From Epithet To Epitaph

Dec. 21, 2004
It's all in the name.

Would Jack Benny have gotten as many laughs if he had remained Joseph Kubelsky? Would Kirk Douglas have been a matinee idol as Issur Danielovitch Demsky? Would Doris Day have become America's sweetheart as Doris Van Kappelhof? Would Margarita Cansino have achieved the sultry stardom of Rita Hayworth? Probably not. How about Dean Martin? Could he have crooned has way into our hearts as Dino Crocetti? Would Annemarie Italiano have won as many accolades as did Ann Bancroft? Would Marion Morrison have been as macho as John Wayne? I doubt it.

What about the reverse?. Would Luciano Pavarotti delight the operatic world as Fats Domino? Would Christoph von Dohnanyi be successful as Ziggy Elman? Or Vladamir Horowitz if he were to be named Mugsy Spanier? Maybe, but I don't think so. Like it or not, names evoke stereotypes. People expect great tenors to have Italian-sounding names . . . great classical musicians to have foreign names . . . leading men and women to have romantic names . . . great comedians to have funny names. Great athletes have nicknames that define who they are or what makes them special, like "His Airness," "Mr. Clutch," "Babe," "The Brown Bomber," "The Yankee Clipper," or just plain "Magic." Chief executives, too, are often immortalized with epithets like: "The Slasher," "The Eraser," "The Magnificent," "The Grabber," "The Loser," "The Intimidator," "The Blow Hard," "Mr. Big," "The Benevolent," "The Savior," "The Indomitable," "The Almighty," and "The Jerk," to name just a few. But in a world where your record is being judged by your employees every day, by your board of directors every month, by the investment community every quarter, and by the media whenever they sense a story, today's epithet can become tomorrow's epitaph. And epitaphs should be reserved for the dead. To help you stay alive, I suggest a superb little book written by W. Steven Brown entitled 13 Fatal Errors Managers Make--and How You Can Avoid Them. My copy is worn and shabby because I've referred to it often during my career. It's only 160 pages thick, but it's chock full of practical wisdom. I like it because it constantly reminds me that I have the potential to make mistakes--serious mistakes that could affect not only my future, but the future of my company, my employees, my board, and my shareholders. I'd like to share Steve Brown's 13 potentially fatal errors with you: 1. Refuse to accept personal accountability. Brown lists five essential elements to an organization's success: a quality or unique product; proper timing; adequate capital; people resources; and effective management. If you lack the fifth element, you will lack the other four. 2. Fail to develop people. Management's major purpose is to provide for the continuation of the business over time, personnel change, and absence. 3. Try to control results instead of influencing thinking. Doing good work and doing it faster and better than others is the key to success. 4. Join the wrong crowd. Foster the right attitude. Attitudes are contagious. Success can become a habit, but so can ineptitude. 5. Manage everyone the same way. People may be born equal, but they don't stay that way. Manage each in a manner that brings out the best in him or her. 6. Forget the importance of profit. You cannot exist without it. 7. Concentrate on problems rather than objectives. When you spend 90% of your time on problems, you lose sight of your objectives. 8. Be a buddy, not a boss. Buddies don't make good bosses. 9. Fail to set standards. Without standards you cannot measure progress or success. 10. Fail to train your people. Not knowing how to do it is as useless as not knowing what to do. 11. Condone incompetence. You get what you accept. 12. Recognize only top performers. Everybody needs recognition. Don't be chintzy with something so easy to give. 13. Try to manipulate people. Invite participation. Get your employees to buy in and there will be no need--or reason--to manipulate people. Avoid these fatal errors, and your epithet will be "The Greatest." So will your epitaph!

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