Dropping the Leadership F-Bomb

He said this: “…I am a “Jerk.”

… except, he actually didn’t say the word “jerk.” This man said the off-color seven-letter word that begins with an “@$$” and ends with you wondering how to pleasantly excuse yourself from the room so you don’t have to listen to anymore of his madness…

No, I’m not talking about the way a boyfriend or girlfriend might apologize after staying out with friends too late the night before, or how someone might make fun of themselves because they just spent wayyyyyy too much on an iPhone from eBay, or how Jon Stewart might sarcastically and rhetorically comment on why he ingeniously pokes fun at the same kind of stupidity [minute 4:50] we all wonder about night after night.

This was done in an all-too-real business environment…

Reality Check

This event and language, folks, is how I heard a CEO address his soon-to-be acquired staff during an “all hands” acquisition meet-and-greet.

Yes, I know…It’s okay… I blinked a lot when I heard him say it, too.

So go ahead, let the phrase marinate a little in your head… and don’t be surprised if you stop and think, “actually, my CEO says MUCH worse…”  If so, you’re not alone.  In fact, Bianca Male of Business Insider put together this excellent summary of “10 Best Executive F-Bombs” from May 2010 (Bianca is my kind of writer, folks… she even gives us two CEO’s as a bonus!!)

Colorful Language

F-BombFellow readers, I have been known to use colorful language to jolt people to a point, to promote a sense of “shock and awe,” and to just let off some steam in select company.

The sad truth and the topic of this blog, however, is that this isn’t the first time I heard a CEO use this kind of language at such an inappropriate time.

“When would that kind of language be appropriate?” you might ask.

Well, one could argue that it’s never appropriate.  It’s a low-life form of communication that is often used by those who aren’t cultured enough, educated enough, or [insert any kind of modifier here] enough.

When I hear the phrase from someone that “the CEO swears,” I expect to hear the rest of the sentence go a little something like: “to provide truthful information about financials,” or “to uphold the vision and mission and thereby achieve or exceed intended results,” or at least “by best practices which have garnered healthier top and bottom-line numbers and a stronger engaged workforce.”

The last thing I want to hear at the end of “the CEO swears” sentence is “a lot.”

Now I know what some of you are thinking… and OK fine, I get it.  As I said above, I’ve been known to through a few doves in the sandpile in my day.  I’m not trying to cast stones in my otherwise glassy-like house. Choosing select swears at the right time can often create terrific energy, placing strength behind a cause (imagine a locker room whose coach never swore?)

Swearing can also excite people for courage (you think a battlefield leader didn’t summon his or her group’s strength with some colorful language in the last millions of years?)

Go For it, Foul Mouth!

But if you’re just looking to seem eccentric, if you think that swearing is OK because you’ve driven the right results and you retain the best and brightest and your stock just split 5 ways (that’s right folks, take a look at #8 from the above-mentioned article,) or if you’re just hoping to make some local or national or global news, then go ahead.

Swear, swear, swear.  Swear BIG!  Swear looooong.  String the s#&t out of as many “bad words” as you can and see what happens (extra points if you can do it in a few different languages in the same sentence!)

Go ahead and see how long the followership lasts, because if that’s all you’re known for, (like Carol Bartz,) your success will eventually be DESPITE your leadership style instead of BECAUSE OF your leadership style.   Which would you prefer in terms of your legacy?

Freakin’ Out

So, to those leaders who think swearing is always OK, or that it doesn’t matter if anyone got the wrong impression by such distasteful behavior, or that you will do just as well despite what your followers think of you… for the sake of your own leadership, listen to what I’m telling you:

Using swearwords to introduce yourself in front of 100+ potential employees (and using a derogatory swear word aimed toward intimidation) indicates one thing to me:


Perhaps you’ve been successful because of timing, or the people around you, or simple serendipity.  Likely, you’ve been successful because of all three, but if you think introducing yourself to strangers in this way is going to earn you the respect and trust you need to be a successful leader:

“You’re freakin’ wrong!”

What are your views on this type of behavior?  I’m sure you have seen it.  Does this primitive use of language shape a viewpoint that might help people depending on the circumstances and cultural landscape?  Do you think this behavior helps or hurts us when thinking on a more global level?

Christa (Centola) Dhimo, President & Founder,
via Best Practices
She helps clients by aligning human capital performance with business results

Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog

Image Sources: westseattlefunblog.com, assets.storenvy.com

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3 responses to “Dropping the Leadership F-Bomb

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