Tag Archives: community development

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 WW2History.com 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?

States most likely to grow will have these policy approaches.

ENTERPRISING STATES:  Policies that produce is a just-released report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  It is an interesting and recommended read for anyone in the field of community and economic development.

One section caught my eye, and it should be included in any state’s discussion of its strategy for economic growth.  It says that the states most likely to grow in the next decade will be defined by the following broad policy approaches:

• Parlaying their natural resources and historically competitive industry sectors into 1st century job creating opportunities.

• Paying attention to and addressing their competitive weaknesses.

• Supporting their companies’ business development efforts to reach an expanding global marketplace.

• Creating fertile environment and workforce for a technology-based and innovation-driven economy.

• Getting government, academia, and the private sector to collaborate effectively to make sure that more new ideas developed by companies and in research labs scale up into industries.

• Taking steps to make existing firms more productive and innovative, creating an environment in which new firms can emerge and thrive.

• Maintaining an affordable cost of living for middle-skilled and middle-class employees.

• Promoting education, workforce development and entrepreneurial mentoring.

• Fostering an enterprise-friendly business environment by cleaning up the DURT (delays, uncertainty, regulations, and taxes), modernizing government, and fixing deficiencies in the market that inhibit private sector investment and entrepreneurial activity.

Which jobs are growing and shrinking in your community?

One of the things that I stress to local economic developers and to mayors is the importance of understanding the local economy and how it fits into the region and to the world.  As the overall economy is “reset” it is useful to know which type of jobs in the community are growing and which are shrinking.

My column in the Mississippi Business Journal this week discusses the importance of a business retention program.  And while business retention is important for local leaders, it should be remembered that many jobs are not moving somewhere else they are disappearing altogether.  Many jobs will reappear.  Newspaper jobs, for example, will innovate.  For example, who would have ever heard of a video journalist 20 years ago?  Or even five years ago?  The point is that jobs do not necessarily always go away, they innovate into something else.   That’s why retraining is so important in many industries.  The person need not go away if the job goes away.

Below is an image that I retrieved from Scott Nichol’s LinkedIn blog entitled “LinkedIn Winners and Losers: Industry Trends During the Great Recession. It discusses how our economy has evolved during the five years.  A related blog on this subject worthy of reading is Mike Masnick’s Economic blog entry entitled “How Job Loss Really Works: Jobs Loss Isn’t Really Job Loss.

Finally, study the blogs mentioned above and the chart below, and then ask yourself this question: What would such a chart look like for the jobs in my community?

The 4 stages of community leadership programs

I’m working on my next Mississippi Business Journal column.  It will be on the subject of community leadership programs.  My experience with such programs is that there are four distinct stages as presented below.  Most management texts say that when it comes to group formation that the stages are forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning, so my list is a slight variation of that theme.

Most community leadership programs are managed by a local chamber of commerce or similar organization.  The basic goals are to identify emerging leaders in the community, bring them together as a group, present issues that the community needs to address and then turn them loose with the skills and contacts necessary to make the community a better place.  There are as many degrees of success of such goals as there are leadership programs.

Stage One – Bonding, aka teambuilding, aka forming.  In this stage the leadership class is taken on a retreat and engaged in teambuilding activities.  Often there are personality tests given to illustrate and identify the various personalities in the class.

Stage Two – Learning.  The class is presented with leadership skills and with information about the community and its issues.

Stage Three – Taking Action.  The class, which had been subdivided into groups, selects a project to work on as a group.  Usually, the project is related to some issue in the community.

Stage Four – Networking.  In an ideal world this is the stage where an alumni association is formed and sustained.  The alumni from all classes meet regularly and deal with community issues.  This rarely happens because alumni tend to get back to their busy jobs and network only with other alumni who share their opinions, values and beliefs.  Nevertheless, there are examples of leadership alumni programs around the country that stick together and become a true force for betterment in their communities.

Do people trust each other more – or less – in diverse communities?

E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-first Century, The 2006 Johan Skytte Prize Lecture, was authored by Robert Putnam, Harvard University professor and author of Bowling Alone (plus six other books).  The paper is very lengthy, but a summary and link to the article appears below.  For those who work in community development it is must reading.

The more diverse the community, he finds, the less its members trust each other or the government, and the less they participate in collective life or believe in their own power to change their communities and politics. He notes that there are exceptions, but ultimately, more diverse communities are less trusting, less cohesive and less participatory places to live as people tend to “hunker down” and withdraw.  More…