Editorial: Yelling and hurling insults is no way to lead

July 6, 2015

People who rise to top public offices sometimes mistake the power of their positions as license to yell and name call. A big part of leadership is serving as an example for others to follow, which means demonstrating dignity and respect instead of childlike behavior.

This newspaper has chided Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price for uncivil antics, but he’s far from the only culprit. Bad behavior on the Dallas City Council has reached the point where Mayor Mike Rawlings is calling for a reset, especially as six new members begin their inaugural terms.

Examples of obnoxious behavior abound.

Consider former council member Carolyn Davis’ embarrassment in 2010 after she encountered police officers detaining one of her South Dallas neighbors for traffic violations. Davis tried to use her council position to intimidate the officers and gain special treatment for her neighbor. Her interference led to a threat of criminal charges from Police Chief David Brown.

More recently, former council member Tennell Atkins was convicted of misdemeanor assault for accosting a guard trying to enforce new security rules at City Hall. Atkins was quoted as saying, “Do you know who I am?” as if he believed he were exempt from the rules.

Council member Scott Griggs came under investigation after he allegedly screamed at a city staffer and threatened her.

Equally disturbing is council member Philip Kingston’s suggestion that incivility is justified. “People don’t understand how depressing it is to work for an organization where yelling at staff actually works,” he told Dallas Morning News staff writer Elizabeth Findell. “I’ve worked places where yelling at staff would get you fired. Here, it’s the only way to get things done.”

Bullying staffers or using demeaning language with colleagues or constituents serves only to destroy working relationships and minimize the prospects for positive outcomes. How is it that other leaders thrive politically without resorting to such antics?

We need only look to Congress to see how the breakdown of civility has led to the worst kinds of partisan gridlock. A worrisome trend is developing even at the U.S. Supreme Court – the standard bearer of dignity and regal solemnity – where personal attacks are becoming more common.

Among the biggest offenders is Justice Antonin Scalia, whose recent writings have demeaned colleagues’ opinions as “pure applesauce,” “jiggery-pokery” and “argle-bargle.”

Insulting language and behavior might make some important people feel even more important, as if they’ve earned some kind of badge of achievement by being the loudest yeller and biggest insulter.

But they should never confuse such behavior with leadership, especially when they turn around and realize that no one’s following.