A classic scene from the 1978 movie Animal House was created when Faber College Dean Vernon Wormer disgustedly addressed the failing grades of delinquent Delta Tau Chi Fraternity members as follows:
Dean Wormer: Here are your grade point averages. Mr. Kroger: two C’s, two D’s and an F. That’s a 1.2. Congratulations, Kroger. You’re at the top of the Delta pledge class. Mr. Dorfman?
Flounder: [drunk] Hello!
Dean Vernon Wormer: 0.2… Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.
(View the clip here).
Fat, drunk, stupid Flounder was fortunate to have a leader that cared enough to bluntly confront his failure. Since Animal House was set in 1962 Dean Wormer was far less constrained by today’s politically correct censorship. Today a court-appointed counselor would likely reassure pathetic Flounder that his sorry state wasn’t his fault; mom and dad, or perhaps Wall Street, would be the scapegoats.
John Vernon, who played Dean Wormer, passed in 2005. If he were today addressing dealership personnel he’d find it necessary to assail some in a manner similar to Flounder, perhaps with something like: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through business Mr. or Mrs. Dealer.”
What exactly does it mean to go through business fat, drunk and stupid? Here are the parallels:
1. Fat: You reveal business fatness when you’ve become lax or negligent in vital disciplines like: recruiting, rigorous interviews, establishing clear expectations, training, coaching, mentoring, holding others accountable, adherence to processes, and more. Being fat doesn’t mean that you are idle all day, but it is evidence that you’ve gotten so busy with production that you’re neglecting your capacity to produce; you’re prone to immerse yourself in a swirl of daily activity and confuse doing a lot with doing enough of what matters most. Until your focus becomes lean and mean you will often mistake motion for progress, major in minor things, and put second things first.
2. Drunk: Being drunk in business means that you’re so intoxicated with success that you don’t think being fat matters. This supports my long held belief that success is an intoxicant, and intoxicated people don’t behave rationally. When drunken leaders get off track they’re prone to stay there because there’s no immediate pain for their poor decisions. This is why the most dangerous aspect of failure is its subtlety, prompting speaker Jim Rohn to characterize failure as “the inevitable result of an accumulation of poor thinking and poor choices; a few errors in judgment repeated every day.” Consider the drunken arrogance that follows this line of thinking:
A. My pipeline for future employment prospects has dried up because I don’t proactively recruit and I think it doesn’t matter.
B. I lose good employees and customers because I don’t train my people consistently and think it doesn’t matter.
C. My culture is a free for all because I fail to hold others accountable for results and think it doesn’t matter.
D. We fail to maximize our opportunities because I don’t enforce our follow up systems and think it doesn’t matter.
E. I haven’t created a vision to engage, unify and inspire my team and think it doesn’t matter.
F. I’ve gotten “too busy” to attend 20-group meetings, or industry conventions and think it doesn’t matter.
G. I keep high performers despite the fact they violate our core values and think it doesn’t matter.
H. I don’t make the time to have one-on-one coaching sessions to impact my team members and think it doesn’t matter.
I. I don’t keep my word to employees or customers and think it doesn’t matter.
J. I don’t read serious books to upgrade my own skills and think it doesn’t matter.
The list could go on and on. Based on this sampling, where have you and your team gotten fat and drunk?
3. Stupid: Stupidity in business is demonstrated when you hear a message, or read a column like this that makes you aware you’ve become fat and drunk but decide to do nothing about it. You’re intrigued and entertained by these concepts but blissfully go about business as usual thinking perhaps that you are the exception, or are above the standards the rest of us must abide by. You may even boast that you don’t employ half the disciplines I’ve mentioned but are still successful; and miss the point that you are successful in spite of the fact you’re fat and drunk, not because you’ve gotten fat and drunk. If you dwell in this state of delusion you should be warned that the universal laws of sowing and reaping are still in effect and just because you don’t see immediate consequences for your failed disciplines doesn’t mean that you’ll escape them. You may be in the grace period between being fat or drunk and actually suffering stupidity-induced decline, and can still turn things around if you’ll recommit to healthy disciplines and abandon the self-destructive practices that threaten your future.
Incidentally, we all do stupid things from time to time but our objective should be to not allow stupidity to become a pattern or worse, a lifestyle; because while being fat and drunk is reckless and irresponsible; stupid hurts.