The Wrong Side of Politically Correct: Wrong Phrase, Right Idea

Karin Hurt wrote an interesting, if slightly disturbing blog recently on Smart Blog:”The Wrong Side of Politically Correct.” She argues that smart leaders “create a culture where “politically correct” and correct are as closely aligned as possible,” which makes good sense, if we remember what the term “politically correct” used to mean before it was co-opted.
Thanks to politically conservative reframing,  “politically correct” now means fearfully dogmatic, inclusive and careful to the point to clumsiness and foolishness about racism, sexism and other oppressions. But when it was adopted by progressive movements in the mid-20th century, it meant accurate — i.e. reflecting political reality and representing history and social relationships in ways that addressed inequalities and social conditions in meaningful ways, ways that supported visionary cultural and personal equality. (That would be the right side….)
I know, I know! Itʻs too late to change the way weʻve come to use the word, but I wanted to make the distinction, because the old way of understanding the word actually means alignment with reality, not disconnection through political distortion or toadyism. Hurt has hit on something meaningful about the way fear and carelessness hobbles leadership.

She writes: “It’s tragic when otherwise-smart leaders make poor choices in the name of being politically correct.

  • “We all know why this project went south, but it wouldn’t be politically correct to bring it up. We can’t remind him of that decision. Let’s just blame it on poor execution.”
  • “If this were my business, I would make a different choice. And I know you would do the same, but the optics on this are just too intense, I think we need to go in the other direction.”
  • “I know John’s the most qualified for the job, by Kelly’s really the executive favorite. We’d be doing John a disservice if we promoted him over Kelly. He just wouldn’t have the support he needs.”

When fear of ticking off the wrong person trumps “right,” the business suffers on many levels: wasted time, poor decisions, inferior talent. You’ll never find “politically correct” on a short list of company values, and yet, political correctness is an unspoken part of the decision-making process in many companies.  When leaders groom their protegés to follow a similar pattern, the destructive cycle continues.

When fear of ticking off the wrong person trumps “right,” the business suffers on many levels: wasted time, poor decisions, inferior talent. You’ll never find “politically correct” on a short list of company values, and yet, political correctness is an unspoken part of the decision-making process in many companies.  When leaders groom their protegés to follow a similar pattern, the destructive cycle continues.

Mike Myatt shares in his book “Hacking Leadership”:

“In the face of perceived conflict, dissension, threats or controversy, people tend to default to denial, justification and rationalization. In today’s politically correct world, it is just easier for most people to hide in the safety of the majority than it is to take on the risk of being outspoken, innovative, disruptive, challenging, convicted, bold, controversial, or truthful.”

Read her whole blog here… 

I agree that avoiding conflict in the name of anything except leadership common sense and healthy relationships is dangerous. And if political correctness means “hiding in the safety of the majority,” than itʻs bad leadership practice. Absolutely! Anything that obscures the truth, blocks learning opportunities, and creates a disempowering office culture is not only wasteful leadership but bad management!

Iʻm just not sure we can really blame it on “political correctness.” The term I would use would be “political expediency” or “fearful leadership.”

 

 

2 comments

  1. […] a healthy bottom line is related to creating new kinds of socially inclusive relationship — not out of a mistaken sense of fearful ‘political correctness,’ but out of a sense of people, living authentically, as resources that must not be wasted or […]

    Like

  2. […] too. And here’s the win-win of paying attention to the language of leadership — when we speak as close to truth as we can get, we connect better. We argue/discuss/challenge each other by connection, not by oppositional positions. We talk about […]

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: