There is a huge hole in the Gulf of Mexico that needs to be plugged immediately. I speak, of course, of the hole in the heart of Tony Hayward. The BP CEO’s recent comment that he “would like his life back” is emblematic of heightened concern among leaders of all stripes; empathy is rarely (never?) a requirement for moving into a position of power. His moment in the international media sun has been peppered with numerous examples of his inability to walk a mile in another man’s wellington boots. Mr. Hayward is more self-absorbed when he is more serious.
None of his other comments have resonated with the same childlike authenticity as his plea to return to personal normalcy. Also note his walk along a ruined Gulf beach; flanked by puddles of oil and cleanup workers in canary suits, his only act was to scare away the cameramen covering his survey of the damage. Despite these offenses, the most painfully ironic evidence of his disconnection with the human impact of this disaster was his recent attendance at a glitzy yacht race, with his $700,000 boat, “Bob.” Nice try, Tony, but even a vulgar name like “Bob” won’t fool the world into thinking you’re a man of the people.
I’m not saying I wish Tony Hayward had acted differently because he looks bad, or seems insensitive, or because he sends a bad message. Those are public relations concerns and what I’m talking about is bigger than public relations. I don’t wish Tony Hayward had acted differently, I wish he was fundamentally different. Simply put, empathy is the ability to feel deeply what another person is feeling. You won’t see “empathic” as a desired characteristic in any job posting, and that reality has negative implications for tangible and intangible workplace outcomes.
Consider for a moment how much of the 50% drop in BP’s share price is due to the sheer callousness exhibited by BP executives and spokespersons. Imagine the loss of morale and consequent loss of productivity for BP’s 80,300 employees who go to work every day for an organization that has shown such disdain for “little people” (another gem from BP boss Carl-Henric Svanberg ). Through a series of experiments, renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman has shown that emotional intelligence (EQ) and intelligence quotient (IQ) have no correlation with each other. Anecdotally, Dr. Tony Hayward, who has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, has confirmed this research before our very eyes. BP’s privilege of IQ over EQ will cost them dearly as they have many organizations that have made a similar mistake. After all, “Britain is not the only place that has oil.”