The Benefits of Sharing a Meal

Collaboration among community leaders is one of the keys to success in moving an area forward. But what if leaders don’t seem to want to collaborate? What if they are more concerned with their own territory than the community as a whole? What can be done to get them together? One good place to begin is the dinner table.

One of the reasons that community leaders don’t work together is that they don’t respect each other. They may see each other as unequals or even adversaries. The reason they don’t respect each other is that they don’t understand each other. And one of the reasons that they don’t understand each other is that they don’t listen to each other. One of the best ways to begin to listen to each other is to have a meal together. And not the kind of meal that they usually attend together, i.e. the civic club luncheons, the public/private partnership meetings, the board meetings, etc. The meal should be one-on-one or better yet one-on-one in each other’s homes.

Dining in each other’s homes is not as common as it used to be. Nowadays, friends and business acquaintances are more likely to go out to dine at a restaurant. That was not always the case. This writer recalls the time some 20-plus years ago when he was summoned to jury duty at the federal courthouse. At the beginning of the jury selection process, the judge asked prospective jurors if any of them were personal friends of any of the attorneys. One person raised his hand, saying he knew one of the attorneys. The judge then began probing into how well the juror was acquainted with the attorney. He asked the usual questions, and then he asked, “Have you ever had dinner in his home or has he ever had dinner in your home?” The prospective juror replied in the negative, whereupon the judge said that the man did not know the attorney well enough to be excused from jury duty.

Sharing a meal with someone else, and not having an agenda other than to get to know each other better can be the beginning of a joint effort to improve the community. Once upon a time, there was a community in Mississippi where there were three main influencers. One was the mayor, one was the president of the county board of supervisors and one was the chief executive of the largest employer in the area. The only time they dealt with each other was in public meetings where many other people were usually present. The community was not growing and no new businesses of significance were opening. An outside consultant evaluated the situation, recognized the dysfunction and recommended that the three leaders have a monthly meal together. Before long, they began to understand each other, respect each other and work together. Today, that community is on the move.

History is filled with leaders having meals together to get to know each other better, to resolve their issues and to plan the future. Let us begin with some noteworthy World War II meals. In 1942, Winston Churchill met Stalin for the first time. The purpose of their meeting was to generally discuss the end of the war and who would get what. They had dinner at the Kremlin. At the website History Professor David Williams gives his impression of the dinner and the meeting as Churchill would have perceived it:
“There’s a man here who I can deal with. Okay, so we had a bad day yesterday, but today is a good day, we’ve had dinner, we’ve had a booze, we’ve talked about families and things, this is human stuff. And given how remote Stalin was before, that’s progress. Churchill always hangs onto this, he always feels that if he could get round the table with Stalin things could be sorted out.”

There were many more dinner meetings in which Churchill, Stalin and others, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt would attend. There was the Tehran Conference in November 1943 and the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
In American history, there is probably no more famous meal than that which occurred in 1621 between the Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. It is not known exactly what was consumed at this meal, but turkey was probably one of the dishes. Governor William Bradford wrote about the food situation of the autumn of 1621, saying that “there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many.” Although this meal was probably a harvest celebration, there is no doubt that the participants got to know each other better.

Leaders of all stripes use luncheons and dinners to meet with those who oppose them and those who support them to discuss issues. In February of this year, President Obama met with House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a private lunch session to discuss ways they could work together. Not really sure how that has worked out.

Without a doubt, the most famous meal would be that known as The Last Supper, in which Jesus Christ foretold coming events and instructed his disciples on what to do when he was gone.

As this writer observes current political events in Mississippi it is hoped that leaders from different sides of the issues would simply take the time to have a meal together and get to know each other on a more personal basis. Who knows what might happen?

What was your best customer service experience last year?

April 8, 2016

What was your best customer service experience last year?

