Last week, I was in LinkedIn and I saw a post from Bernard Looney, the soon-to-be Chief Executive of British Petroleum (BP). Mr. Looney is pictured sitting casually with an open-collared shirt. In his post, he states his interest in using LinkedIn as a platform “to listen and understand your [LinkedIn community] thoughts, concerns and interests. I hope this channel can be a two-way dialogue where we can learn from each other.”
I commend his interest in listening and understanding, which are positive leadership attributes. My first reaction was, “How can he read and respond to the thousands of LinkedIn comments while performing his duties as CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world?” I suspect that there is a BP public affairs person who read and responds to his social media under his guidance.
The next morning, I read an article in the London Financial Times (FT) titled Bernard Looney, a polished oilman at BP (Anjli Ravel, January 24, 2020). The first sentence set the tone: “Bernard Looney, the incoming chief executive of BP, has spent the past few months letting critics tell him how terrible his company is.” Again, I admire him for listening and entering into difficult dialogue. Being relatively young at 49 years old and spending over half his life climbing to the pinnacle of a multi-national corporation, he must be highly intelligent, a superb communicator, and an adroit networker.
As I read the FT article, I came to a short paragraph where I paused and reflected: “Recently divorced and with no children, he maintains an aggressive travel schedule. ‘This is a company that has given me everything I have in my life,’ he said in 2018.” BP certainly has been good to Mr. Looney; a fast-track to the chief executive role with its associated wealth and high-profile. He now travels around the world in corporate jets, dialogues with top corporate and government people, and has thousands of BP workers supporting him. Perhaps this quote was taken out of context, but BP did not give him everything in his life.
Mr. Looney proudly states that he grew up on a farm in Kerry (Ireland) and was the first in his family to go to university. Someone, perhaps his parents, supported him while he was growing up. His university education was at least partially paid by the government through taxpayers. He was transported on roads and benefited from other governmental services. Mr. Looney is a citizen surrounded by a supportive community that helped him self-actualize. While I don’t know his personal details, I suspect that his former spouse supported him in the same way while he climbed the corporate ladder. His life is so much more than his current occupation.
Lee Hardy wrote about vocation in his book, The Fabric of this World: Inquiries into Calling, Career Choice, and the Design of Human Work (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1990, page 113) and properly balances occupation within vocation:
“To gain a full-orbed, properly nuanced and balanced view of the place of work in human life, it is imperative to recover the broad sense of vocation. For an occupation is only one element in the total configuration of my vocation. After I’ve done my job as an employee, I still have other things to do as a spouse, a parent, a parishioner, a neighbor, and a citizen – not to mention the fact that I am also called to rest in leisurely contentment with God’s goodness on the Sabbath. If I pour myself into my work, with nothing left over to give to my spouse, my children, church, community, or country, I have neither heard nor heeded the full scope of God’s call in my life. For, as Barth points out, human life ‘is not exhausted in the process of labor.’ Work, family, church, education, politics, and leisure must each of them find their place, shoulder to shoulder, under the concept of vocation.”