hayward, the recently demoted CEO of BP has done some regrettable things in his career. Unfortunately for him, he has done them with an entire planet watching him. For his sins, he has been shipped off to “Corporate Siberia” and taken off the world stage.

Daily Finance recently reports this:

Embattled BP (BP) CEO Tony Hayward, whose penchant for offensive verbal gaffes deepened the psychological wounds caused by the worst oil spill in U.S. history, will step down effective Oct. 1, and likely will be replaced by Bob Dudley, the American who has overseen the company’s clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico since June.

Hayward is guilty of being tone-deaf and gaffe-prone. He has said and done things that incensed and outraged people both in the Gulf of Mexico region and around the viewing world.  Two recent public gaffes are that he said on camera that “he wants his life back”  and that he went on a yacht race on clean waters in the middle of a major crisis involving oil-polluted waters in another country.

His words and actions got him in trouble and the feeding frenzy began. It is as if he fell out of his yacht and found himself bloodied in a pool of hungry sharks.

Tony Hayward has failed in the game of perception. And for this, he is being moved out of his position.

Perception and Reality

I am sure that you have probably heard the idiom “Perception is Reality.” And if you are like most people you probably tend to agree with this idea.

Peter V. Ruble writes:

A phrase that comes up a lot nowadays is “Perception is Reality.” Although this concept is wrong on a factual basis, it is reality in terms of living in today’s society in which interacting and relating to others is a necessity for survival and success in today’s world. It can also make or break a career. Whether the perceptions are accurate or not, if your actions portray laziness, rudeness or a lack of professionalism, whether it’s deserved, or not, it can make or break a career path.

BP Oil LeakBut separating fact from perception is important in being authentic. It is essential in leading effectively. Being able to stand back and look at reality through clear lenses that are un-fogged by perception, opinion, emotion, and frenzy-of-the-moment shows that you are someone worth following.

You can be the mature person whose vision will be seen as trustworthy, even when the storms come.

News reports had continually shown video pictures of massive amounts of oil being released under high pressure into the Gulf from the ocean floor. They heard it being called the worst ecological disaster in the history of the planet. So, perception can lead many to say terrible things about Tony Hayward and jump on the bandwagon against him. They cast him as the idiot villain.

(My family canceled our yearly vacation this week in beautiful Destin, Florida on the Gulf Coast in June 2010 due to our perceptions. I am writing this from our new vacation place on the Atlantic Ocean spot in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on August 1st, 2010. It looks like we could have stayed in Destin.)

So when it comes to “perception and reality” with the unsettling statements of Tony Hayward, where is the truth? When it comes to Mr. Hayward wanting his life back, that statement of truth was probably just ill-timed. I am sure that he wanted his life back, he just chose the wrong place to utter his feelings. He looked selfish and seemed uncaring toward the lives of people on the Gulf.

But when he said the following, he was blasted as being a buffoon:

“The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean. The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume.”

If this is the perception, then what is reality?

Tony was Right

184 Million Gallons of Oil

According to CNBC:

If The Gulf Was A Football Stadium…

If the Gulf of Mexico – the 7th largest body of water in the world, containing approximately 660 quadrillion gallons of water (that’s 660 with 15 zeros) – was represented by Cowboys Stadium in Dallas – the largest domed stadium in the world – how would the spill stack up? In this example, the amount of oil spilled – if the Gulf of Mexico was the size of Cowboys Stadium – would be about the size of a 24 ounce can of beer. Cowboys stadium has an internal volume of approximately 104 million cubic feet, compared to the just over 50 cubic inches of volume in a 24-ounce can.

Where’s The Oil?

At the time of this writing, nobody can seem to find all the oil. Now, reporters around the globe are asking “Where is the oil?” As it turns out, this is presently not the worst ecological distaste to hit the United States. Warm waters of 85 degrees with 100 degree sunshine has helped to dissipate and evaporate much of the oil. In addition, tiny microbes  that prosper in these conditions eat the oil.

Unlike in Alaska with the Exxon Valdez oil spill accident where the oil was much heavier and steam-cleaning efforts killed the valuable oil-eating microbes, the Gulf is taking care of itself. We are finding out now that oil naturally leaks every day from the ocean floor and rarely reaches the coastline.

Leadership Slippery Slope

Is Tony Hayward the only person who has messed-up? Before judging him, gossiping about him, or casting stones at him, take a quick look in the mirror.

Here are the opening questions again for you to answer:

Are you the type of leader that has done regrettable things in your professional career? Have you allowed “poison” to leak into your professional demeanor and damage your team’s reputation? Has your trouble come to the surface for everyone to see?

Answer these in the context of you hearing the oil spill reports.

So when the news of the accident on the BP oil platform Deepwater Horizon happened:

Finger Pointing

  • Did you jump on board the Finger-Pointer Express and blame BP and Tony Hayward for their actions or inactions?
  • Did you judge them for their comments?
  • Did you cast stones at them because you perceived them as evil, selfish, greedy, and worse?
  • Did you participate in unfounded accusations just because of your perceptions?
  • Did you allow others under your direction to engage in these behaviors?

If you jumped the gun on the BP oil situation with regard to acting on your feelings instead of facts, how do you think you come across to the people that you lead when you act like this? How are you perceived by them if you are judgmental, gossiping, or throwing stones at others?

Ask Yourself

Are you Judgmental? Do you Gossip? Are you a Stone-Thrower? If so, what does it matter? What happens when you or your followers go down this path?

The next time you think of Tony Hayward, BP, or any other “evil-doer,” think about these verses from the Bible:

Judging Others

Matthew 7

1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.


Proverbs 11:12-13

¹²A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor, but a man of understanding holds his tongue. ¹³A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret.


John 8:7

7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”

Bookmark Articles of Faith: Leadership Slippery Slope

Tom Schulte is Executive Director of Linked 2 Leadership
He provides leadership training fit for the Blackberry-Attention-Span

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One response to “Articles of Faith: Leadership Slippery Slope

  1. This post was right on time! It is amazing how we react to everything and jump on the proverbial “band wagon” and align ourselves with whoever has the loudest voice. Over and over again, I have noticed how much of what is propagated in the media is 10% truth/fact and 90% hot air. Problems arise when we respond inappropriately! May God help all of us!


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