by Anne Carto
Downturns have created a leadership gap in the oil and gas industry. Current executives are nearing retirement, and our generation will have to step into the leadership roles that will take our industry into the future. In a time when oil and gas is under a microscope, embracing environmental responsibility, and being relied on more than ever before – how can new leaders set themselves up for success while remaining thoughtful and authentic? I’ve been fortunate enough to have opportunities to hear from the industry’s brightest and most engaging leaders.
Being a leader also means being an ambassador for your industry. The individuals that set themselves apart not only contribute to their company’s success in a business capacity, they promote and address the benefits, concerns, and unique stories of the overall industry.
This is what I’ve learned from them.
1. Understand the bigger picture.
Currently, roughly one billion people live without electricity. Hundreds of millions more live with insufficient or unreliable electricity. Approximately 3 billion people use polluting fuels like wood or biomass to heat their homes and cook their food. This means they cannot safely seek shelter and nourishment, educate themselves, work after the sun goes down, or have access to telecommunications. While dozens of international efforts are working to help the cause, the decisions we make and work we do also matters. U.S. company research and development will increase efficiency and lower the cost to deliver energy globally. Additionally, our efforts to prioritize and improve our environmental footprint will benefit our neighbors across the globe.
To bring it closer to home, affordability and access are relevant in our state. 10.6% of Colorado households are “Energy Impoverished” meaning they devote a very high percentage of their income to heating and lighting their homes. Next to domestic violence, not being able to afford utility bills is the number two reason for homelessness in the US. While most of us have never experienced such a plight, we must remember every day why we do what we do. Our work providing affordable, accessible, reliable energy creates the cornerstone for economic development here and abroad.
2. Understand the local picture.
Your company’s success is dependent on a larger ecosystem that includes state and local regulatory compliance, a social license to operate in communities, and politics that influence policy and permitting.
Your specific position within your company might not be impacted by current activism, regulatory changes, or political issues, but all of it does impact the overall health of our industry and likely your company. Take the time to find out what’s happening and how you can engage in philanthropy, advocacy, or education. Trade groups and their communications lists, networking events, and professional organizations are great ways to stay up to date and understand your role in ensuring our industry continues to work. To understand the operating environment, scan some Facebook pages from the communities where you company is operating, set google alerts for articles in those communities, or attend a local hearing.
3. Remember people are being impacted.
Unless you are in the field or a field office, it’s easy to lose sight of the industry’s impacts on communities from our offices in Denver high rises. The truck traffic, noise, construction and everything that comes with our industrial process disturbs nearby neighbors. These impacts should be remembered in every conversation we have about our industry and acknowledged in every decision we make in our work. From land leasing through final reclamation, chances are you have an opportunity to provide a thoughtful voice in your company’s planning and execution processes.
4. Get to know all the aspects of the business.
Seek and take advantage of the opportunities to get to know employees and their work in different departments than your own. Understanding the difficulties facing one department will help you make more thoughtful decisions in your work and will set you up for success as an executive down the road overseeing various departments. You could participate or host forums over lunch, ask to participate in cross-departmental meetings, invite colleagues to happy hour, or simply engage in new conversations in the break room. Aside from your own company, a great way to do this is participating in industry programs for young leaders such as COGA’s EnGen program.
5. Don’t be afraid to talk about what you do.
We’ve all been there and it’s rough. Gatherings with your personal network can lead to uncomfortable conversations in which friends or acquaintances question or belittle you for your choice to work in the oil and gas industry. First, remember #3 and listen to their concerns, explain what you do and why you do it (a little passion here is a good thing), and let them know if you share any of their concerns. Your job isn’t to change anyone’s mind, just to have a conversation. In these conversations, there aren’t two sides of the issue, show them there is a spectrum.