That’s the question I asked 31 participants at a recent workshop I was facilitating. The responses were enlightening, entertaining and had something in common. In almost every case an employee with the company or organization had gone beyond their regular job duties to make sure that the customer was more than satisfied, indeed received something that they had not expected. was the company mentioned several times. In one case, one of the participants from Mississippi told of how she lost a cellphone power cord during a visit to a family member in North Carolina. To her amazement, she received a package a few days later from that contained her power cord. She wondered how such a thing could have happened. It turned out that while on her visit to North Carolina she had returned a pair of shoes to It seems that the power cord had somehow dropped into the shoe box. When the employee opened the returned shoes they found the power cord, packaged it and sent it to the customer in Mississippi.

Another participant told about her experience with a Target store. She had left her purse in a shopping cart in the parking lot because she had been attending to her young grandchildren. In addition to the usual credit cards, there was several hundred dollars in cash in the purse. When she arrived at home there was a message on her home telephone informing her that her purse had been found and could be picked up at the store. She went back to the Target store and learned that the employee whose job it was to collect the shopping carts from the parking lot had found her purse and turned it in. He told her that he did so because someone had done it to a member of his family and he felt that he should do the same.

Two participants related stories of how an employee paid their bills because they had forgotten to update their expired credit cards. Although the amounts were relatively small there was certainly no requirement for an employee to take their own money to pay a customer’s bill. And yes, the customers returned to the stores and repaid the employees.

And then there was the case of the participant who went on a Carnival cruise with her friend. The friend had a certain eating disorder that required a certain type of meal. At dinner on the first evening of the cruise the server was informed of the condition, to which he replied that there was no problem because the kitchen was prepared. When the meal arrived it had to be sent back because it did not meet what had been ordered. When the replacement meal arrived it too was unsatisfactory. The diner/customer did not eat it and apparently displayed a bit of displeasure on her face. The dining room manager noticed the situation, apologized and had a private table for them with the appropriate food for the remainder of the cruise.

In another case, a customer called a state agency that needed some information from the customer’s income tax return. The employee at the state agency took the time to go line-by-line to help the customer fill out the form and help provide the information. When a fellow employee asked why that was done when it was not necessary, the helpful employee stated, “I treat everyone who calls here just like I would want my mother to be treated.”

The stories served to remind me that there was still plenty to celebrate in the customer service world. I also discovered that there is an organization, the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) that researches and surveys this topic. Each quarter it publishes a report on overall U.S. customer satisfaction. The index is on a scale of 1 – 100. ACSI’s latest results reveal that overall consumer satisfaction is dropping slightly. In the 4th quarter of 2015 the Index stood at 73.4. That compares to 75.2 in the same quarter in 2014 and 76.3 at the same time in 2013. By the way, the 2013 score was the highest 4th quarter mark in over 30 years. You can see much more details reports of various industries and companies at

Below are the ASCI 2015 scores by industry, followed by the score for federal departments.
Manufacturing/Durable Goods …………79
Accommodation & Food Services ……..78
Manufacturing/Nondurable goods …..77
Retail trade ……………………………….…..77
Health care & Social Assistance …….…75
Finance & Insurance ……………………….75
Energy Utilities ………………………………74
Transportation ………………………………74
Information …………………………………..69
Local Government ………………….……..64
Federal Government …………….……….64

Here are the 2015 scores for federal departments:
Interior ……………………………………..75
State ………………………………………….71
Defense …………………………………….70
Homeland Security ………………….…67
Commerce …………………………………66
Social Security Administration ……66
Agriculture ………………………………..63
Health & Human Services ………….62
Transportation ………………………….61
Education ………………………………….61
Veterans Affairs ……………………..….60
Justice ………………………………………59
Treasury …………………………….……..55

The Growing Importance of Symbols

Today I wore my hound’s-tooth hat to the office. I did not get past the reception room before someone said, “Roll Tide.”

Why did that happen? It’s because just about everyone in the South knows that the hound’s-tooth hat is the headgear often worn by legendary University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. Although he retired in 1982, it is not uncommon to see dozens of fans at Alabama football games wearing a hound’s-tooth hat. The reason is that the hat is a symbol of his reign as one of the great coaches and a period of Alabama football success. One wonders what Coach Nick Saban’s reign will be symbolized by. But that’s another story.

