Here and There

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Curb stores and women in the workplace

*First appeared in the April 23 edition of the Laurel Chronicle

This week I considered writing about the changing face of convenience store customers after reading an insightful study on the issue. Did you know that there are a few major themes that determine whether a person visits a convenience (or, as my family and I call them, “curb”) stores?

See if these themes resonate with your own experience: “Differentiators” (like cleanliness and safety, speed and ease, friendliness, and fuel price); “essentials” (like brand trust, paying at the pump for fuel, and item pricing); and “delighters” (like low prices and deals, loyalty programs, and the availability of coffee).

But I digress. This column will focus on the completely unrelated topic of women in the workplace.

Now before you groan, let’s remember two things: I am a woman. I am in the workplace.

About half of you are interested in this topic; the other half of you who will quit reading about now. (Sorry, guys, but I did try to lull you in with that curb store stuff.)

I’ve always said and more recently began to believe that if you want something done effectively and efficiently, give it to a woman. Yet a woman’s aptitude for getting things done hasn’t always translated into workplace success.

There are various reasons for that, but I’d rather focus on what’s next for women…not what has happened up ‘til now.

Looking ahead, major think-tank and business strategy firms believe women’s natural abilities may mean more of them in leadership positions in the 21st century. According to BCG Perspectives, leaders who will thrive in the 21st century world will be able to navigate global uncertainty and chart a clear course; empathize and achieve influence and authority through networking; self-correct through unlearning outmoded success models; and win by delivering sustainable success to company and stakeholders.

This “new adaptive leadership model seems well aligned to some of the skills that women typically possess – [such as] the ability to influence multiple stakeholders, be they employees, investors, suppliers or regulatory bodies.”

One important new development in the foreseeable corporate culture is the need for leaders to engage stakeholders across diverse groups. It’ll be more important to listen and empathize; that is, to see the world through the “stakeholders’ eyes and connect their purpose to…business objectives.”

BCG Perspectives makes a great point in the following statement: “There is a lot of training available for leaders on how to make people listen, be it presentations or pitches, but real communication is about dedicating a large proportion of time listening to others. It is only through listening and engaging that a genuine connection occurs between two people who each have their own objection.”

That struck me as especially poignant: We all instinctively know that women are better listeners than men. And that’s good news for my gender. I wonder if any guys are listening?

If I had to bet, I’d say no.

The evolving face of the 21st century workplace may undergo a makeover in the figurative (and nearly literal?) sense. Women of the world, unite!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tea Party, MSGOP share conservative vision despite public narrative

*First appeared in the April 16 edition of the Laurel Chronicle newspaper.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know the primary race for U.S. Senate between long-time incumbent Thad Cochran and Jones County native state Senator Chris McDaniel is pretty…heated, for lack of a better word.

In my mind, the real casualty of this primary battle isn’t either candidate, but rather the future of the conservative movement in Mississippi. If you believe the talking heads, the Twitter trolls, the “lame-stream” media, the Facebook status-sharers, then you believe there’s a war raging between “establishment” Republicans and Tea Partiers.

To that I say, poppycock.

We’ve seen this scenario play out across the country, where newly formed political groups (such as Tea Party factions and others) unilaterally decide “their” candidate is the most conservative and best choice for office. If you don’t support our guy, they’ve said, then you must be “establishment.” These groups have in large part been egged on by national organizations with access to experienced lawyers, ruthless campaign operatives, and individuals with deep pockets (think: green).

Seems like this strategy has finally come home to roost, so to speak, right here in Mississippi.

This week the Mississippi Tea Party called on Mississippi Republican Chairman Joe Nosef to “stay out of the Mississippi U.S. Senate Primary or resign.” Wowzers!

The Tea Party is offended the MSGOP chairman said Chris McDaniel ought to clear up as fast as possible the rumor that he was participating in an event with a vendor selling “white pride” paraphernalia.

Nosef went further, saying running for the “United States Senate is a very important thing and as a party we need to always be careful and focused and serious about what our views are and what our interests are.”

This is reasonable advice to me. It actually sounds like something my father might say: Address rumors head on; tell people the whole story; and then go on about your rat-killin’. People are going to believe what they’re going to believe.

