Brandt On Leadership -- Earnings Didn't Quite Cut The Mustard?

Break out the baloney. There's lots to go around.

A few choice slices off the phony-baloney excuse log: Limited economic visibility: A perennial favorite of CEOs, not only because it allows them to avoid making decisions -- who can decide anything in the face of such limited visibility? -- but also because it implies during normal times, these same CEOs actually have unlimited visibility. Upside: Convincing employees and shareholders that you can predict the future is a powerful job-retention skill. Limited visibility lets you claim clairvoyance without actually having to demonstrate it. Downside: Eventually you'll have to prove it. Anybody got a Ouija board? Winter storms: An oldie but a goodie, the "unseasonable weather" excuse is used by manufacturers and retailers of everything from toothpaste to jet engines to explain a bad quarter. Upside: Acts of God cannot be blamed on senior executives, no matter how much they'd like to claim omnipotence. Downside: Rapidly loses effectiveness when the same "unpredictable" bad weather occurs with predictable regularity. Geopolitical uncertainty: The world is an increasingly uncertain place full of unknown dangers and shady characters of dubious intent. War could come or not. Terrorists could attack or not. Anxiety over these factors is presumed to affect consumer behavior, and will therefore become the excuse du jour for a larger number of revenue shortfalls and missed profit targets later this year. Upside: Almost every company will use it in 2003. Downside: Hard to explain why the world is any more uncertain for us in 2003 than it was for our predecessors in 1903 or 1803 without looking like a whiner. The perfect storm: Not to be confused with winter storms, the perfect storm is a new favorite among CEOs and conference planners. Drawing on the book and movie of the same name, this excuse conjectures that a highly improbable convergence of macroeconomic trends and industry disruptions have rendered individual companies almost unmanageable over the past year. Upside: Allows CEO to subconsciously identify with dashing George Clooney screen persona. Downside: George Clooney character dies in movie. Also, CEO was hired to run a business in good and bad weather. Pricing softness: Used primarily by CEOs without new products or other innovations, who then profess to be shocked -- Shocked! -- at consumer unwillingness to pay more for S.O.S (same old...stuff). Upside: May provide a year's cover while you desperately try to push S.N.S. (some new stuff) into the market. Downside: If you have to resort to this one, you probably don't have a prayer of finding innovation anywhere in your company. What's the weather look like next year? Restructuring: A fill-in-the-blank excuse: Our industry/market/company is experiencing severe economic pressures/finance constraints/regulatory scrutiny. Therefore, since we have no other ideas, we have decided to restructure by downsizing/rightsizing/eliminating redundancies by 5%/10%/20%. Upside: You'll look like you're doing something. Downside: Everybody will wonder why you and your cronies -- the ones who blundered the company into restructuring -- weren't part of the downsizing. And what'll your excuse be then? John R. Brandt, formerly editor-in-chief of IndustryWeek, is president and editorial director of the Chief Executive Group, publisher of Chief Executive magazine.

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