SECTIONS

Polished etiquette and decorum are critical to leadership today

Members of Parliament in a fistfight after Speaker Moses Wetangula ruled on the Majority representation in the National Assembly. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

A debate has been raging over the conduct of senior leaders in various public spaces. None other than President William Ruto pronounced himself on this matter, calling on leaders to demonstrate more polished etiquette while dining, so as to avoid personal and public embarrassment. The President, therefore, called on senior leaders to undergo training to polish their etiquette.

Etiquette is generally defined as the conventional rules of personal behaviour in a polite society. It is about being well-mannered, courteous, and showing respect for each other. The Oxford dictionary further distinguishes between etiquette and manners, with etiquette defined as the customary code of polite behaviour in society or among members of a particular profession or group. Manners, however, refer to the outward bearing or way of behaving towards others.

Thus, whereas the President specifically referred to the dining context, etiquette in speech and conduct – otherwise known as decorum – is an equally critical factor in leadership. Such conduct reveals our levels of civility and respect for one another. It boosts the perception of professionalism in a leader.

It is noteworthy that etiquette and good manners are not innate in us. They must be learned and eventually assimilated as lifelong practices. They must be embraced and intentionally developed within groups and in institutions. Therefore, anyone who desires to be a high impact leader must consciously seek to learn how to become a genteel man or woman. Such a person is conscious of how they behave or carry themselves around people in speech and conduct. This is critically important because the current complex socialisation of the world has brought with it a huge demand on leaders to polish their etiquette and manners. This is especially necessary at senior leadership levels, in order to comfortably interact with people from across global cultures.

Studies show that for proper socialisation – development through interaction – humans need other humans to grow in wisdom and in stature. Likewise, we need other people around us in order to develop etiquette and manners. Such socialisation provides a platform for learning etiquette that eventually becomes a lifelong practice. This means that positive conduct of leaders, especially in the public domain, is an absolute necessity for developing good manners in society – and especially among children and youth.

Etiquette and manners require a high sense of self-awareness, alignment to your environment, and being mindful of the people around you. This means that poor etiquette and lack of decorum may be a demonstration of poor self-respect and low regard for those around you. Such people are inconsiderate and lack sensitivity for others around them, and are misaligned to their environment. 

Notably, in contemporary society, etiquette and manners have been thrown out of the window. This could be inculpated on the increased usage of social media and its addiction. This has minimised human interactions and undermined the importance of human socialisation. Many coevals are spending a lot of time interacting with their gadgets, and interpreting social media insights, yet undermining in-person interactions. Unfortunately, because of the anonymity of the cyberspace, the language on these platforms is often uncouth, and decorum is the least concern.

Yet, it is noteworthy that etiquette is a factor of selflessness – a concern with the needs of those around, as you engage with them and with the environment; consideration – putting careful thought to your actions as you deal with others; and sensitivity – being quick to notice and detect signals from the people around you so as to accommodate them.

Interestingly, it has been found that we naturally get attracted to people with good manners, and repelled by those without. Good mannerisms and etiquette, therefore, act as strong connectors to nobles and people of high ranks. Clarence Thomas argues that “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.”