Do CEOs who swear make better leaders?

by HCA06 Sep 2016
While HR departments have traditionally disapproved of workplace swearing, some researchers believe that there are positive effects that come from using it in a leadership context.

“Using swear words adds power to certain messages, grab attention, and for some population, may make you ‘cool’ – if this is what the CEO is looking for,” said Yehuda Baruch, professor at Southampton Business School, to CNBC.  Case in point is Irish budget airline Ryanair’s boss, Michael O’Leary. He was recently in the news for letting loose colourful language in response to the EU’s ruling on back taxes owed by tech giant Apple to the Irish government.

Baruch, who co-authored a study on the acceptance of profanity in the workplace in 2007, noted that the generation gap is a big factor in the way swearing is perceived in the office. “Swearing is becoming almost a societal norm for younger people …  and enables the development of personal relationships among coworkers,” he stated, citing the prevalent use of curses and profanity in the media. And with more young entrepreneurs and CEOs making their mark in various industries nowadays, it seems that swearing and cursing in the workplace may soon become the norm.

Still, there are experts that stand by the belief that dropping swear words in the office should be banned. Speaking to CNBC, Julie Logan, a professor in entrepreneurship believes that swearing in the office is inappropriate because “as a leader you lead by example and maybe you don’t want staff who represent you swearing in the media or at clients”.

Though, she admitted that the likes of O’Leary are able to get away with it because it gives the company added publicity.

What’s your opinion on swearing in the workplace? Tell us in the comments below.

Related stories:

Firing staff for the F-word? Think again!
Swearing at work: when is disciplinary action justified?
“F***ing stupid”: “Unjust” dismissal of employee sacked for swearing


  • by Simon McCoy 6/09/2016 11:15:14 AM

    Whilst ever there is a risk of causing offense, best advice is to keep it clean in the office.

  • by Gillian Kelly 6/09/2016 1:45:18 PM

    I don't think it's necessarily the word choice but the implications of the word choice. If what you say hurts or offends someone then you need to ask 'is it necessary?' Could I say it a different way? I think I'm more offended by someone 'swearing at someone' or 'bullying someone with their words or tone' than I am at the colourfulness of the language. It's all in the context. (Of course some words are simply unacceptable and as adults we all know which ones they are.)

  • by Trent 7/09/2016 10:50:35 AM

    Concur absolutely that amongst many others, a key attribute of Leadership is epitomising high professional standards which you expect from your team. Having said this, within the confines of the Boardroom, Leadership meeting or HR counsel, subject to the circumstances, Leaders should be encouraged to vent if necessary with the view of leaving these emotions within these privileged meetings to ensure the high professional standards continue to be demonstrated in the general working environment.

    Essentially, subject to the composition of the Leadership team and your experience at this level, mindfulness of each team member will determine whether the occasional expletive used whilst venting will be tolerated, provided it is not directed at any individual.

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