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Throw “Gentle” out of the dictionary… or else use it correctly!

December 1, 2014

I am so sick of the word “gentle” being misused as an adjective, I am about ready to ask that it be thrown out of the English language. When someone is inaccurately described as a “gentle leader, it is even more nauseating.

The English word “gentle” is a translation of the Greek word prautesis. In explaining the moral virtues, Aristotle used it as the middle ground term in the expression of anger- as opposed to rashness on the one extreme and indifference on the other. Gentleness is best defined as “strength under control.” Unfortunately, the current English usage of the word usually incorporates only one of the two aspects of true gentleness and thus emasculates it horrifically.

tree blowingOften when the word “gentle” is used to describe a person, they are someone who is kind, polite, relaxed and agreeable. Or you could describe this person soft, a people-pleaser or spineless. Whatever direction the wind blows or the majority desire, they will go. You have probably seen this kind of leader who seldom says “no” to a request, who has something positive (kind) to say about everyone’s ideas, and who finds an amicable solution that smooths things over and helps people’s emotions stay calm and thus avoid (external) conflict. They rarely stand up to “fight” for anything, anyone, or any principle because they avoid conflict and want to be “under control.” However, they have no strength… and so the person is not truly “gentle.”

The opposite is a leader of great strength – physically, socially, or emotionally – who can convince people of almost anything and bring them along. Often a dynamic personality, and frequently with good strategic ideas, the person is also on the go, often moving at a fairly decent pace. If the young, old, weak or cautious are not moving fast enough, they either need to get out of the way or be run over. The leader is not necessarily disconnected with the feelings of others and may even go back and check on the “trampled” people, comfort them and even apologize. Yet the fact remains, individuals were run over in the process. Their strength was not “under control”… and while regretful and genuinely sorry, they are not “gentle” (and if the behavior does not change, are they truly sorry?)

Gentle leadership is needed… but these two pathetic substitutes are so dangerous and harmful to people and organizations. If you find a truly gentle person/leader, let them know you appreciate the way they express their “strength under control.”

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