Volume XI, Issue 24 ~ June 12-18, 2003

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A Lesson We Hope Bullies Will Learn

We saw two powerful, competent leaders done in last week within a day of one another as a result of the way they treated the people around them.

Along the Chesapeake Bay, U.S. Naval Academy Superintendent Richard Naughton was forced to resign after an investigation found he had become unduly hostile when, coming in late one night, he was asked by a Marine guard to identify himself. That encounter was only part of the reason the academy will have a new superintendent.

In another story that made front pages across the country, New York Times executive editor Howell Raines, the main boss at the world’s most influential newspaper, also had to quit when he found few allies to help keep his ship afloat when scandal rocked the paper.

Like Naughton, Raines developed a reputation for bullying people beneath him in rank. One co-worker described him as the nastiest editor she’d ever worked with.

Back at the Academy, stories about Naughton’s antics over the years accompanied him out the door. His habit of “drilling down” people left him, too, with few friends.

The Navy’s inspector general pointed to occasions when Naughton “embarrassed and humiliated subordinates through conduct that is inappropriate for a commander.”

Naughton also displayed the bully’s trait of blaming others, in his case the media. The statement he released last week asserted that “too much attention has been focused by the media and others on the superintendent.”

Naughton said that because of this attention — making no mention of his own failings — he had asked to be reassigned.

We read with interest a Capital story by Jessica Towhey recalling how Naughton had refused in a recent interview to acknowledge the criticism coming his way. Then he abruptly ended the interview, refusing even to shake hands with the reporter.

There’s no need to over-analyze here, though there are some similarities in the two cases. Naughton and Raines each came from small towns, Naughton from rural Iowa and Raines from Alabama. Each was very good — perhaps brilliant — at what he did.

They came from different walks of life, but their falls teach the same lesson, one that rings with fundamental principles of democracy: Leadership rises from the consent of those led — and few of us consent to mistreatment.

Even the proudest organizations suffer when leaders belittle their staffs. Morale at both the Naval Academy and the Times has plummeted in recent months, according to recent reports.

There’s a lesson here for all of us, bosses and workers alike, as tension rises in our lives like steam in a whistling tea kettle and rain keeps us from the release of summer.

When you let out your own steam by blistering others, the release may not be what you expected.



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Last updated June 12, 2003 @ 1:22am