CEO David Farr was taken to task last week for his use of four-letter words. What does your choice to profane or not profane say to your audience?
Emerson Electric CEO David Farr grabbed headlines this week with a profanity-riddled outburst before a group of analysts and investors in which he insisted, among other things, that the company is "not a g—d--- one trick pony."
The study, from the University of East Anglia, based in Norwich, England, indicated some more potential benefits. From the Inc. story:
Swearing can help develop and maintain solidarity among workers, as well as relieve stress, according to the study. "Employees use swearing on a continuous basis, but not necessarily in a negative, abusive manner," said Yehuda Baruch, a professor at the university's Norwich Business School and one of the directors of the study. Baruch was particularly interested in the findings from a management perspective. "We hope that this study will serve not only to acknowledge the part that swearing plays in our work and our lives, but also to indicate that leaders sometimes need to think differently and be open to intriguing ideas," Baruch said.
But if you decide to embrace the expletives, there are certainly some pitfalls you need to know.
“The problem with passion is that is that it’s not put in a cute little box and made comfortable for everybody. Passion is subjective—one person’s passion is another person’s crazy,” said Scott Stratten, business author and social media marketing expert.
“When leadership is [swearing] in public it’s a sign of immaturity,” said New York-based communications expert McAdory Lipscomb Jr., who coaches business leaders in public speaking. “If you revert to more basic, four-letter language it puts a question mark to what other things you’re being immature about in running your company."
Lipscomb said he’s even been approached by investor relations professionals to help rehabilitate CEOs with a penchat for profanity.
Both Lipscomb and Stratten stress that it’s important not to eliminate personality from CEO communications, especially when some of those leadership quirks can be what characterizes an environment that attracts employees. Still, managers need to inspire confidence through their behavior.