According to most dictionaries, a symbol is a thing that represents or stands for something else. It seems that there is a symbol for just about everything. Everyday, drivers respond to traffic symbols, consumers respond to buying symbols, couples respond to symbols of touching and military personnel respond to salutes.

In the Roman Catholic church, saints are symbols of a virtue, a profession or even a condition. For example, St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers, St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals, merchants and ecology and St. Frances de Sales is the patron saint of writers and journalists. St. Erasmus is invoked to relieve stomach cramps and colic.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie, “The Da Vinci Code,” is the one in which the character Robert Langdon, a college professor symbologist, shows his class a series of symbols and asks what comes to mind when seeing the symbol. The first one he shows is a picture of a group of persons wearing white-hooded robes. The class members respond with “hatred,” “racism” and “Ku Klux Klan.” Langdon then points out that there might be some disagreement in Spain because there these are depictions of priests. He goes on to show several pictures of symbols and then points out that what a symbol might mean today is not what it meant before or to someone else. His question then is: “How do we separate truth from belief?”

There quite a few examples of symbols that have lost their original meaning. For example, most people probably think of pirates or the Jolly Roger flag when seeing an image of the skull and crossbones. Perhaps they think of poison. However, a trip to Spain reveals that it is not uncommon to find the skull and crossbones depicted in places hundreds of years old. Those places are graveyards, because that is how cemeteries were once labeled. The swastika is another symbol that has a common meaning to most people today. It is associated with Nazis. However, in Hinduism it is one of the symbols of the god Vishnu, and has been around for centuries. In Sanskrit, it’s meaning is “all is well.”

The official state flag of Mississippi is the subject of much discussion because it is a symbol of something else. To some it represents a proud heritage; to others it symbolizes racial hatred.

There is another symbol that has received a lot attention recently. Allow me to describe it to you and ask you to think about what it represents. It is in the shape of a shield, not unlike what you would think of what a Roman soldier would hold in front of him. Across the top of the shield is the word “Veritas,” which stands for truth or truthfulness in Roman mythology. Depicted in the center of the shield is an image of three sheaves of wheat.

What does that symbolize to you, dear reader? Probably not much unless you are a graduate of, or have some interest in, Harvard Law School. However, to those affiliated with Harvard Law School it symbolized quite a bit because the seal was an homage to the family of Isaac Royall Jr. , a plantation owner who bequeathed land to Harvard that funded a professorship and led to the school’s founding in 1817. In 1936, at the tri-centennial celebration of the university’s founding, the seal was adopted as that of the law school. However, in November of 2015 a group of students called for the seal’s removal. A committee was formed, a report released and last week, the Harvard Corporation gave the law school permission to discard the seal. So what was behind this symbol change? You guessed it. The donor was a slave owner.

I’m not questioning Harvard’s right to change the seal. I merely present this example to show that symbols are important, in some cases important enough to change if the current symbol does not represent the values of the current time. Critics of Harvard’s move are asking how far must society go to change symbols, especially those dealing with racism and slave ownership.

The subject of removing symbols seems to be gaining traction in today’s cultural environment. This past December the New Orleans City Council voted 6-1 to remove four Confederate statues from Lee Circle. Some have asked if the statue of Andrew Jackson is next in line for removal because he owned slaves.
Finally, what are the symbols that you celebrate or are disgusted by? Does your business have a symbol that might be offensive to someone? The greater question might be about whether we are even prepared to have a rational and reasonable discussion about symbols when it seems that we are segregating ourselves by idealogy.

The day I took a federal agent to CS’s.

February 25, 2016

Back in the day when I was a state investigator I worked on a case with a federal criminal investigator. He was a native of New York, and had been assigned to the Atlanta regional office a year earlier. He was coming to Jackson, Mississippi for the first time on a case. As we planned our investigation he told me that when he arrived in Jackson he wanted to go to a local restaurant, one of the things that he loved to do when traveling around the South. He requested that I take him to the most “local” restaurant in town. I decided that it would be CS’s, which is located on Northwest Street across from Millsaps College.

