Unlike many cities with a city-manager form of government, the City of Houston mayor is the chief executive officer of the City. In addition to the mayor’s role presiding at Council meetings, the mayor also is the day-to-day manager of the city’s twenty-two departments with over 20,000 employees. The ability of the mayor to lead and manage the city workforce is crucial to the success of any administration.
A recording emerged last week that clearly shows Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee does not have the management skills or temperament to perform this crucial role. In the recording, Lee savagely berates two members of her Congressional staff, apparently for not having some information immediately available for her. It is impossible to appreciate how vicious and morally reprehensible her outburst at the staffers was without listening to the recording. For that reason, I have reluctantly included this link to it. Let me warn you before you decide to listen to the recording that the language used is highly profane, abusive, and offensive. Many of you will find it quite upsetting.1
Please do not misunderstand me. My friends and family will readily tell you that I am not above dropping an expletive to make a point or when I am upset. So, this is not some kind of holier-than-thou trope about foul language. This is about the serious character flaw revealed by this tape as it relates managing subordinates.
Over the course of my career, literally thousands of employees have reported to me. And I have certainly called in more than a few to express my displeasure at their performance or conduct on the job. But never, in over forty years, have I even vaguely addressed an employee in this fashion. For that matter, I have never spoken to any other human being like this and doubt that any of you have either.
But the rant at these two young people was not just morally offensive; it demonstrates complete a absence of any understanding of an effective management style and skills. Any management textbook you pick up will list abusive treatment of a subordinate as something that should never be allowed. It is counterproductive to building an effective organization and undermines morale. In almost any major corporation in America, any supervisor would be immediately terminated for berating a subordinate with this kind of abusive language.
A friend once told me that we should not be judged by the worst moment in our lives. I believe that. And if I thought this was a one-off loss of temper by Lee, I would be inclined to, at least, take that into account. But Lee’s abusive treatment of her staff is legendary. This recording is just the only explicit evidence we have ever had showing bad it actually is.
Under the next mayor, the City will be facing daunting challenges. The ability to lead, manage and inspire the City’s 20,000 employees will be critical to meeting those challenges. The imperious, abusive leadership style on display in this recording would be an unmitigated disaster at the City.
Note 1 – Exactly who made the recording or how it surfaced is not clear. Because Congresswoman Lee’s voice is so distinct, her voice on the tape is easily recognizable. Of course, today deep fakes are always a possibility, but Lee’s campaign has not denied the authenticity of the tapes, despite multiple requests from various news media. Late yesterday she issued a statement in which she seemed to acknowledge the authenticity of the recording. Also, many mainstream media sources that have reported on the tape, including the Houston Chronicle and Newsweek.