Remarks on “Leadership” to William Carey College MBA class

Here are Mayor A.J. Holloway’s remarks to Dr. Janet Williams’ Masters in Business Administration class on the subject of leadership, presented April 17, 2002, at William Carey College in Gulfport:

Everybody has an idea of what successful leadership is – and how to be a successful leader. Some of things you’ve probably heard are having vision, being a consensus builder, being a great communicator, and being bold.

I’m here tonight to tell you what has worked for me. I have been taught several things in my life that have helped me. I’m going to spend some time talking to you, then I’m going to take some of your questions.

First, I think, you have to understand my background. I’m not a politician, and I’m not a lawyer. I’m not flashy. I’m not a bragger or chest beater. I try to be a straight shooter and frank. Sometimes people say I’m too frank.

I was a small businessman. I was in the banking business. I was business manager for the Biloxi Public Schools and I was senior revenue agent for the state Tax Commission. I also operated a small restaurant along the way. I earned my degree in education at Ole Miss, but I’ve been in business all of my life. You’ve probably also heard that I’m very conservative, and some people say I’m a micromanager.

I’ll plead guilty to being very conservative, but I’ll plead the fifth on being a micromanager. I try to hire good people and let them do their jobs, but as Mayor, I am the one who is ultimately responsible for what goes on in your city government. I try to strike a good balance.

And let me tell you something about city government. It’s your most basic form of government. It’s where the rubber meets the road. You can reach out and touch us. When your property taxes or your water bill is too high, you call City Hall. When you have pothole in your street, you call City Hall. When your neighbor’s dog is barking at night or when your neighbor’s grass is too high, you call City Hall. It’s like that attorney says – one call that’s all. We have a big responsibility and a big job.

So, how do I lead at City Hall?

I had a football coach at Ole Miss – ├ČNever trust a living soul, and be suspicious when you walk by the graveyard.├«

Then there’s the Teddy Roosevelt philosophy about leadership and being ├Čin the arena├«: ├ČIt’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumphs of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with these cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.├«

There’s the cliche about committees. It says the best committee is a committee of one. I like that one!

Having said all of that, I also know that you MUST trust people to a degree. You don’t have to take a stand on – or be in the arena – on every issue that comes along.

And, finally, you cannot do it all by yourself. You cannot be a committee of one. Some people say how can you get anything done when you need all seven councilmembers to be with you. Well, I don’t need all seven. All I need is four.

I think the best thing I can tell you about leadership is this: Do the right thing. That sounds easy, but it’s not. You have to think in terms of the entire city – and the right thing for some people may not be the right thing for ALL people. Let me give you a few examples:

One was the flag issue – and flying the Confederate battle flag on public property. Some people said that we needed to keep flying the Rebel battle flag because it was history. They said you can’t and shouldn’t try to change history.

For me personally, I played football at Ole Miss, and that flag led us onto the field at every game. It meant a lot to me. To others, it meant other things. But as Mayor, I had to determine what was right for the entire city. I saw what was happening with the county display at DeBuys Road. I saw what could happen if you failed to make a decision on this issue. It could be very divisive for the community.

So, we did some research. The flag that we are flying now – the Stars and Bars – was the flag that flew over our area during the Civil War. Our city flag displays changed some time in the 60s to the battle flag. I’m not sure who changed them or why. I didn’t care about that.

My goal was to make the right decision based on fact and accuracy. So that’s the one we went with – the historically accurate flag. I made the decision. I explained it, and we put that issue behind us.

You never saw the controversy at Biloxi City Hall that you saw in other places. It didn’t go over too well with some of my teammates from Ole Miss, but it was best for our city.

That’s another thing that you have to do as a leader. We have a saying at City Hall – no fear, no favor. We’re going to do our jobs without fear or favor to anyone. Just do the right thing.

How do you know what the right thing is? You have to do some study and look at all sides of an issue – not both sides, but ALL sides — and then make a decision and move on. You have to know what you believe and stand by your beliefs.

We’ve had the same thing with casino gambling and what land is zoned for casino gambling. I happen to think that in Biloxi we currently have enough land zoned for casino gambling.

In fact, we have some land zoned for casinos that is not being used. I think you’ll find a good number of people who agree with my position. We need to have a good balance.

Several years ago, a group of local property owners came before the City Council wanting their land on I-110 near the Back Bay bridge zoned for casinos. They could get more money for it if it was zoned for casinos.

The City Council later voted 7-0 to rezone the land for casinos, as the residents requested. I vetoed the measure because my position is that we have enough land zoned already. The City Council overrode my veto. That decision cost me a lot of votes when the election rolled around, but I felt it was the right thing to do.

In other cases, the art of compromise must be employed. Case in point – the property next to Tullis Manor. A number of people thought that this four acres should be saved for green space. They said we didn’t need another condominium site in Biloxi. They wanted it to be a Tricentennial Park.

The City Council conducted an online poll. My feeling on this matter was that the asking price – which was originally 6 million dollars – was to much for a park. At the same time, people were talking about a new Ohr Museum of Art.

Even though I didn’t want to buy that property for a park, I floated the idea of locating the museum there. That way, it would be even MORE of an asset for our community. We could have a park and a museum on the property. That compromise — along with my getting the price down to 3.4 million dollars — worked well for the city and for the citizens of Biloxi.

Effective leadership means listening. Sometimes it’s hard to listen. One of my staffers told me one time that it was hard to read me. I say what’s wrong with that? I try to listen before I make a decision.

I try to look at all sides of an issue. I try to think about what’s best for the overall city, and then I make a decision.

The decisions that we make at City Hall everyday affect people’s lives. And that’s a responsibility that we don’t take lightly.

There’s one other thing that you need to be a good leader – and that’s you have to love your job. I love this job and this city, and I’m very proud of the job we’re doing.

I thank you for having me here tonight, and I hope I’ve given you some insight about leadership, at least, A.J. Holloway’s style of leadership.

Now, let’s take some questions.