Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Global Leadership- ExxonMobil-A summary of Leadership Insights

Over the course of the last six weeks I've done seven blogs on the leadership insights I believe emerge from Steve Coll's book Private Empire:  ExxonMobil and American Power.  Those blogs and their subjects include:

17 Sept-Operational Excellence and Project Execution

18 Sept-Sustaining Growth

19/20 Sept- Growth and Strategic Choices

21 Sept-Anticipation and the Time Horizon

26 Sept-Safety

16 October-Security

Monday, October 29, 2012

Global Leadership- The Importance of Persistence

Recently, I was I Vermont on a brief holiday admiring the autumn foliage.  Serendipitously, we passed through the tiny community of Plymouth Notch, Vermont. This small, farming community was the home town of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States.  He was president from August 1923 to March 1929.  We stopped and toured the grounds and small visitors center there.  His politics are unimportant to me but the idea that a man could have such humble beginnings...there couldn't have been more than four or five families in this small community....and become President of the United States....is fascinating.  A quote on one of the walls gives a clue to his character:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence.  Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated failures.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."-  Calvin Coolidge

This quotation isn't new to me but I think it bears reinforcing.  Persistence.... the will to continue steadily in some state or course of action in spite of opposition or difficulty...is a very important leadership quality.  It's very closely related to the issue of "Practice" which I covered in my 4 August blog entry and "Mistake Making" which I covered on 8 May

Dr Angela Lee Duckworth has taken this idea a step further.  She takes the idea of persistence and combines it with sustained passion to arrive at a quality she calls "grit'.  The video at this link explains it in greater detail.  Although it's longish....18 mins plus...and three years old... it's worth the few minutes invested.  She even makes links between mistake making and practice.  She and others have done solid research that confirms what Coolidge knew intuitively over 80 years ago. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Global Leadership: Security in an unstable world

With so many companies operating on a global scale, increasingly leaders are confronted with security challenges that were previously unimaginable.  Steve Coll's book outlines some of the challenges for a company like ExxonMobil.

One problem is the theft of products.  In at least one country of which I'm aware, the scale of the problem is enormous.  In the not too distant past, the theft from just one company in one country was somewhere between 26 and 30 million barrels of oil per year with a loss of over a billion dollars in revenue.  This is clearly not the work of villagers driving spikes in pipelines and siphoning oil into 55 gallon drums.  It involves a fairly sophisticated technical capability to get the oil and supply an distribution network to move it and sell it.  Often the revenue this generates is used to fund insurgents with interests against the host nation.

Another security challenge is harm to ones employees.  Kidnapping for ransom is the most common experience.  Actual harm to expatriate workers is relatively rare.  More often they are held until a ransom is paid.  Coll claims the going rate for an expat in oil rich countries is a ransom of $250,000 which is routinely paid.  That said, the "they won't harm an expat" belief hasn't always been correct and companies must treat all these cases seriously.  Coll lays out in some detail different security challenges ExxonMobil faces in Indonesia, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria.

This often leads to security arrangements with the police and military forces of the host nation.  Companies necessarily must respect the sovereign rights of states within which they operate and that includes security.  A complicating factor is that the same security forces that provide protection to commercial activities are the same forces accused,  or in some cases known, human rights abusers.  It's difficult to reconcile the dilemma of being protected by security forces who are also being used to oppress ordinary citizens.  In Exxon's case they chose to join the Voluntary Principles on Security and Human Rights Regime.  This regime commits corporate signatories to communicate their human rights standards to local security forces; authorize the use of force around their properties only in proportion to the threats and to vet local militias serving them for known rights abusers.

So what does all this mean to a leader?  First of all it means that you need to be choiceful about where you choose to operate.  Although many leaders are skilled and experienced in making business-case driven choices, security concerns and ability to implement the Voluntary Principles have to be part of that decision process.  Second, leaders must be aware that a lucrative business proposition can cloud their judgment and cause them to dismiss or minimize security concerns.  Third, leaders must be aware that circumstances can change quickly.  Coups and revolutions as well as peaceful political transitions can change the basis of key decisions and trusted relationships.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Devil's Advocates: Improving Information Sharing

On 12 April I published a tipsheet for leaders on how to get diverse views surfaced on a team.  I'd encourage you to go back to that blog entry and review it.  #1 on that list was to "Designate a Devil's Advocate" In this 9 October entry from Professor Michael Roberto's Blog: Devil's Advocates: Improving Information Sharing there is new research that devil's advocates play a key role in improving information sharing on teams.