Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Educators as leaders


Bob Mobley, who lives in Indian Creek with his wife, Melinda, has been many things: an All American football player at Yale, a graduate student at Columbia where he received a master's degree in history, a student at Oxford, a teacher of history, an armor officer in the Army, an innovator who started the first cable TV system in the United States and, for the past 35 years, a highly successful consultant on effective leadership to CEOs and officers of some of the biggest corporations in the world, including Bristol Myers Squibb, Chevron, Deutsche Bank, Pepsico and Pillsbury, among many others.

Now this personable, bearded, stocky man with an infectious enthusiasm and passion for helping others create organizational excellence through leadership has turned his sights on K-12 public education in Idaho as part of the nonprofit Sun Valley Leadership Institute, which he co-founded with David Holmes, a distinguished educator, in 2003.

Why education?

"Because it's clearly the Achilles' heel of American society today," this father of five and grandfather of two states emphatically. "Because the future of our country is at stake, and even more important, the future of our children, their employment opportunities and general well-being depend on the quality of our public education system. Those may be clichés, but they're also undeniable facts.

"Leadership in education is absolutely essential at a time when capital funding and classroom resources are being drastically cut and the primary emphasis on achievement is based on standardized test scores. Yes, decent buildings are important and standards are necessary, but for the most part, we're ignoring the single most critical component in effective education: investing in programs to empower the people who do the heavy lifting—the teachers who are in a unique position to motivate, inspire excellence and help each student realize his or her God-given individual potential."

SVLI's "Educators As Leaders" is not trying to overlay a business model on education, Mobley emphasizes. "What we're saying is that principles of effective leadership and the institutional excellence that we know can result from that leadership apply to all organizations across the board—education, business, nonprofits, politics, you name it."

Ultimately, effective personal leadership is a function of values, Mobley asserts emphatically, the same values that create strong friendships—integrity, trust, courage, truth, love, caring and a willingness to listen—combined with values that made this country great—the courage to change, take risks and experiment.

"These are the time-tested qualities of individual and organizational leadership that create excellence in any organization, including education; there is no substitute. People relate to and work harder for people who share their values, people who live their values and people they like and trust. It's as simple as that."

Mobley is a man with big ideas who also understands the necessity of starting small based on personal experience. When he and his partner left their day jobs and went into the consulting business in San Francisco in 1978, they had big ideas, a business plan, very little money and no clients. They shopped their idea around to complete strangers and got nowhere. They tried to borrow money from Crocker Bank and were turned down cold.

Then they got lucky and managed to wrangle 15-minute interviews with the CEO of Chevron and Southern Pacific. Nobody was more surprised than Mobley when both companies signed on to their leadership concept and hired them.

"Two years later, Crocker Bank called us back and said they'd made two mistakes," Mobley adds with evident satisfaction. "One was not giving us a loan to get started, and the second was not taking our business plan seriously. They also hired us."

At the moment, SVLI has active educational leadership programs in Bellevue, Richfield and Castleford, Idaho. The modest start is intentional because the goal is to develop a model in rural Idaho that can be expanded. "Idaho is manageable," Mobley notes. "If we'd gone to New York, we'd get lost in a thousand other programs, but here we can focus our attention on getting things right. Our plan, however, is to rally the country behind this idea."

The basic approach of the SVLI education program is based on finding a principal or administrator who shares their values and wants to build organizational excellence by working with their teachers. "The vast majority of public school teachers are people who are dedicated to helping kids," Mobley says with passion, "but they are for the most part underpaid, unappreciated, and not given the respect they deserve.

"Our goal is to empower teachers through the proven application of leadership principles, to help them renew their confidence and self respect by freeing them to innovate, take risks, live their values and, in doing so, inspire their students to excellence.

"In other words, when it becomes apparent to students that their teachers care about them, believe in them, and share their dreams, kids will respond and become all that they can be, which is, or certainly should be, the ultimate goal of education in our country."

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