Leadership to the Rescue

As an estimated 80 million gallons (and counting) of oil has spilled into the Gulf. It feels like we're watching a class of kindergarteners try to perform a root canal. The problem is twofold: a lack of technical knowledge coupled with a failure of leadership.

Great minds (we assume) are now focused on finding a technical solution. A crisis of this caliber calls for creative thinking around solutions. A $10 million X Prize was offered this week for finding an effective means of cleaning up the spill. We're even accepting assets and skills from numerous foreign countries and organizations.

What about the leadership vacuum? We have heard the repeated calls for Tony Hayward to step up to the plate or step down as CEO of British Petroleum (BP). There have been cries for the government to more actively manage the situation. Some have even suggested that the military should take over operations. However, the best people at managing crisis have yet to be tapped: not-for-profit leaders.

Do-gooders are easily overlooked. We're supposed to be soft, touchy-feely types, who wear Birkenstocks, compost everything, and write poetry by candlelight. The surprising truth? Some of these crunchies are management bad asses. When it comes to managing in crisis, not-for-profit leaders know how to do more with less, under absurd constraints. Instead of throwing bazillions of dollars at McKinsey or calling in the National Guard, why not utilize some of our nation's best practitioners to solve one of our nation's ugliest messes?

Hire Siobahn Walsh to coordinate all the agencies. She is the Executive Director of Concern Worldwide which just converted a bare field into a camp for 3,000 people in Haiti. The tents will be able to withstand the coming hurricane season. The latrines have removable refuge deposits, which makes the wealthy land owners happy. And, it was all built in just seven weeks.

Bring in Darell Hammond to run operations. He is the founder and CEO of KABOOM! which just finished building 1,000 playgrounds in 1,000 days. That is an incredible feat for any construction company, but now imagine you are relying almost entirely on volunteer labor. Indeed, can you imagine motivating people to take action without relying on financial incentives or hanging the threat of termination over their heads? Take money out of the equation and you strip down management to its purest art form.

Recruit Zainab Salbi to oversee public affairs. She works in the bleakest of circumstances. Her organization, Women for Women International, provides job training and microfinance loans to women in war torn countries. In just one year Women for Women International distributed over $23 million in microfinance loans to vetted entrepreneurs in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq to help jumpstart their economies. You think your job is challenging? Try creating structure and value in a place where rape, poverty, illiteracy, and other unimaginable ills are the norm.

My argument? Sure, these not-for-profit leaders will be personally greeted by St Peter when they arrive at Heaven's Gate. But in addition to being good they are also great. Great managers of labor. Great leaders in crisis. Great at stretching a dollar. Do they understand the technical bits of deep water drilling? Probably not. But someone needs to manage the crisis beyond sorting drill bits and chemicals; we need to bring in a leadership A-team to manage out of this fiasco.

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill continues. Now we're not just mad about the goop itself, we're frustrated by the continued inability to find a resolution to this disaster and the obvious lack of leadership. Not-for-profit organizations maximize social good, get the most out of staff and volunteers, and are used to limiting overhead expenses in perpetual crisis mode. Call us. We answer our own phones.