Be the Dolly Parton of #localgov

Posted on February 11, 2022

Emma Teal is Dolly Parton

Today’s #MorningBuzz is by Jen Teal. Connect with Jen on the web, LinkedIn and Twitter.


One of the absolute shiniest of silver linings in the pandemic has been the amount of high-quality time I’ve gotten to spend with my 13 year old daughter over the past 2 years. Together we have embarked on a two woman world-tour of pop culture – music, movies, and tv shows – and found a lot of common ground. One constant in all of this has been a deep and abiding love of all things Dolly Parton. 

My daughter brought Dolly into our family with her quirky love of 60s country, but once Dolly arrived, she stuck around. We’ve listened to her full catalog of music, watched countless documentaries and cheesy shows & movies, binged Dolly Parton’s America, and are actively planning a pilgrimage to Dollywood once COVID calms down a bit more. 

While we appreciate Dolly’s lyrics and musical talents, and adore her larger-than-life personality, what we both really love about Dolly is her authentic kindness, radical inclusion, and generosity of spirit. Dolly has a long history of walking the walk – from embracing the LGBTQIA+ community, to initiating the Imagination Library, and helping fund the Moderna COVID vaccine. And just this week it was announced that her foundation is funding full tuition for Dollywood employees who want to pursue a college education. 

Emma Teal is Dolly Parton

So what does this have to do with local government? 

Through our trip around the world of pop culture, my kiddo and I have also watched a wide array of 90s and 00s “teen” movies – so many of which include the depiction of the “mean girl” archetype. And while we all know that it’s wrong to circulate a burn book or plot the death of your social enemy, it’s pretty easy to fall into some less obvious “mean girl” behaviors in our day to day work. 

The most prevalent way this happens for those of us who work in and with local governments is in adopting an “us vs. them” mindset – whether its with members of the community who are opposing a project you’re working on, or with elected officials who are slow-rolling the approvals you need to move your work forward.

We are passionate about the work that we do, and when others don’t share our priorities or our sense of urgency, it is so natural to take it personally. But left unchecked, “us vs. them” thinking can quickly devolve into “mean girl” territory.

So that’s where my title idea comes from – Be the Dolly Parton of #localgov.

Be intentional about incorporating kindness, inclusion, and generosity in your work and your dealings with others. Take the time to listen and understand the points of view of those who you might see as being in your way. And when all else fails, ask yourself, “What would Dolly do?”

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