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Scotts Miracle-Gro's Cursing CEO: So What?!

Tuesday, 4 Jun 2013 | 3:22 PM ET
Jon Schulte | E+ | Getty Images

We do a lot of cursing in the newsroom. So we were a little taken aback by the news from Scotts Miracle-Gro.

The company's board reprimanded its CEO for salty language. That's something you don't see every day. Any manager knows a well-placed F-bomb can do wonders. And in newsrooms, it's de rigueur (much to the chagrin of many an HR manager I've met).

And generally CEOs say whatever the … heck … they want, right? (Related: CEO Outbursts)

In fact, it's part of being a CEO.

"Swearing contextually has a lot to do with power," said Tim Jay, a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who specializes in studying swearing.

It establishes hierarchy, since the boss can cuss at you but you aren't likely to cuss at the boss.

"It's also a way of communicating expectations and the level of involvement and urgency of those expectations," Jay said. Think hockey coaches trying to motivate players in the heat of the playoffs.

In addition, an occasional expletive can become part of the mystique of the leader.

"It's part of the leadership status but also part of the persona," Jay said. "The person didn't come into the position without a history. You don't become a CEO and then start swearing. That was part of the persona that got you the position. It may have made you seem assertive or direct."

Also, the professor noted, curse words and trash talk can keep competitors at bay and enforce a leader's street cred. (Possible example: The Ackman-Icahn Face-off)

Faber Report: Miracle-Gro Board Members Resign
According to SMG, the members did not depart due to the company's practices or operations, reports CNBC's David Faber.

So gosh darn it, let the CEO swear.

Of course, there's a thin line between motivation and abuse. And then there's company image. The CEO of a baby food company probably shouldn't be a potty mouth, while a trucker chieftain likely needs to keep a dirty word arsenal close at hand.

In the case of Scotts Miracle-Gro, the reprimand was announced along with the resignation of three board members. Just how much one had to do with the other and what was actually spoken was left unsaid. Nonetheless the CEO was quite contrite.

"While I have a tendency to use colorful language, I recognize my comments in this case were inappropriate and I apologize," Jim Hagedorn said in the press release.

A good leader also knows when he or she has gone too far. That seems to be the case here.

_ By Allen Wastler, CNBC.com managing editor. Follow him on Twitter: @AWastler


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