Why Politically Correct Is Not A Four Letter Word

| | Personal Leadership
Why Politically Correct Is Not A Four Letter Word

Use the words “politically correct” these days and you get a lot of strong responses. It is an accusation of impropriety or inauthenticity, disguised by eloquently crafted and spoken words. Calling someone out for being politically correct is now akin to assaulting them with a choice 4 letter word – one that people welcome with an attitude of “bring it on!”

I can understand the sentiment. The “right words” have been used all too often as a means of influencing others without being authentic and disguising true feelings and intentions. Many of us feel we have been lied to by our elected officials for far too long and we are over it.

These days we yearn for our leaders to take off that veneer of pretense and just be real with us.

We want leaders we can trust and believe in again.

We want our elected officials to do their job of serving the people they represent, rather than themselves and the special interests that fill their coffers.

This is perhaps why authenticity is one of the most revered qualities in leaders today – an attribute of leadership not even considered until relatively recently in human history.

Is the current alternative to political correctness any better?

I have heard countless people say the thing they love about Donald Trump is that he “calls it like he sees it” and he is transparent and honest. His off-the-cuff remarks, no matter how seemingly offensive, are easily explained away as just a joke or something he didn’t mean or just being honest. Many applaud him for NOT being political correct.

Unfortunately, being personally honest as the alternative to being politically correct does not necessarily produce a more desirable outcome, even if it somehow feels better in the moment.

I realize I am running the risk of inflaming ardent Trump supporters with the example I am about to share. And I’m going to ask you to consider the merits of what I have to say absent of politics, hard as that may be. This article isn’t about indicting or endorsing a candidate. For the record, I am a registered independent. I vote based on my perception of the merits of the candidates running regardless of party affiliation.

What this is about is taking a hard look at what we can learn about leadership from watching years of frustration with political correctness unfold publicly in this election.

Personal honesty and even transparency is not the antidote to the political correctness that has polarized us and degraded our trust in politics. It may even be dangerous.

Recent case in point: Trump’s seemingly “off the cuff” comment inferring the action that “second amendment people” might take could be explained away; but there is historical evidence that, while not explicitly suggesting violence, the potential inference could actually incite violence among the more unhinged and/or disenfranchised among us. “I’m just joking” or “just being honest” is fine when you are hanging out with friends having a beer, but those excuses don’t cut it when millions of people are looking to follow your lead.

The more visible your leadership, the more important it is for you to be mindful of your words and deliberate with your messages. tweet this

The caveat, however, is that you need to be able to carry that message off script and behind-the-scenes just as seamlessly if you want people to believe you are for real. Why? Because people no longer trust the script. Anyone can read a well-crafted message written by a professional “spin doctor” from a teleprompter.

Real is what happens when you take a moment to step away from your prepared remarks and just talk with people.

Trump thrives off-script. Except, is this particular example of his honesty an act of leadership or an act of irresponsibility because he is such a visible leader?

How does this apply to your leadership?

It takes thoughtfulness to craft an authentic message, and discipline to stay on your message. It’s actually very hard work, but it is absolutely necessary to leading others effectively. It is perhaps the ultimate expression of authenticity to do the hard work to craft a message and choose words that you can wholeheartedly stand behind and that stand the test of time.

Yet as a leader you need to take this one step further. You need to reinforce your message, not through more prepared scripts and remarks, but rather by demonstrating an ability to stay true to your message in your actions, even in those moments you think no one is watching. You can’t just speak your message. People are watching to see if your actions match your message.

[Tweet “You must learn to live your message if you want people to believe you are for real as a #leader.”]

Yet what if being politically correct was not all bad?

While being politically correct has unfortunately become synonymous with lying and untrustworthiness, I’ll suggest there could be a positive motivation for it. Democracy requires a level of uncommon civility among those in ardent opposition of one another.

Is it possible the notion of being “politically correct” simply suggests making a sincere attempt to be respectful and inclusive of others? After all, when the heated debate was over, you were once expected to ”reach across the isle” and actually work together to make progress. Does even implying violence as an option, overtly or unintentionally, prepare the way for working together in the future?

What if we set aside the phrase “politically correct” and replace it with a call to be respectful and mindful of each other, so we can work together despite our differences?

If the alternative to being politically correct is to express your honest opinions without regards to others, the facts, or awareness of the potential impact, I strongly suggest it’s time to find another way to restore honesty and decency to our political discourse.

Consider that personal honesty is often nothing more than an opinion espoused as a truth, yet not necessarily directly correlated with truth or facts. Honesty on this level is not necessarily responsible communication, which is what we most need from our leaders.

I leave you with this question: what really is the alternative to being politically correct – the alternative that can put respect, honesty, and integrity back into our political conversations inside of government or business?

I’d love to hear what you think, specifically about the issue of how to transcend the political correctness that has undermined trust and progress — NOT about the candidates please! I hope and intend this to be a dialogue we all learn from to positively affect our leadership. It is an opportunity to practice and distinguish the best alternative/antidote to the kind of political correctness that is so clearly in the way of honesty, authenticity, and progress where it matters most in our government, our places of work, and even our families.


Image credit: edwardsamuel / 123RF Stock Photo


Enter A Comment

Chery Gegelman   |   11 August 2016   |   Reply

Susan – Thank you for your post! I love sharing this adventure with you.

At one time in my life I worked with a team that had very little conflict. An executive coach said that was a sign of an unhealthy team and we thought he was nuts. (Years would prove that he was right. As the debates that should have happened at the table, became gossip, and complaining in individual offices after our meetings.)

I think PC has been abused and has become a tool to silence healthy dialogue – instead of encouraging truth seeking, thinking and collaborative problem solving.

And as you’ve pointed out in other posts, the opposite of PC is beyond explosive.

Change starts with the spirit that each of us brings – are we seeking to understand, build relationships and problem solve? And are we focused on the issues? Or are we seeking to throw word grenades and play blame games?

I believe that we are both deeply committed to understanding , relationship building and working on the issues.

Then we keep sharing why this is so important. Giving examples of how to do it. And inviting others to join us and to hold us accountable. (Repeat the message, model the behavior, repeat the message, model the behavior, repeat the message model the behavior…) Until it spreads and infects others. 🙂

We can do this!

Susan Mazza   |   11 August 2016   |   Reply

Yes we can Chery. We are clearly partners in this!!!