Identifying Executives Failure

Dec. 21, 2004

You've all heard of a school of fish, a flock of ducks, and a pride of lions, Now it appears The American Heritage Dictionary has recorded an updated bunch of designations for groups of animals. Some, such as those mentioned above, have been in use for centuries. Others are rare and convey the character of the animals as well as the species. For instance: a bouquet of pheasants, a skulk of foxes, a wisp of snipe, a murmuration of starlings, a kindle of kittens, and a business of ferrets. Sometimes the group name changes when the group is in a different habitat. A flock of ducks on land becomes a flight of ducks in the air and a raft of ducks on the water. A gaggle of geese ashore flies off in V-formation to become a skein of geese. Since Canada geese do not migrate as a single group, a group of groups becomes a cohort. And then there's the Cajun variation in which a lone goose is described as traveling "in a flock all by hisself." Following the ingenuity of The American Heritage Dictionary, I have taken the liberty of establishing some new designations for executives who fail in their careers. According to a survey by the American Management Assn., there are six major reasons for executive career failure. In order of severity, they are: arrogance, insensitivity toward co-workers, misuse of confidential information, excessive ambition, failure to delegate tasks and cultivate teamwork among subordinates, and insufficient staffing. Since the perpetrators of these management no-nos usually learned their lessons from the same teachers at the same management schools, frequent the same watering holes, and travel in groups, it is appropriate to designate them as an overabundant species and, therefore, open to hunters. Here's how you can identify them: A swarm of snarlers -- A species disposed to exaggerate its worth or importance in an overbearing manner. Key identifying characteristics: abnormally big heads; "I"s very close together; mouth shaped like a horn; constant tooting sounds like me-me-me-me. A sort of insensitives -- A species incapable or bereft of feelings, deprived of perception, apathetic, and indifferent. Key identifying characteristics: colorless; drags its tail; no energy (almost inert); makes a sound like the tick of a time bomb ready to explode. A corps of chatterboxes -- A species that utters rapid, repetitive sounds resembling language but mostly inarticulate and without meaning. Key identifying characteristics: generally speaking is generally speaking; vocabulary is small but turnover is terrific; big mouth; talks in whispers; long tongue forked at end. A spatter of sharpies -- A species driven by desire for personal advancement or preferment, often unwarranted and presumptuous. Key identifying characteristics: substitutes brass for brains; delegates all authority; shifts all blame; takes all credit. A conspiracy of incompetents -- A species recognized for its inadequacies in achieving defined purposes. Key identifying characteristics: both feet planted in midair; follows the path of least persistence; pushes doors marked pull; headed from obscurity to oblivion. A detachment of downsizers -- A species loved by investors but hated by employees. Key identifying characteristics: given a free hand will cut it off; charms are hidden; moves in circles in a straightforward sort of way; tendency to worm a way out of your confidence; probity needs probing; oily tongue and slick mind. There they are -- my suggestions for classifying executive failure. I'll bet you can do better. Send me your suggestions. I'll print the best ones. Sal F. Marino is chairman emeritus of Penton Media Inc. and an IW contributing editor. His e-mail address is [email protected].

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