Why is Tact necessary in a leader and what does it look like? The reason I choose tact as my subject is because I see it as an underlying foundation for influence, but how does that relate to leadership? Leadership involves getting people to move, and getting those people to move requires influence, and a prerequisite for influence is communication, and tact is the hinge on which good communication swings.
Tact as stated so simply by Harry Truman “Tact is the ability to step on a man's toes without messing up the shine on his shoes.” It is the means by which communication can take place without misunderstandings and unnecessary confusion; it is the art of circumnavigating a painful subject to deliver criticism without being just another “critic”.
The Marines list tact as one of many “Leadership Traits.” In the Marine Corps Values a User's Guide for Discussion Leaders they define tact as “The ability to deal with others without creating hostility.” They define tact’s significance as “The quality of consistently treating peers, seniors, and subordinates with respect and courtesy.”
“Tact allows commands, guidance, and opinions to be expressed in a constructive and beneficial manner. This deference must be extended under all conditions regardless of true feelings.”
Look at how the Marines relate tact to respect; when you treat someone with respect you are tactful in your conversations with them so that you don’t scuff their metaphorical shoes or more literally their feelings with your words. And then they apply this to everyone whether the individual is your boss, co-worker, or employee, it does not even matter if you like them, you still show them respect, you still demonstrate tact.
Sir Isaac Newton said that “Tact is the art of making a point without making an enemy.” It is hard to lead if you are constantly making enemies simply because you used the wrong word or tone in your conversation.
But unfortunately you will still have enemies in spite of your good use of tact and this is where the Christian leader and the non-Christian leader tend to drift apart.
As a Christian it is our responsibility to love our neighbor, to honor all men as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 2:17 “Honour all [men]. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.” It is our responsibility through the power of God to show Christ’s character through our actions and words as if we are called to be ambassadors for the Kingdom of God.
And we have been called to be ambassadors for the Kingdom, this is found specifically in 2 Corinthians 5:20-21. So what does tact have to do with being an ambassador? as an ambassador we must have a sense of Diplomacy in our conduct which is defined as a skill in handling affairs without arousing hostility.
It is our duty as ambassadors to represent Christ; but sometimes an unrepentant person will see the light of Christ as an offence. So it must never be who we are that offends others but rather who we represent; it should not be our behavior that causes the strife but rather our beliefs.
“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.” Benjamin Franklin was right when he said this. It is far easier to run our mouths without thinking than to constantly guard our tongue against running rampant.
In the book of James and in chapter three we read that the tongue being such a small part of our body still manages to be our own worst enemy when it comes to our daily communication with others.
“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”―Winston Churchill
Words are dangerously beautiful things; they have the power to build and the power to destroy, they can build a friend or create an enemy, so the moment we stop guarding our communication we surrender any mastery we may have had over the power of words.
Tact is the means by which words are delivered; well thought out and groomed to best fit the listener, it is the art of understanding the listener’s perspective and the ability frame the message in a way that will best help the listener to understand the meaning and context of the words we use.
So what is tact to me as a Christian? I believe it is the vocal expression of the love of Christ in us brought to others through communication for the purpose of leading others to the glory and majesty of God our Father.
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. ―Winston Churchill
“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
― Warren W. Wiersbe