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Leaders Swearing at Work (Offensive Language) – Is it Okay?

Swearing at work

I wrote a post on leaders and offensive language about a year ago. In that posting I argued that leaders ought to watch their use of offensive language. It erodes trust. In this posting I want to expand on those thoughts more.

I have seen leaders attempt to create fear in meetings with offensive language that might have surprised a seasoned sailor. I have also seen leaders try to use offensive language as a way to inspire their organization to greatness. Either way, in my case, it didn’t inspire me, nor put any fear in me; it was just plain offensive to me.

Some may argue that swearing at work, in meetings, presentations or anywhere else is inspiring and is their way of motivating those that they lead. Here is my take, if you have to use offensive language to inspire and motivate then you need to “read up” more on inspiring and motivating people. Certainly there are better tools in your box aren’t there? It is my opinion that those who need to use offensive language to inspire either lack communication intelligence, lack discipline, or just simply disregard common courtesy and politeness.

While I do believe it can erode trust, to me there is also a moral obligation leaders have to not use offensive language. For every swear word that a leader launches in a public setting, I guarantee there is someone in earshot who finds it offensive.

I appreciate the empathetic leaders that gets this. I once had a great leader that I was fiercely loyal to who got this. Though swearing in his personal interactions was something he did, swearing at work wasn’t. In fact, when I was with him and he would slip, he would immediately apologize because of the respect he had for me.

So please, next time you feel the urge to use offensive language, refrain for the sake of those that might take offense. If you slip out of habit, then please apologize to those around you. The reality is that what a leader says will have impact both positively and negatively. It’s your choice, choose wisely.

I know not all of you will agree. But I would love to hear your opinions either way. Let’s discuss.

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