Taboos are a universal feature of social systems. Even the most avowedly open-minded organizations place tacit constraints on what can be said and even thought. Business leaders ignore these constraints at their peril. This article examines the role of the sacred, profane, and taboo in society, and links these phenomena to the psychology of moral outrage. In public debates, taboos are rarely as absolute as first assumed and can often be reframed as tragic choices. Leaders must perform a delicate balancing act if they are to prevent taboos from blinding managers to either threats or opportunities. On the one hand, leaders who let their intellectual curiosity get the better of them risk paying a steep career price. On the other, leaders who bury their heads in the sand risk even worse consequences. Navigating this dilemma brings into sharp tension the policy prescriptions of advocates of authentic leadership (who see honesty as a trump virtue) and proponents of Realpolitik (who see organizational hypocrisy and obfuscation as unfortunate but unavoidable tactics necessary in an imperfect world.)
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