When we arrived at CS’s his eyes grew larger as he beheld the collection of beer cans, bumper stickers and the collection of luncheon diners. There were construction workers, public officials, professional people and students, all sitting side-by-side. The agent told me that this was exactly what he was looking for.

Momentarily, the legendary Inez herself presented us with menus. He studied it and then told Inez that he wanted the Inez platter, which was a huge burger with fries all topped off with chili and cheese. Inez immediately replied something to the effect, “Honey, you don’t want that. It’s too much for you to have at lunch.”

He was taken aback. After all, who tells a federal agent they can’t have what they want for lunch? You know the rest of the story. Inez brought him the platter and he couldn’t eat it all. Inez could not resist saying that she told him so. After we left CS’s he remarked that he had just enjoyed one of the most unusual and pleasant “Southern” experiences. “No wonder they call you guys the Hospitality State,” he said.

Well, Inez and CS’s is still there. The ambiance hasn’t changed much. Neither Inez. Have a lunch experience at one of Jackson’s most unusual local restaurants. And tell Inez hello.

More about CS’s at


Inducted as Honorary Life Member of Mississippi Economic Development Council

February 4, 2016

Today is a very special day for me as I was inducted as an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Mississippi Economic Development Council. Thanks to my bosses over the past 25-plus years: Kane Ditto, former mayor of Jackson, MS, Matt Holleman, former President & CEO of Mississippi Valley Gas Company (now Atmos Energy) and Marty Wiseman, former executive director of the Stennis Institute, Mississippi State University. Also, to David Rumbarger, CEO of the Community Development Foundation, Tupelo, MS, for nominating me, and my wife of almost 36 years, the beautiful and incredible Carol Hardwick.


Phil Hardwick’s Strategy Letter, January 2016

January 2016


As I was planning and strategizing about the coming year I had the idea that perhaps I wanted to set a goal of being the best professional development trainer in the state. That’s because one of the things I’m doing more of is training for various state agencies, school districts, nonprofits and businesses.

Right in the middle of my processing this idea and how I would measure such a goal I interrupted my thoughts by opening my weekly email Star Thrower Clip of the Week. After watching it, I began thinking of my goals and strategies in a different way. The presenter suggested that instead of thinking about Being the best IN the world versus being the best FOR the world. Hmm. So instead of being the best professional development trainer in Mississippi I should be the best professional development trainer FOR Mississippi.

Imagine what would happen, especially in the world of politics for example, if our elected officials changed their thinking like that. Instead of your statewide official striving not to be the best elected official in the state, but being the best elected official for the state. And what if your member of Congress – oh heck, I won’t even go there.

Carry this thought over to business and community leaders – or anybody for that matter. What if your goal was to be the best __________ (fill in the blank) FOR the state rather than being the best in the state? I think it would make a difference. Indeed, I suspect it would change a lot of strategies.

And this does not apply just to the state. What if you were the best person for your organization?

The video clip mentioned above is only five minutes. It opens with a famous photographer discussing this idea and then introduces us to a lady in Scotland. That’s enough of a teaser. Here’s the link:
Until next time,


The 7 things leaders have in common

Getting There: A Book of Mentors, by Gillian Zoe Segal contains interviews with 30 business leaders (Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Anderson Cooper, Sara Blakely, Jeff Koons, Kathy Ireland, Les Moonves, to name a few). She says that there are seven things they all have in common:

  1.  They understand their “circle of confidence.”
  2. They harness their passions.
  3. Their career paths are fluid.
  4. They create their own opportunities.
  5. They question everything.
  6. They don’t let fear of failure deter them.
  7. They are resilient.

To see more details about these seven “commonalities” check out her interview in this article in Fortune magazine.

Seems like the magic number is seven. If you’re interested in more research-based traits and characteristics of leaders, check out The Demands of Executive Leadership, by Barry Conchie. It’s a 2004 article (updated 2008). Here’s his list of “Demands” of leadership:

Maximizing Values
Challenging Experience
Building a Constituency
Making Sense of Experience
Knowing Self

I often use both of the above in my leadership training sessions.