The ‘articulate incompetent’


It was a cold, dreary, snowy Cleveland day, and I was on my way to Frank's office for advice on a potential company acquisition. Frank was in another meeting when I arrived, so his secretary showed me to his office. I had time to look around as I waited, and I spied a plaque on his wall with a phrase I've never forgotten:

"The most dangerous person in the world is the 'articulate incompetent.'"

When Frank arrived I asked him about the plaque, and he told me:

"I was chief financial officer at a Fortune 500 company. I watched many managers work their way up the ladder, serving in short-term assignments and then moving on. These executives had great oratory skills. At each post, things might look good on the surface, the explanation of problems might sound plausible, but things always seemed a little short of complete. And when the leader left, things fell apart big time. All sorts of creepy crawly things came out from under the carpet. The new boss had to clean up the mess and wasn't always as articulate as the previous tenant, often taking the entire blame. I learned that in a company, doers make money and talkers get promoted. Sorting out who the doers were was critical. The most dangerous people we hired were those who could talk a good game but couldn't strap on their uniform and run a yard. These people I named the 'articulate incompetents.'"

Since then I have heeded Frank's advice and observed that articulate incompetents are in every profession. They have a persuasive-sounding explanation for everything and few if any results. They exist in every segment of business, they make great aggressive forecasts, and then they leave before the results are tallied. They are in ministry, talking high-minded principles and extraordinary faith and then falling short when the slightest opposition rears its head. They are in education, those who lay out lofty objectives and can't teach their way out of a paper bag. They are in the arts, just listen or read the explanations on some of the 10-foot-square blotches of blue paint in the local modern art museum. They are in the military, and there, if not checked, they may lose lives. They are all over politics, those who speak of idealistic principles and sweet promises and never deliver.

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Solomon tells us, "For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear." A genuine faith in God should place a governor on our tongues, make us slow to speak, quick to listen, and completely truthful - no exaggerations, no half-truths, no spinning, complete candor.

Let us make sure we keep our eyes out for the articulate incompetent, and make sure we are not one.

Bill Newton
Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God's World Publications' board of directors.


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