With thanks to Eliza Quek for some of the thoughts
Gratuitous bad language is a curse of the modern age. It shows a lack of creativity on the part of those who use it. It shows sloppy thinking, imitative idleness, dreadful example, disrespect of all, poor self control and a pathetic need to be brutal. This last is presumably to try to win some sort of Tarzan status. While agreeing that we are in a jungle, it is not the leafy lagoon sort. Brutality today loses you all the very people you want to keep. Left behind are the “yes” men and women. They quickly convert your company into a Nissan model. You may end up rich but you will be ruined.
There’s a video clip going the rounds of the CEO of AirAsia Thailand saying to a lady who is slightly hesitantly asking a question in a public townhall of, they claim, 500 people “What’s the f*****g question?” The participants laugh, perhaps because they are embarrassed. Granted, many people now use four-letter words indiscriminately. Granted, an occasional swear word illustrates a state of tension, anger or despair. Reality requires some illustration of how we live. Bad language on the scale it is used today, especially in the media, becomes self-defeating and loses its impact. Use of such language against a participant in a public townhall is totally unacceptable.
Chief Executives have frustrating times. They are paid to deal with them politely and in a controlled way. They are the leaders of businesses which are creating cultures, presumably to attract and retain the best talent. Example is the best teacher. CEOs should be setting an example to their colleagues. They must be accountable for the bullying that takes place in their organisations, for the discrimination against women and minority groups that is still rampant. They must behave in a way they expect their colleagues to behave, showing patience and perseverance.
They should again study the rules of leadership and realistically assess where they have got to in practicing them. Today’s leadership is fundamentally different from what we had before Covid, lockdown, WFH and the mental stress of being physically isolated from the normally wide range of human contact we are used to. Authority has a poor record of handling Covid. It is no longer trusted as it was. Perhaps it is right that it shouldn’t be, but it must find a way of coping with that. Being polite to your colleagues is a pretty obvious first effort.
Language is a vital medium. We judge people by their appearance, how they sound, what they say and do. We try to assess very quickly how intelligent they are. Our first impressions of someone can be wrong but they are more often right. How they use their voice and the language with which they communicate are two of the most important ways in which we sum them up. Why would a CEO want to be thought of as a lout? If he uses bad language indiscriminately, he will be.
The culture of every company is critical. Today, the culture of capitalism and democracy for every country is being rigorously studied. It has generated tremendous wealth but it has also put at risk the survival of humans on this planet. It has created rifts in society that will take generations to heal. Above all else it has taught us that ‘more’ often means ‘worse’. That is certainly true of nasty language.
Time to put a brake on the four-letter words. Time to treat colleagues – and everyone else – politely.