In April 2011, an oil explosion on a BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 people and caused the greatest oil spill in U.S. history. The CEO at the time, Tony Hayward, uniquely rose to the occasion with what will surely become known as the most self-absorbed leadership quote of all time:
“What the hell did we do to deserve this?”
Mr. Hayward was certainly operating under an extremely stressful situation at the time, immensely more intense and tragic than any of us might ever face in our careers.
It is clear that Mr. Hayward was a wee bit preoccupied with himself and the career-branding implications of this tragedy, rather than seeing the bigger picture and stepping up to lead the organization through an epic crisis.
Compare this behavior to Farzad Rastegar, CEO of Maclaren USA, who was faced with a massive baby stroller recall in November of 2009. Those strollers claimed the little fingers of dozens of toddlers due to faulty hinges, and were under fierce public attack. “It was one of the most difficult times of my business life,” Rastegar writes in a Harvard Business Review story, “But good did come of it. I learned a lot about myself, my role as CEO, and what it means to lead a growing, global company.”
Farzad goes on to discuss the influential role his company is now taking with other manufacturers and retailers in setting higher standards for stroller safety in a surprisingly unregulated industry. He faced the crisis head on and found ways to lead an entire industry towards the greater good.
We may want to scoff and throw spitballs at the wayward CEO of BP, but really, he was just doing what we all do – which is to take our jobs and careers too personally.
Self-protection is often our first instinct in dealing with stress. Feeding into a self-centered approach to your career inevitably leads to a smaller-screen version of Tony Hayward’s response in the face of difficult situations. What does everyone else think about me? Will I get blamed? How will this affect my promotion? It can be exhausting.
Thankfully, there are alternatives for rising above this self-centered self-management, and they are endless.
Instead of hiding, face the truth.
Rather than blaming others, take responsibility.
Pay attention to the needs and hurts and anxieties of others.
Influence the outcome towards a higher ground.
Inspire others towards a brighter future than what is in front of you.
Give of yourself first, cover your ass later.
Influence, inspiration, care, and compassion – this all will build legacies, which are more important than resumes.