Top 5 Leadership Lessons By Elango Pandarinathan

Here are my top 5 inspirational learnings from my leadership journey in the Oil and Gas industry.

  1. Being Sensibly Contrary 

The phenomenal success Cairn achieved in the global oil and gas sector is due to the sensibly contrarian business strategy it followed. Due to high risks involved in oil exploration, companies used to form unincorporated joint ventures to share the risks. But the founder of Cairn, Sir Bill Gammell used to say that if you believe in something believe 100%. He took several sole risks to reap significant rewards. I have carried that theme throughout my leadership journey and have always paused to reflect, as to how we could do things differently from how they were done in the past. I apply this question to everything, whether it is formulating a business strategy as to how an independent oil and gas company can succeed in such a low oil price environment, or organizing a conference on safety. Doing it differently – not just for the sake of it – will ensure positive impact.

  1. Taking Brave Pills 

As a manager and later as a leader, you are required to take bold decisions, even more so in oil and gas due to inherent uncertainties. For example, whether you will discover oil and gas in an exploration well is not known until you actually drill it, whether that discovery is commercially viable is not known until you drill further appraisal wells, how much you will ultimately recover from a field through production is not known until the last barrel is produced, and what price you will get is known only on the day you sell it in the market, or sign an agreement for a fixed price. Therefore, to succeed, one should build the capacity to take bold decisions – what we used to call “taking brave pills”.

  1. Planning For Success 

I have learnt to always “Begin with End in Mind” and to work backwards to achieve a goal. While planning, it is good to visualize the success scenarios, and build resources and capacities with a long-term view – buying twice the size of land for a plant, so that expansion is quick, building 50% additional capacity in oil and gas pipelines, locking in prices for a longer period for repeat supply orders, developing vendors as long-term partners, inducting young talent to build a long-term leadership bench. These are just a few examples of planning for success, which I practice in everything that I do.

  1. Finding More Leaders 

In my thirty-year long career in oil and gas, I have not discovered a single barrel of oil on my own, but I have discovered and developed several technical and business leaders. This gives me the greatest satisfaction. I came across a piece of writing on the definition of leadership titled “Paradox of Leadership”, written by an unknown author. Given below are five thoughts from the piece for all of you to reflect upon:

– To be able to lead and to keep oneself in the background

– To freely express your views and to be diplomatic

– To try to win consensus and to be able to cut through

– To be a visionary and to keep one’s feet on the ground

– To be sure of oneself and to be humble

  1. Transforming Lives  

Whenever one reflects on the question of “Which is the noblest profession?”, teachers and doctors top the list; they sure are. To my mind, any profession that helps to transform the lives of people, by improving their quality of life is a noble profession. In that context, I will end by quoting what a proud oilman once said:

“What I love about this industry vs. other industries is the wealth creation. We physically find and then provide commodities that everybody in the world needs. We physically make things happen every day that allow humankind to be better. In the course of doing that, our shareholders are better off and we are better off as individuals. When it comes to choosing a career, imagine an industry where there is variety and intrigue every day, as you build and create wealth that people can physically walk on and touch. What could be better than the oil and gas industry?”

I am glad that I chose a career in oil and gas and continue to play a role in it.

Start typing and press Enter to search