Leadership & Good Manners


An email I received out of the blue recently from a person I’ve never met left me reeling for a couple of days, and started me thinking about manners in the modern workplace. With all the promotion of leadership courses and discussions about leadership strategies and characteristics these days, I realised we never hear mention any more of manners. And yet, if there’s one thing I’ve always noticed about leaders, it’s that they are always polite and gracious.

Manners are the small social rules and conventions that hold us all together. They “oil the cogs” of all our relationships and keep things running smoothly in organisations, families and personal relationships. My recent experience got me thinking about the characteristics of leadership, like good manners, that we should all, and probably do, recognise, but that are not “sold” or commonly taught anymore, most certainly not as part of a quick-fix package or course on the internet. A leader, and anyone else, should know that good manners stop unpleasantness and misunderstanding from happening, and bad manners get in the way of things running smoothly, and are therefore costly, both in human and financial terms.

It seems to me that “Leadership” is a bit like “Emotional Intelligence” (or poetry or art or charisma) in that we all recognise it, but it’s very hard to define. And, like Emotional Intelligence, Leadership seems be subject to fashion. When I was a school student, teachers were always talking about whether we had “leadership qualities” or not, but when I was a teacher myself, the prevailing wisdom frowned on anything thought to be anti-egalitarian. Now, in the workplace at least, the pendulum has swung again, and “Leadership” seems to be a hot (and lucrative) topic. But even if, as human beings, we can all recognise leadership, can we really define it simply, or market it?

I think perhaps we should go back to our deeper, more personal, psychological understanding of how we recognise, and indeed follow, leaders, so that we can learn valuable lessons from them, rather than thinking we can package a simple formula and sell it (complete with coloured circular charts – I’ve googled!). Furthermore, it’s probably a good idea to learn to recognise a leader, rather than following some jumped up “wannabe” who yells loudest, and who’ll lead us over a cliff in a crisis.

Understanding leadership is like understanding anything, its complex, subtle, sometimes subjective, and requires good observation and thinking. Developing leadership requires time and wisdom. One of our clients recently said that she’s noticed that real leaders are always calm in a crisis. I have noticed that real leaders are unpretentious, gracious and polite. What else does a good leader really have? : usually charisma, charm, often patience, and they inspire confidence and respect (and there are lots of other characteristics).

The point is, that leaders, by definition, have to have characteristics that make people want to follow them. In other words, their characteristics and conduct give them influence. I’m very sure that none of us want to follow impolite people who make us angry, insulted and incensed. So on a personal, and a business level, it doesn’t make any sense to have bad manners.

I think the conclusion might be, if we want to get to first base as a leader, we’ll have to begin with good manners!

Lynette Jensen

*This is a personal view and does not necessarily represent the opinion, beliefs or policy of the company



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6 Responses to “Leadership & Good Manners”

  1. Paul Payton says:

    Agreed. Alternately, the short form: “Don’t be a jerk.”

    Thanks for posting.

  2. […] after I started this blog last year, as a result of my outrage about bad manners in the workplace

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  4. Scout says:

    This is really good stuff. Sadly this very very important point is missed in the workplace. I see bad manners every day.

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