In the US we are currently in the early stages of a presidential political season, and it seems that the most outrageous rhetoric is ruling the day. There also seems to be a groundswell of people who take offense at being held to standards of appropriateness, or "political correctness".
While we are still nearly a year away from electing this country's new President, it is worth noting that several of the candidates have embraced this notion of "...ending political correctness, and speaking more freely."
While much of this is being dismissed as confined to the political theater, there is evidence that this trend of speaking freely is beginning to trickle down into the workplace; affecting workplace behavior and the tone of conversations. Proponents of this trend argue that they are simply exercising their right to free expression, and their right to speak honestly without filters.
This argument may work in the throes of a political campaign, but it doesn't work well in the workplace without serious consequences. For those organizations hoping to attract, engage, and retain the most talented people; this speaking without filters approach can be toxic and could actually cause tremendous damage for individuals and the organization.
As someone who worked in the energy industry in the early 80's, I saw first-hand how toxic the workplace culture was for certain demographic groups; especially in field locations. I also watched how the industry over time slowly climbed out of that very low point. I witnessed company after company reprimand and fire leaders at every level who tolerated, and in some cases fueled that toxic culture. So this latest trend feels like an ominous reminder of those days.
Today's workplace is more diverse than any other time in history. Whether it be race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or personal histories; it's a different workplace than just a generation ago. This also means that your customers and stakeholders are just as diverse, and no matter where your organization is located in the world, your business is more global than you may think it is.
So as leaders of these diverse, global teams and stakeholders; it is more important than ever that we summon the courage to challenge toxic speech and cultivate an environment of mutual respect, dignity, and inclusiveness.
Great leaders create great workplace cultures; where appropriateness and professional correctness is not only expected, but encouraged and rewarded.
This topic is too important for leaders not to have an opinion about it; we cannot afford to be neutral because the stakes are too high!