In the list of phrases that should be scratched from the management lexicon, “safe pair of hands” comes pretty high.
The man named to be chief executive of BG, Chris Finlayson, is the latest to be awarded this dubious accolade. He meets two of the requirements for the safe-hands epithet: he’s an insider – though he’s only worked for the UK oil and gas producer since August 2010 – yet he is also “seasoned” (another term that should be banned – executives aren’t sauces, for goodness’ sake).
There are four main reasons why the phrase is more curse than compliment:
1) It has a damned-with-faint-praise tone, sometimes implying that the company couldn’t find a really exciting candidate, so they played safe.
2) It is often an indication that people don’t know as much about the corporate insider as they would know about a high-profile outside candidate.
3) Safety may be a virtue in some cases but an overcautious leader is not always what companies need.
4) “Safe” is often the last thing a safe pair of hands turns out to be. In fact, the record of leaders in the safe-hands hall of fame is as spotty as that of any other executive or politician. Read more