The Tea Party’s next complaint against Nosef was his recent appearance on the Paul Gallo radio show. During the show, Nosef said “primaries are always going to get dirty” and that he was bothered by the motives of out-of-state groups involved in Mississippi’s Senate race (many of these groups were involved in states where the Republican nominee ultimately lost the general election).

My paraphrasing of his comments: When Republicans lose general elections, they also lose the ability to impact policy-making.

In my opinion, this is a bad thing for conservatives. We can’t enact conservative legislation without first winning elections.

I’m not sure why the Mississippi Tea Party didn’t like Nosef’s comments which were, once again, very practical in nature. I daresay his comments are exactly what the chairman of the Republican Party ought to be saying: Let’s win elections. Let’s enact conservative policies. Let’s be smart about both of those things by working together, not against one another.

And that’s really what worries me. The Mississippi Tea Party and related groups are organized by conservative Mississippians who believe in the conservative principles of the Republican Party. I’m a big tent ideologue and tend to believe we all fall somewhere in that tent.

Yet all of this talk of “establishment” versus “Tea Party” versus “libertarian” versus so-on and so-forth isn’t helping the conservative cause. The Democrats won’t need to divide and conquer if we voluntarily divide ourselves.

If the conservative movement is to survive – and thrive – then we mustn’t let out-of-state groups dictate our in-state relationships, nor rush to judgment when party officials like Chairman Nosef offer up common-sense advice to Republican candidates.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Religion, politics, and the Declaration of Independence

*First appeared in the April 9 edition of the Laurel Chronicle

My parents always taught me that proper Southern girls never discuss politics or religion at the dinner table. That's just bad manners, they said. In light of their teaching, I hope this column doesn't offend any of your reading sensibilities.

It's difficult discussing religion and politics with any sort of tact, and I assume writing about it is no exception. I'll do my best not to disappoint, overstate, dramatize, or otherwise offend readers in this piece.

Recently, sociologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University analyzed data on religious attitudes as part of the General Social Survey (a highly regarded biannual poll conducted by an independent research institute at the University of Chicago).

The analysis found that religious affiliation in the U.S. is at its lowest point since it began being tracked sometime in the 1930s. In 2012, one in five Americans claimed they had no religious preference. This is a dramatic shift from 1990 when all but eight percent of Americans polled identified with an organized faith. In 1972, just five percent polled claimed no religion.

This trend of disavowing religious affiliation is troubling, Governor Haley Barbour told a crowd of legislators and politicos at the Legislative Capitol Prayer Luncheon organized by Senate Finance Chairman Joey Fillingane (R-Sumrall). "It's bad for the nation," the former governor told the roughly fifty people in attendance.

While encouraging leaders to be strong in their faith, Governor Barbour also warned lawmakers not to exclude colleagues who don't share their beliefs. He said leaders who had deep-rooted spirituality are often better equipped to deal with the challenges that accompany leadership positions, since they know what they believe and why they believe it.

But those without a faith-based point of view may lack an inner moral compass to help them navigate difficult legislative fronts, like dealing with programs to help the poor, discussing the state's role in regulating abortion, or the morality of the death penalty.

I'm mostly paraphrasing the Governor's comments, but they resonated with me due to the broader implications of a society's decline in religious affiliation. I believe strongly in the separation of church and state, but I fear this particular trend may sow seeds of cultural instability that future generations will reap.

My Christian faith has shaped my worldview; it is the basis for what I believe to be right and wrong, the basis for my ideas on the merits of work and charity, the basis for my ideas on how others should be treated. Absent my Christian background, I assume I would rely on ambiguous, socially-acceptable ideals to form my system of beliefs.

That's worrisome, from both a public policy and cultural stability standpoint. As a Christian, I know that murder is wrong (sinful). But what happens if I a) don't prescribe to Christianity or any religion in which murder is wrong and b) live in a society that accepts murder as a fact of life with no moral quality? Does this mean murder is suddenly acceptable and that laws should be changed to reflect this new level of societal acceptance?

Granted, this may be an extreme example. I'm not someone who believes America or her states are about to legalize murder. But my point is this: I believe the laws of our nation and state are better written when determined by legislators who understand our rights come from a higher power, not the government. A decline in religious affiliation undermines this truly American belief that all men "are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."