It was David Rockefeller’s PR man Fraser Seitel, in a column he wrote for me a quarter of a century ago, who named the most common species of executive: the platitudypus.
Forever uttering maxims like “the only constant is change,” boiling every imaginable human experience down to “challenges and opportunities” and intoning words like “world class” and “next level” as if they actually meant something real, the platitudypus had thrived in American business for many decades before Seitel gave it a name, and thrived for a couple decades after.
But in this age of leadership authenticity—and also in this moment of grinding, physical, daily world crisis—you’d think the platitudypus would be on the endangered list.
After all, how can you talk about “synergies” through a covid mask? (Did you say “sinner,” Jeeves?) And how can you wax eloquent about “low-hanging fruit,” when your left ass cheek just fell off?
But worry not, nature lovers. The platitudypus is an amazingly hearty, resilient animal. You might even say it’s “robust.”
Last week, Dan Helfrich, chairman and CEO of Deloitte Consulting, wrote this on LinkedIn:
We all play a role in shaping our organizations’ cultures, which is why my newest #EverydayEquation video focuses on how Responsible Change Makers > Order Takers. By having the confidence to articulate your ideas to make something better, you can break free of the status quo and advance your team’s vision. Challenge yourself and your teams to be responsible change makers. #culturematters #changemakers
Well, all right. I mean, it doesn’t feel like “breaking free of the status quo” or “making change” are the main problems right now. Putting out the grease fire in the galley should come first. But generally, I guess, “Responsible change makers” are generally better than “order takers.” (Though it admittedly it can be hard to tell the difference.)
It was the reaction to Helfrich’s milquetoast post, by Marriott International planning & services VP Aurelio “PJ” Rivera that convinced me the platitudypus still exists in nature.
Love this, Dan! Creating a new language and terms to help us codify the very best behaviors + leadership attributes that we need right now will help us tap into, anchor, and amplify what the very best leaders and organizations can and need to be during these challenging times. I’ve been focusing a lot of energy at Marriott in helping our leaders grow as “ambiguity absorbers” vs “ambiguity amplifiers” – and it feels like framing our discussion around “responsible change makers” is a practical and positive next step evolution in our journey. Thx again! hashtag#StealingThis 🙂 hashtag#KeepChallengingOrthodoxies
Try to imagine working at Marriott, amid furloughs and reduced hours that began in April and are planned through October—and in the middle of six thousand worries and sadnesses in your personal life wrought by the various hell slices 2020 has served up—having to sit on Zoom calls listening to a million-dollar executives tell you about the importance of growing into a better fucking “ambiguity absorber”?
Alas, just like the platypus …
… the platitudypus will make his little noises.
The difference is, the platypus is actually communicating.