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Cursing at the Executive Level: It Just Makes You WAAAY Too Comfortable...

My friend, Mike Haberman, recently riffed on the use of profanity as a leadership tool, so I thought I'd do "story time" today.  One of the kooky things about the life of KD is that I've been in one or two industries where cursing was the norm.  I'm not talking about words like hell, I'm talking about the big words - combos included as well. Implications for actions towards parenting types all around. Hourly.  Good times.

What's an HR executive to do?  Well, if you didn't pick up the rawness in your interviewing process, you better get past your sensitivity and play it where it lies.  The worst thing you can do in that type of culture is try to force manners on Carlin the caveman.  The caveman isn't going to change.

A better question is figuring out if you are going to start launching expletives as part of the dysfunction. If you choose to, sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.  From a reader I'll call Jack Bauer:

"A number of years ago, working in Omaha as a Regional HR Mgr, I had Mutual of Omaha ask me to play in a golf outing in another state, for a big charity thing – they would pay for the whole thing, but I had to find my own way there.  So, happens the CEO, COO & CFO were invited to the same outing and were planning on going on the company private jet.  I was in good with the COO – we traveled together frequently out to markets together, so he said “hey, just come with us on the jet.”  Great, done deal – I’m flying corporate and playing golf – it’s going to be a good week!
The CEO’s admin makes hotel reservations, we are all staying the same place, sharing a car – basically it’s the senior leadership and Jack for 3 straight days – as an HR Pro could you ask for anything better!?  Day of golf outing goes well – I take off with the vendor and hang with them all day, same at dinner – at the end of the night I hook up with my buddy the COO who is a huge drinker, and has been drinking all day and all night – he’s completely bombed and I join in and get past where I need to be.
The CEO decided it’s time to go and everybody needs to get into the van to go back to the hotel. The COO wants one more for the road, and thinks I should have one too – as we walk out to get into the van, the CEO says to me “you’re not taking that drink in the van.”  This is after the COO already got in with his drink.  I say “well, yes I am”.  CEO – “The hell if you are.”  Jack -  “F***, if I’m not” – and I get in the van.  We drive back to the hotel – I go to my room and call it a night.
Next morning I come down to catch a ride to the company jet – with the group and the COO says – in front of CEO and CFO “ So, Jack, are you going to tell the CEO to F*** off again?”  With that I made the comfortable ride back to Omaha with the senior leadership team!
It actually ended up being great for me – after that trip, the CEO would come to me all the time and ask for stuff and get me involved."

So, the environment of "Jack Bauer" had drinking and cursing - big deal.  The real question is whether Jack partakes in either, as they're inherently linked.  Drinking with the execs in a culture with lots of cussing can lead to - you guessed it - telling your CEO to F-off.  While it worked out for Jack, I've seen a Divisional SVP in my career write off a direct report for random comments that were less inflamatory - just because the SVP felt disrespected out of the blue (I say out of the blue since it was in a good ole' boy exchange that included most, if not all, of the George Carlin 7 words.  It was all fun and games until the SVP randomly decided my guy had crossed the line.  Whoops.)

A better idea than Jack's action?  Be in it but not of it as an HR pro, and don't lead the senior team in cursing.  It's safer, and just the fact that you're not bothered by a culture of profaniity as an HR Pro will make them accept you without you lacing one up like Chris Rock.


Michael Haberman SPHR

This is a great quote from you... "Be in it but not of it as an HR pro..." I too worked in a situation, a plant in Chicago, where every other word was M-F this, and M-F that. It did not bother me but I did not repeat it... figured it was not appropriate for my position. But I sure listened to alot of it, especially when they were unhappy about something.

Rachelle Falls

I've heard the swearing among senior execs, but never dreamed I would see one "flip off" another, during a meeting! Another case of the "Good 'Ole Boy" club? Where to draw the line? Seriously folks....instead of acting "real" let's just be professional...I'm sure you can manage that...

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