Harvard Business Professor Bill George Looks at Leadership

Transcript from Bill George’s appearance on Nightly Business Report on PBS

TOM HUDSON: In the course of the past week, two high profile leaders have been relieved of some or all of their duties. First, there was BP CEO Tony Hayward losing responsibility for the day to day management of the Gulf oil disaster. Then four star Army General Stanley McChrystal lost his job as top military commander in Afghanistan. Are these isolated cases of bad leadership or something more? Bill George is back with us. He`s the former CEO of Medtronic, professor of management practice at Harvard Business School. He`s with us tonight from Minneapolis. Welcome back to NBR Bill.


HUDSON: So what do you think? Were these from bad actions by good leaders or were they just unprepared for their situations?

GEORGE: Well, they were clearly unprepared for these situations. And I`m frankly extremely disappointed. We have had too many of these lately. I don`t know what General McChrystal was thinking in talking to “Rolling Stone,” but he wasn`t really thinking about the war like he should have been and the fact that he`s part of the chain of command. And I think in his case, President Obama did absolutely the right thing to relieve him. But more importantly, putting a leader like General Petraeus on the ground in Afghanistan that the American people have confidence in, because the bigger issue here is not General McChrystal. It`s the war itself and how it is prosecuted.

HUDSON: . going over to Hayward. What about Tony Hayward? He seems to take responsibility. In fact he went in front of Congress last week and he said quote, I feel a great sense of responsibility for the accident. He said that in front of Congress under oath and General McChrystal hasn`t denied any of those harsh comments attributed to him, saying before he resigned it was a mistake reflecting poor judgment and should have never happened. Why do you think these two people at the top of their industries were so unprepared?

GEORGE: Well, I think that Mr. Hayward was not really prepared for the big environment of the public eye. He`s a very good operator. He`s done a good job in the past for BP, but the company needed to make a lot of changes. He didn`t make them fast enough, to reinforce safety practices, maintenance practices make it a lot more conservative than it was and frankly make a lot more investment in their systems. And they took risks and it backfired on them. And Hayward to his credit took responsibility, but he still hasn`t been on the ground enough. He ought to be in New Orleans. He ought to be with the people. He ought to be seen and there and taking action every day. Even if he`s got a team of technical experts leading it, he`s got to be the one to be seen leading it.

HUDSON: So Bill, you have worked with leaders both in the boardroom and the classroom, what do you think the message is here for future leaders?

GEORGE: Get prepared. And you only get prepared Tom, by testing yourself in crisis. Don`t hang out as a consultant or an analyst, get on the field and be on the ground and test yourself in a smaller crisis so when the big one comes, which by the way Tom you can never predict when that`s going to come. You`re ready to take it on and you have a sense of what it`s like to be in the public eye and what the pressures are and the responsibilities you have to carry a huge organization on your back.

HUDSON: We`ll leave it there, always great insights, along with us our guest this evening, Bill George, professor of management practice at Harvard.

GEORGE: Thank you very much, Tom.