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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Commentary: Betsy Price on Leadership

Betsy Price, a Fort Worth native, was elected in 2011 as the 44th mayor of the City of Fort Worth. In 2019, Price made history on winning her fifth election to be the mayor of one of the fastest-growing large cities in the country, becoming the longest serving mayor in Fort Worth’s history.

“The new term will continue on things that have made Fort Worth successful: bringing in jobs, working on our infrastructure, working on transportation and certainly working on education–because the real key to eliminating poverty is going be education and providing jobs,” Price said at the time.

Along with her focus on promoting jobs, strengthening education, fighting crime and improving mobility, Price – known nationwide for her passion for bicycling – has made significant strides along the path toward her vision of a healthy, engaged and fiscally responsible city.

As mayor, Price applied the skills she garnered as a business owner and from a decade of service as Tarrant County’s Tax Assessor to tightening the city’s budget. Price and the City Council have also made significant changes to the city’s pension plan in 2012 and 2019.

What are some specific leadership qualities that you have developed over the years that have accounted for your success?

People have asked me that a lot. It’s not just leadership qualities; it’s kind of who you are and your internal processing. It’s mostly about passion; about having a passion for what you do and the ability to listen to people. You’ve got one mouth and two ears for a reason; to listen more than you talk. I think that the best type of leadership leads not from top down but from bottom up. You listen to those below you and try to come up with compromises. Obviously, you have to develop a clear mission of what you want to do, but you have to work on that with other people to get it done. I’ve just always been a real people person. I think most strong leaders love people and are willing to work with them. For me that’s been a real plus; that I have passion for Fort Worth and that I love people.

How do you lead in a world that seems to be more divided and polarized than ever before?

It is more divided and polarized. I do think that the art of compromise and of listening and being respectful of each other has been lost – the last few years particularly. It’s been going that way for a long time. It’s a tough spot but you just have to be respectful. You can’t govern behind a desk and you can’t lead very well if you’re shut up in your office all the time. You really have to be out touching a lot of people, hearing what they have to say, because you may make your mind up something’s going to go one way, get feedback, and if you’re listening, often times it doesn’t go the way you thought it was going to go to begin with. I think in today’s world that something we have to begin to really teach younger people is that they’re not going to get their way. This is not just about their way; it’s about finding something that works for the community as a whole; for the good of the community.

What do you see as one of Fort Worth’s greatest strengths?

Our greatest strength is clearly in the people. The people in Fort Worth are good people and they are friendly, open, caring people who are very compassionate. We have an incredible philanthropic community. But as a whole the citizens of Fort Worth are very good about being patient with each other. You hear about small incidences. But when you’re out in this community you’d be shocked at the number of people who really do care. They really do care about their neighborhoods and care about the citizens around them. Our biggest strength is in our people.

What do you see as Fort Worth’s most significant challenges? 

It is education. Our future workforce depends on whether we have a good education system or not. Most major cities in this country are dealing with that. Fabulous private schools and the public schools are making great headway. Public schools all over this country have suffered. And it’s time that cities, business leaders, everybody came together to help these kids. Get them educated, start them early. Lack of affordable, quality childcare early on is hurting us. And kids are not ready to learn when they are hitting kindergarten and they’re not reading by 3rd grade. Hence our initiative Read Fort Worth that we started nearly 3 years ago now is much needed and part of that will be dropped back into looking at quality childcare too.

Is there another mayor either somewhere in the United States today or in history that you have admired or has been an inspiration to you?

There are a lot of other mayors that I admire; all of them for different reasons. Probably the one that’s closest and you’ll know who it is because he is probably more like me and just connected to people was Bob Bolen. I knew Bob well. Bob served as mayor of Fort Worth for eight years – seven I guess because he took an expired term. He really was about people listening to people; leading people along but getting input from his bottom staff up. He was truly a people’s mayor. I really think Bob was here at a crucial time when Alliance came on, DFW was really taking off and beginning to grow. Lockheed expanded. And he did it all with style and grace. He’s one mayor that you never hear people complain about. Bob was a man of the people and I greatly admire that.

If you were to give some advice to any Fort Worth leader in any sector to help Fort Worth to become all it’s capable of becoming, what advice would you them?

I’d say first and foremost – vote. Our most recent municipal election turned out 9% of our voters. Yet the decisions we make every day have a huge impact on your daily life and your future; whether its water, police, your streets, or fire, no matter what it is. So, people have to stop; pay attention to what’s happening at the local level. And I would tell leaders and future leaders, pay attention to your city government; because it’s ultimately what will shape the future of the city. Get engaged. If you’ve got time, serve on a board or commission. If not, get to know your council people; get to know the mayor. Find out who they are and whether they’re on the track that you’re interested in. Being engaged as a citizen is huge and it’s something we’re in danger of losing. People are relatively happy. And anytime people are fairly happy they are a lot more likely to sit back & just say, “Oh my city is rocking along doing well”. When you get a real major issue they’ll show up. And they need to stay engaged, even when they’re very happy with their city. Keep it on the right track.

John Wright, CSL, is president of Simple Leadership Strategies in Fort Worth. www.simpleleadershipstrategies.com

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