Princeps, Non Homines: Latin for “Bill Haslam”

Laura Bower Government, Popular 10 Comments

Editors Note: The political views of contributing author’s do not necessarily reflect those of Knoxify as a whole. We hope you enjoy this rare but excellent political piece by the lovely Laura Bower.

I first met Bill Haslam at Webb School of Knoxville. His youngest step-sister and I were close friends. He was four years older, a somewhat intimidating presence on the periphery of my self-absorbed life. I ran varsity track in 8th grade, because there was no middle school team. Bill ran track too. He also played basketball and baseball and served in student government. He was outstanding at Webb, so successful and well-liked that I looked upon him as an almost otherworldly being – an Adonis in khakis – which he still wears to this day, even though he’s no longer bound by our school dress code. He’s still running, too – literally and figuratively.

Because Knoxville is a small world, our paths have continued to cross over the years and much to my amazement, Bill has always remembered me and called me by name, even when he wasn’t running for office.

A year or so ago, he came to speak to a group of young executives at the company where I worked. We were mentoring these hand-picked employees to be future leaders, and Bill had a lot to say on the subject.

According to Bill, there are five keys to being a good leader:

  1. You have to know yourself. A really great leader welcomes honest feedback and seeks it out. Not all the feedback is true or accurate, but “perception becomes reality,” so it’s important to understand how others perceive you.
  2. Know what you believe. Your values define you.
  3. Know what you want to do. In other words, “be purposeful.”
  4. Know the numbers. No matter what business you’re in, make it a point to learn about the financials for your area and for your company in general. You can’t hope to contribute to the bottom line if you don’t know what your revenues, expenses and margins are.
  5. Hire great people. Find folks who represent you well and are problem solvers. Then trust them to do their jobs.
    When asked what he looked for in new hires, Bill said the top three attributes are brain power,
    work ethic and low ego. You have to be able to “get past yourself,” he added.

Ironically, in the race for governor, it is Bill’s lack of ego that’s being sold as a shortcoming by his detractors and his niceness as a character flaw. It’s as if he’s too good to be true. As if. The truth is Bill has always been comfortable in his skin, unfazed by his own charisma. He’s genuine, unpretentious and grounded. He has character and integrity, in addition to business acumen and private-sector experience.

Annette Winston, who worked with Bill when she served on Knoxville’s Industrial Development Board, put it this way: “What I know about Bill is that he has enormous empathy toward others, in spite of the privilege in which he was reared. In short, he is a terrific guy, in favor of limited
government and hands-off once he puts a competent manager in place.”

Back at Webb, our motto was “princeps, non homines” Latin for “leaders, not ordinary men.” It was a call to serve the greater good and get past yourself. Bill’s done that. As Knoxville’s mayor, he’s balanced six consecutive city budgets, lowered the city debt burden by 25 percent and sparked a downtown renaissance. He has nothing to prove, and yet he’s willing to continue in public service. Then again, Bill is no ordinary man.

“Earn your success based on service to others, not at the expense of others.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Bill celebrating a football victory.

Comments 10

  1. Nicely said, Ms. Bower, about a geniuely nice person and GREAT leader. Best of luck to Mayor Haslam on the down stretch! Perhaps the “running track” training will come in handy – finish the race strong!


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  3. It may sound silly, but I knew I liked him the first time I met him. I’m not a very political person, and had very little idea of “who was who” in Knoxville when I starting working for the county. On my second day, I was on the elevator in the city-county building, and I saw Mr. Haslam running toward it. I had no idea he was the mayor.

    The doors were shutting, and I couldn’t get the “open” button to work, so I threw myself against them and said jokingly, “Sir, I just risked my life for you.”

    He laughed and said, “Young lady, rest assured. I would do the same for you.”

    Ever since then, he’s always greeted me, spoke to me, acted like a co-worker, not a “fancy britches.” And watching his actions, such as his refusal to ride on the float in the Christmas parade when could, instead, walk and greet people…well…these little things mean something to folks like me.

    Other people in the city, well, they hide from the regular people. They have much to be ashamed of.

    Mr. Haslam does not.

  4. perfectly written!

    Bill is the real deal – a true public servant. Knoxville has been blessed these many years to have his leadership and support.

  5. Fabulous article Laura. As an Alabama resident, I wish we had a candidate with 1/2 his ability. I’m proud to sport his sticker down here. He’s got to win so he can go on to the White House!

  6. Great article, Laura!! Bill Haslam has done an incredible
    job reviving downtown Knoxville. As a former manager of Watson’s Department Store and as a past president of the Downtown Association Of Knoxville, just to see the crowds of people on Market Square and on Gay Street day and night is exciting and a real tribute to Bill Haslam’s leadership. He has exactly the right kind of temperamentt and experience to be successful governor.

  7. Laura,
    Well written and true. Bill is the genuine in everything he does and that is why he has been voted to serve as our mayor for so many years and the expectation of ethical and fairn and doing the right thing for the community is Bill Haslam. He will make a terrific Governor for the state of Tennessee.
    Donna Walker, Magic Wand Foundation

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