The Never List: What You Can Never Do, Say Or Tolerate As Strong Leaders

Sorry may be the hardest word, but sometimes sorry just does not cut it.You would think most of these caveats about workplace behavior, language and communication would come down to common sense, sprinkled with ethics and a moderate showing of humanity. Never mind your mother or father probably told you all of this by the time you were 6.[bctt tweet=“Sorry may be the hardest word, but sometimes sorry just does not cut it #WorkplaceLeadership” username=“takeleadwomen”]Yet, the verbal gaffes and social media atrocities of public leaders recently from Kathy Griffin to Bill Maher to Uber exces appear to point to a crisis of discernment and non-filtering. Here we are witnessing repeated misunderstandings of what is not only inappropriate in the public space—or workplace or anywhere— but what is reprehensible and a career-ender.Regardless of the culture that abides outrageous antics of comedians and media pundits, as strong leaders, employees, colleagues, partners or entrepreneurs, there is absolutely no excuse, redemption or recovery if you cross the lines of human decency and respect. Or if as a witness you stay mum.Even if the discriminatory or inflammatory comments do not come out of your mouth, if you are party to the conversation or statements, or recipient of the emails or social media messaging, if you do not say something or stand up, report it and express disdain, you are also part of the culture that condones it.[bctt tweet=“As #strongleaders there is no excuse for crossing the lines of human decency and respect” username=“takeleadwomen”]“Recent years have seen controversy from Michael Richards, who went on a racist tirade in 2006, Tracy Morgan, who went on a homophobic rant in 2011, and Daniel Tosh, who joked about rape in 2012. Morgan and Tosh managed to recover, with the former releasing a Netflix special and the latter still hosting his Comedy Central series this year. Shock-jock Don Imus also managed to creep back onto radio waves after making sexist and racist comments about a college basketball team, although his show was initially canceled,” writes Sara Boboltz in Huffington Post.In 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported more than 32,000 charges of employment discrimination for race, gender, age, disability, religion and more, with monetary settlements of more than $79 million to employees. You do not want to work in a culture where this is the norm.Such discriminatory comments or behaviors in a workplace culture may be the result of explicit bias, according to the BBC. For instance, “Going back to 1958, 94 percent of Americans said they disapproved of black-white marriage. That had fallen to just 11 percent by 2013.”Implicit bias is trickier to discern, measure and possibly eradicate, researchers say. Harvard University’s Project Implicit has the Implicit Association Test, to measure bias, and you can take it here.“Over the past decade or so, it’s become common for major companies to use implicit association tests in their diversity training. The aim is to demonstrate to staff, particularly those with the power to recruit and promote, that unbeknown to them, and despite their best intentions, they may nonetheless be prejudiced. The diversity training sector is estimated to be worth $8 billion each year in the U.S. alone,” according to the BBC.Yes, explicit bias may be fading, and implicit bias is more difficult to acknowledge and to address. But the case for fairness is that the workplace is not a playground for demonstrating bias.“There’s an obvious business case for eliminating bias. If you can stop your staff behaving irrationally and prejudicially, you can employ and advance the best talent,” according to the BBC. “Implicit bias down = profits up.”True, some of this might seem like a primer in civility, and it may seem too obvious. But lately it appears it has not been obvious enough. There are guidelines available on line, such as this from Small Business Chronicle, and these tips and strategies on how to develop a workplace culture free of discrimination and hate. But here we have boiled it down to a credo of four main principles. There are more, certainly, but let’s start here.

  1. No name-calling ever. Not in a casual conversation, never in a meeting, and never on emails or over social media. No slang or derogatory remarks—even if you are quoting someone else—about anyone’s appearance, race, gender, age, religion, economic status, point of view, orientation, sexuality, political preference or marital status. This is not funny. Check out what humor in the workplace can be considered appropriate here.

  2. No tolerance for any discrimination. If a colleague, client or boss makes a comment that is vulgar, rude, attacking, hateful or in any way diminishes another person in the office or even a public figure, say something. “I do not appreciate that comment and would ask you not refer to anyone that way,” is brief and to the point. You can choose to say it in the moment in a group or if you fear retaliation, say it privately. Document the exchange. If you have any questions or concerns, consult the federal EEOC website and find out your legal rights.

  3. No references to symbols or language of hate. You definitely do not want to use metaphors of hatred or intolerance even in a separate, benign context. Because any symbol —historic or current— of hate is never benign. Be aware of the implications of how your language may be interpreted and may trigger someone in the workplace assuming you were intentionally offensive. Wearing symbols or having them on your desk is also completely unacceptable.

  4. Never behave in a way that deserves an apology. No excuses here, not that you were tired or you were kidding or you know your colleague didn’t mean it, so you just stood there. “Use what you’ve got,” is Power Tool #3 in the 9 Leadership Power Tools developed by Gloria Feldt, co-founder and president of Take The Lead. Use your sense of fairness and morality to employ the power to create a workplace culture of respect for everyone.

Know the best way to treat anyone in your workplace—or anywhere. And know that as a leader whatever content comes out of your mouth, your keyboard or your social media accounts reflects on you as a person. Strong leaders do not tolerate hate in the workplace. The consequence could also be that you are fired for unprofessional conduct, violating the company code of ethics and federal anti-discrimination laws.[bctt tweet=“What comes out of your mouth, keyboard or social media accounts reflects on you as a #leader” username=“takeleadwomen”]The best rule to follow is to always conduct yourself as a leader in ways that you will never regret. So you never have to say, “I’m sorry.”