Should Leaders Ever Swear ?

I am a little disappointed by the content on one of the blogs that I religiously follow. And hence I am using this space to vent out, or may be just discuss.

Read this, before reading my post. The author, Dan McGinn, is a senior editor at HBR. And thus I doubt my reaction to his article. It almost seems like Dan wrote this post in his sleep, forgot to edit the rough draft, and hit the submit button accidentally.
In this post, he is justifying – usage of curse words in corporate world. He has also painfully wasted some words on covering up for Obama’s use of the phrase “Whose Ass to Kick”, in his comments on BP’s irresponsible and colossal blunder.
One of my first projects in the IT consulting world was with a market leader in entertainment industry, which was trying to launch an array of products and services based on the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) model. Each an every consultant that I worked with on this project taught me a lesson or two about consulting. It was really the best “break” one could ask for as a beginner. But a big client, and a big project, always comes with bigger political chaos and bigger ego issues. I worked with some of the brightest people in the industry – but each of them was different and contrasting. I learnt a lot about handling different personalities in cross functional sessions on this project
One of the gentlemen, for whom I have much regard and respect, was also one of the bad mouthed leaders. He was courteous to me and other women around. But he was quick on cursing. The first time I heard him use the f* word in a meeting, I was stunned. I did not know how to respond. Of course it was not directed to me, but using such a word, did not seem appropriate to a fresh grad out of college.
I understand that in the examples cited in the original post, such as trading floors or some examples of blue-collar work, teams are exclusively men, and there swearing *is* a bonding thing — same goes for sports teams too. But corporate America is made up of a cross gender work force. And women take cursing as a serious offense. So I let it go the first time around. But slowly I noticed him using the word more and more.
Thus, one day, I took the liberty of making sure he understands that I am not comfortable with him using such words around me. I voiced my concern. And added, “I have a lot of respect for you and I really want to keep that image going. The cursing is not helping me here. You can now tell me to shut up, but I have voiced a legitimate concern.” I also told him that if it is a habit, then it can be worked upon. And that if he does use it unconsciously, he must apologize to the people in the room every time he errs. I was 23 then and he was 58. I did not care.
He apologized to me, and at least while I was around, I noticed him making an effort to change his habit. I still respect this individual and look up to him as a true leader. But the cursing was not acceptable. When you curse, you are letting your guards down. You are making yourself even more susceptible to attack – because the opponent knows that you are left with nothing more to say – hence the curse words.
I surely hope that Dan’s post does not encourage the leaders – coz I know for sure, there are not many people around, who will not hesitate to tell their seniors to stop cursing.
Cursing is NOT appropriate. And it will never be “a way to bond”. Not in cross gender teams anyways.

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