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.



The 7 states that are losing population


November 12, 2015

My latest column as printed in the Mississippi Business Journal


They come in all sizes and shapes and from a wide variety of backgrounds. Almost all of them are serving in their posts in a part-time capacity. Many, if not most, have had little training in the fundamentals and nuances of economic development. They are the mayors of small towns in Mississippi and other states across America.

In spite of their lack of formal preparation for the duties of their offices there are quite a few opportunities and resources to them once they take their oaths. The Mississippi Municipal League offers a wide variety of training options and resource materials. Universities, community colleges, state agencies and nonprofit organizations are available for technical assistance and advice.

The following is a basic economic development primer for mayors of small towns. It is actually an outline. Each of these 26 topics are themselves worthy of full-blown seminars. The purpose here is to give the reader a taste of what its like to deal with some of the subjects that small town mayors encounter on a regular basis. Note that it is presented in second person.

A is for Asset-based economic development. Identify the assets in your community that you can capitalize on.

B is for Plan B. The best leaders are the ones who can manage Plan B. Although planning is important, things do not always go as planned.

C is for CDBG, the Community Development Block Grant program.

D is for Decisions, which tend to be data-driven or values-driven.

E is for Economy. What drives your town’s economy?

F is for Followers. You are the leader; who’s following you – and what do they want?

G is for Goals, the mileposts along the highway to achieving the vision. Goals are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound.

H is for Heroes. Who is going to step forward when you need it the most?

I is for Incentives. Economic development prospects are driven by location, workforce and incentives.

J is for Jobs. Economic development is the process of increasing the wealth in your town through creation, recruitment and retention of jobs.

K is for Keystone, the central, topmost stone of an arch (an essential part).

L is for Legacy. A lifetime of achievement is often reduced to one incident or program. What will be your legacy?

M is for Meetings, especially productive meetings – with your board, with citizens, with developers and with prospects. The importance of the agenda.

N is for Numbers, or measurements, that will quantify your town’s progress. Data should be determined early in your administration and tracked on a regular basis.

O is for Observation. Stop looking for the answers you expect to find. As Yogi Berra said, “You can learn a lot by watching.”

P is for People, or demographics. Know and understand your people.

Q is for Quality. If anything is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

R is for Responsibility. Most strategic plans fail because there is no accountability or responsibility. Hold people accountable.

S is for Story. What is your town’s story, and how can you capitalize on it?

T is for Taxes, especially tax incentives.

U is for Unique. What makes your town unique?

V is for Vision – your vision and your town’s vision.

W is for World View. How does globalization affect your town?

X is for X-Ray. Have some outside expert look “into” you town.

Y is for Youth, the future of your town. What do they think about the future? Do you have a Mayor’s Youth Council?

Z is for Zeal, the synonym for passion. One big difference in towns that succeed and those that do not is passionate leadership.


Phil Hardwick is a regular Mississippi Business Journal columnist and owner of Hardwick & Associates, LLC, which provides strategic planning facilitation and leadership training services. His email is phil@philhardwick. com and he’s on the web at