Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs stepped into the role of educator while visiting with members of South Knoxville Elementary School’s Student Council.
Not surprisingly, he also kept on his mayor’s hat.
Jacobs sat down with the students in the school’s library on Nov. 28 and asked them questions before easing into a frank discussion of politics.
“A lot of it’s just working with people,” said Jacobs, who was sworn into office on Sept. 1. “When you talk about politics, politics is involved in everything. All it means is just people getting along. Anytime there’s more than a couple of people together, there’s always politics involved.”
Elected leaders – like mayors and Student Council members – must observe and listen, he said.
“If you want to get something done, then you have to figure out what’s important to this person … Sometimes other people have ideas that you don’t necessarily think are great ideas, and you have to figure out how to tell them that they’re not necessarily really great ideas without hurting their feelings because whenever you hurt people’s feelings then they’re less likely to work with you in the future.
“When we look at great statesmen – statespeople – they’re the people that have the ability to do that and will get stuff done without causing people’s feelings to get hurt.”
Jacobs went down an interesting path as he talked about leadership, but the students probably didn’t read into it what an adult might have.
“There’s different kinds of leadership styles,” he said. “… A dictatorial leadership, which basically says that you tell people ‘it’s my way or the highway; we’re going to do things my way’ – some folks think that really works, and it doesn’t. And that’s not only government or student government, that’s business and everything.
“And I think a lot of times, when people think about leadership and they look and they see a strong personality, and he tells people off, and he or she tells people, ‘This is what we’re going to do. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad,’ that doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for any organization.
“What’s much better is to have the sort of leadership that convinces everyone that a project’s good. All of you ran for student government because you like to improve things. Convince everybody, ‘This is a good project. This is a good way to do things.’ And you have to convince everyone that it’s good for them, too – because we’re all motivated by our self-interest.
“Do you understand what I’m saying when I say that? Because when people think about things, they think about, ‘How will this benefit me?’ So you have to show people how it benefits them, and then basically you build a team, or in politics you call it a consensus, and that’s really the best way to get things done because when people believe that something benefits them, aren’t they going to be a lot more willing to work hard at it? They’re going to be invested, and they’re going to be willing to put energy and resources into it. Whereas, if you just tell them what we’re going to do, a lot of times they say, ‘Well, I’m not gonna do that,’ and they’re actually going to fight against you.”
After explaining his leadership philosophy, Jacobs invited the kids, who represent second through fifth grade, to ask him questions. Some were predictable: What’s your favorite song? “Rocky Top.” Favorite hobby? Reading. Favorite food? Pizza. Most favorite thing? “Just being able to spend time with my family.”
How tall are you? 6-foot-8. (That brought some gasps.) Where did you go to school? Bowling Green High School in Bowling Green, Missouri. “I have a degree in English, actually, from Truman State University (formerly Northeast Missouri State University), which is in Kirksville, Missouri.”
Did you do a career before you wanted to be mayor, and if so, what was it? “I was in WWE; I was a wrestler.” (There were several “wows” as Jacobs revealed himself to be the legendary Kane. One boy proclaimed, “No wonder you look familiar!)
Jacobs, 51, never talked down to his audience. Answering a question about the pressures of running for office, he was measured and clear.
“When you’re running a campaign, you want to win,” he said. “So there’s that pressure on you. I also think that, though, you don’t want to win at any cost, OK? What happens nowadays is, way too often people are more interested in destroying the person running against them and saying really bad and hurtful things and terrible things and ruining their life than they are winning the race.”
“So, there’s the pressure that you want to win, but there’s also, in my case, the pressure that I felt that if you want to run, you want to stay true to your principles, which means when you’re running a race, you still have to make sure that you are not a horrible human being and don’t say terrible things.
“Then when you get into office, it’s difficult because everybody often has a different opinion about something, and you can’t make everybody happy all the time.”
A student asked, “So, you go with the majority?” “Well, not even the majority because sometimes the right thing to do is not what the majority wants. It’s what you believe is best.”
Asked why he wanted to become mayor, Jacobs replied: “Same reason you guys ran for student government – because I want my portion of the world, my corner of the world, to be the best place that it can be.”