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Jonathan Merritt

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Sociologist Says The Right Leader Is Handling the Oil Spill

Posted: 05/26/10 11:56 AM ET

Over one month ago, the massive BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded beneath the surface, causing unbelievable damage. The blast killed 11 people, and hundreds of gallons of oil have poured into the ocean at the rate of at least 210,000 gallons per day. Over one month later, oil is still gushing and criticism of BP and the U.S. government's handling of the crisis is growing.

At a time when everyone is shifting blame to the next person in line, it seems what we need is a great leader. According to Rice University sociologist Michael Lindsay, Admiral Thad Allen may be such a leader.

In a recent article on the Washington Post Leadership blog, Lindsay says Allen, the government's point man for the oil crisis, is exactly what we need. "Whatever solution is finally able to stop this disaster will only come from a leader who is both creative in his thinking and trustworthy in his character," writes Lindsay. "Fortunately for us, Admiral Thad Allen is such a man."

The stalwart sailor officially retires tomorrow but he will continue to serve as National Incident Commander for the Deepwater Oil Spill. According to Lindsay, the Admiral has all the necessary ingredients for a leader charged with such a task: education, experience and the right disposition. Allen holds graduate degrees from George Washington University and MIT's Sloan School of Management. He was praised for coordinating the Coast Guard's response to Hurricane Katrina and 9/11. He smoothly transitioned the Guard into the Department of Homeland Security, and issued the order to bring Elian Gonzales to the United States in 1999.

Even more important than his resume, Allen tells the truth. In times like these, frustrated citizens want leaders to shoot straight with them, and he doesn't mince words. Rather than point fingers, Allen plainly told the press this week that the federal government doesn't know how to stop the oil spill.

The federal government is not an oil company. No branch of government possesses the equipment or the experience to cap underwater oil leaks, Allen said. So we shouldn't expect them to solve this by themselves or hold them accountable when they don't. Honest comments like these may not get you elected to public office these days, but it instills trust in skeptical times.

"There is a reason the admiral inspires confidence and trust among his followers. He has little interest in crafting a personal legacy. He doesn't need to pull off another career success or impress his superiors," Lindsay says. "But that is precisely why if anyone can succeed in the Gulf of Mexico, Thad Allen will."

Maybe what we really need isn't a funnel or a cap or a plan to clean-up all the beaches that will doubtlessly turn black in the days ahead. Perhaps we need a few more leaders with the guts to look us in the eyes and tell us the truth. It seems this situation calls for a leader who's as big as the problem. For the sake of our oceans, wildlife, and citizens living around the Gulf, I hope Lindsay is right.

Have you been disappointed with the government's handling of this situation? Is it fair to blame Obama and his administration? Has this changed your thinking on off-shore drilling?

Jonathan Merritt is a faith and culture writer and author of Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet (2010).

 
 
 

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