How to Spot a “Crappy” Executive . . .

Arrogant executive

Like most everything else, the range of executive effectiveness (from the extremes of  “totally ineffective” to “leading on all fronts”), probably follows somewhat of a bell-shaped distribution.

It is easy to spot those executives at either end of the spectrum, but what about the one’s in the middle?  This is definitely more difficult.  Some are still young and developing their skills and capabilities to manage a business and lead people and may be in the mid-range only because of lack of experience.  Others may have a special technical or customer related skill that makes them effective, but not a stand-out, star performer. The middle of the pack is an eclectic mixture.

So while there are those still developing and those will limited yet important skills, there are also those who are hanging on for a variety of reasons and who can do considerable harm, either by bad behaviour or the sins of omission.

After all my years of sitting in on executive level meetings and watching executive behaviour and performance with people and goals, I have a sure-fire method for spotting the “crappy” executive.  The one who is in the role but is a definite “waste of space”. They are hard to spot because they usually are good communicators and not abrasive or openly negative.  They blend in and go unnoticed for the most part while the boss tends to focus most of her time on the Stars and the Duds! The middle of the pack gets ignored.

My sure-fire test?  Simple.  Two things:  Do they come to meetings fully prepared and briefed or not?  Do they take notes during the meeting?

Nine times out of 10 they will show up at a meeting, “tentatively” participate and try to follow the discussion (because they haven’t done their homework), and take no notes, record zero action items, and generate zero new ideas.  They are enjoying the position but not putting in the daily work, reading, studying, taking notes and following up.  None of these things.  They have arrived and are above it all! They are finished learning and growing.

Next time you are in a meeting.  Take a look around and see who has a notebook and pen and takes notes and records their ideas, insights, questions and action items.  Then look at the Stars, the real performers and see what they do.  I think you will see that those who are engaged and active learners and listeners are the most effective.  The others are coasting.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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3 Responses to How to Spot a “Crappy” Executive . . .

  1. I love the simplicity of that idea, and can see how it is probably a pretty good indicator. Thank you!


  2. Steve Borek says:

    I’m not sure you can discount someone’s interest simply because they’re not taking notes. I rarely take notes in meetings.

    In fact, as a coach, I rarely take notes when speaking with a client by phone. I tried taking notes years ago but found I wasn’t being present for the client.

    Now, I have seen executives, as you point out, show up at meetings and not get into the meat of the discussion. They’ll dance around the topic, make it look like they’re adding value, when in fact they’re what I call an “empty suit.” They don’t bring anything to the table.


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