Taupe: It’s Not Just For The Oval Office Anymore

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Whether it’s politics or business one thing remains the same: if you are designated or perceived as the leader, everything you say or do is viewed with an eye searching for obvious and hidden meanings. While at the same time the higher the level or more commanding the position, that search goes from the naked eye to one looking via an electron microscope.

Words matter, the way they are said can matter even more, yet what is just as important is the posture, and yes – that can include even your choice of attire.

Leadership can be very symbolic in its application for consumption. We hear all the time the running line “they wrap themselves in the flag” and so forth to describe politicians and others. So is it any wonder that when the leader of the free world takes to the podium during what by all credible standards is a world on the edge of unrest shows up wearing not the traditional dark suit and red or blue tie but – light tan, people from all walks say, “What the ____ is up with that?”

Obama Speaks on the Situation in Ukraine

The reaction was near instantaneous across social media channels. The knee jerk over whelming first responses were (to be kind) a projection of weakness. The contrast between the surrounding stage set used in the press room and the tan suit was glaring. So much and so out-of-place did it seem that one couldn’t help to think of anything else but, why?  Was this just some fashion faux pas? Personally I don’t think so.

If people will remember one of the first highly visible changes of note made for all the world to take notice, was the complete gelding of the oval office and all its symbolic tones of color with a complete overhaul to neutral. i.e., Taupe.

It can’t be underestimated just how much of a message is being intentionally sent when one of the first acts is to take what is considered the most powerful and important office in the world, and completely change or strip away any essence of it and replace it with muted tones of taupe.

The oval office today is now a more neutered, bland, unappealing a washed in hotel ballroom-esque neutral tones of beige. It’s not what many are accustomed to remembering.

So bland is the office today that it seems we never see the president speak from it. In nearly 6 years I can only recall one. Taupe doesn’t make for good television, but the symbolic nature for people who are received in that office would be overwhelmingly obvious. The new red white and blue – is taupe.

Whether one agrees or disagrees with this administration or not doesn’t matter. I’m not discussing policy here. What I am talking about applies to any and all leadership.

Symbolism matters, especially when you’re at the highest of levels trying to project or convey messages across oceans and cultures. And what I’m trying to convey is just my observations, for I’m in the “leadership” business per se.

When businesses or executives find themselves unable to move their companies or people in the direction they want more often than not it boils right down to the what, and how the leader of that organization is presenting themselves, and what mixed messages he/she are sending. Even if the company has thousands of people. The leader is the avatar, and their public behavior (good or bad) is what will be amplified by the ranks. Period.

The issue at hand is when this messaging gets mixed, or in other words, the very people you think know what you mean – take it as the opposite.

What makes matters even worse is when people who you believe won’t even notice , or you’ve overlooked their interpretation of it all together in your calculus amplify the worst of intended meanings. i.e., Not only did your intended audience read you wrong, but so too did everyone else with even more disdain.

Currently we have Russia by all accounts invading and engaging in real warfare with Ukraine. Add to this the threats from ISIS. (or ISIL if you prefer) China flexing its military in a thumbing of the nose fashion with air to air engagements with war planes along with telegraphed over tones of discontent with once seemingly undisputed areas of territory. (the islands near Japan and others) The ongoing and ever increasingly volatile Israel/Hamas engagement. Along with the myriad of other ongoing issues. e.g., cyber attacks, U.S. border challenges, civil unrest, just to name a few.

This is where leaders of any stripe need to show and convey the message that they are either in control, or project an image of that control via words or symbolism. And on the world stage – every detail matters and conveys a message. And, this is where academia (or academics) get it wrong all the time.

They play or convey their message as if only the people watching are the people they are trying to trying to speak to. They are stunningly tone-deaf and usually blindsided by responses to their messaging because they can’t see past their own noses. (just look to any Federal Reserve explanation of monetary policy as a reference)

I could be wrong but unlike most I don’t feel the donning of that taupe suit was a fashion faux pas. I believe it was a deliberate act for symbolic effect to telegraph a message they want remembered by whomever they were trying to reach.

From my way of thinking it fits if you look at it through what words or messaging accompanied it. Words and tones such as (I’m paraphrasing) “We have yet to define a strategy, Congress will be involved and they’re not due back till next week, we’re not sure if that is true,” and so on.

With the United States on the eve of a major holiday I believe a signal was trying to be sent that resembled,” Hey, we’re not going to do anything provocative, remember I’m/we’re the guy’s that toned down the oval office, remember? It’s the same color as this suit, remember? I want to assure you we’re not going to do anything provocative during this long weekend, and we want to make sure you remember we want to “talk first.” Remember?

This is the reason why I feel the color of choice for that press conference was taupe. (or subdued shades of beige if you prefer) It was sending a visual cue to all that we are not fiercely red, white, and blue. We are taupe. Just look at our most important room of honor and power to back this up was the messaging being conveyed in my opinion.

The real issue and problem with this messaging is if the people who it was intended to reach (i.e., other world leaders) receive it and view it the same way as the people the president represents. As “weak and embarrassing.”

Agree or not with the policies, but the decision for that suit in my opinion was anything but a faux pas, it was intentional.

What really matters in the end will be just how much of an error in judgment it turns out to be. For all our sakes, I hope it winds up to be no more than a detail on a Joan Rivers Fashion Police™ tape.

© 2014 Mark St.Cyr     MarkStCyr.com