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California Chrome and the Myth of Winning

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

Saturday California Chrome did not win the Belmont Stakes, finishing in a tie for fourth place. Chrome is now the twenty-third horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but failing to grab the Triple Crown. That begs the question: is California Chrome a failure? Should we consider the team that trained him a failure? According to current practice, the answer might be "Yes." In many organizations, winning means one thing-obliterating last month's/quarter's/year's numbers, winning the account, getting the external recognition - cost be damned. For some, getting the immediate win is so critical that they'll sacrifice everything: the team's resources, the mental and physical health of the people they lead, you name it. In many cases, it's unsustainable - losing disguised as "winning." In my view, true winning is about the sustainable long game. Most of the battles we lose don't imply we'll lose the war. A wise leader takes the lessons from setbacks to direct attention to improving performance for the ultimate goal, not just the next battle. Consider a definition of winning that is both about winning races and a sustainable future of health, vitality, and continued excellence. What do your words and actions communicate about what winning means to you?

Saturday California Chrome did not win the Belmont Stakes, finishing in a tie for fourth place. Chrome is now the twenty-third horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but failing to grab the Triple Crown. That begs the question: is California Chrome a failure? Should we consider the team that trained him a failure?

According to current practice, the answer might be "Yes." In many organizations, winning means one thing-obliterating last month's/quarter's/year's numbers, winning the account, getting the external recognition - cost be damned. For some, getting the immediate win is so critical that they'll sacrifice everything: the team's resources, the mental and physical health of the people they lead, you name it. In many cases, it's unsustainable - losing disguised as "winning."

In my view, true winning is about the sustainable long game. Most of the battles we lose don't imply we'll lose the war. A wise leader takes the lessons from setbacks to direct attention to improving performance for the ultimate goal, not just the next battle. Consider a definition of winning that is both about winning races and a sustainable future of health, vitality, and continued excellence.

What do your words and actions communicate about what winning means to you?

6.9.14 0
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And They’re Off…!

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

On June 7th, thoroughbred California Chrome will try to become the twelfth horse to win the elusive Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes. And as so often happens, the upcoming race got me thinking...about performance and noise. Distraction and preparation. The role of the trainer in getting the horse ready and then turning him loose to run. Thoroughbreds are sensitive, skittish and brilliant. With hearts twice the size of the average racehorse, they're extraordinary machines. And they're temperamental. It's the trainer's job to get his Triple Crown contending horse fit, keep it healthy, teach it, and develop a race strategy around its strengths. But his most important job is to block out noise. While chaos might swirl around the animal in the form of news media, other horses, pressure and money, the great trainer keeps his thoroughbred wrapped in a bubble of quiet, focused calm. Equipoise, it's called. That way, when the gate opens, the horse doesn't feel any distractions. It just runs like hell. We want our people to perform like thoroughbreds, to do the extraordinary. That means as leaders, it's our job to protect them from distractions, to create environments that breed equipoise. The noise-financial hubris, news stories, office gossip-should break against us like waves against a seawall. Behind us, things are calm. People are free to focus on the moment, to be their best, to run their race. To win. How are you being a source of quiet, focused calm for your team?

On June 7th, thoroughbred California Chrome will try to become the twelfth horse to win the elusive Triple Crown by winning the Belmont Stakes. And as so often happens, the upcoming race got me thinking...about performance and noise. Distraction and preparation. The role of the trainer in getting the horse ready and then turning him loose to run.

Thoroughbreds are sensitive, skittish and brilliant. With hearts twice the size of the average racehorse, they're extraordinary machines. And they're temperamental. It's the trainer's job to get his Triple Crown contending horse fit, keep it healthy, teach it, and develop a race strategy around its strengths. But his most important job is to block out noise. While chaos might swirl around the animal in the form of news media, other horses, pressure and money, the great trainer keeps his thoroughbred wrapped in a bubble of quiet, focused calm. Equipoise, it's called. That way, when the gate opens, the horse doesn't feel any distractions. It just runs like hell.

We want our people to perform like thoroughbreds, to do the extraordinary. That means as leaders, it's our job to protect them from distractions, to create environments that breed equipoise. The noise-financial hubris, news stories, office gossip-should break against us like waves against a seawall. Behind us, things are calm. People are free to focus on the moment, to be their best, to run their race. To win.

How are you being a source of quiet, focused calm for your team?

6.2.14 0
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The Better Angels of Our Nature

Dr. Foster Mobley // History, Sports, Wisdom Leading

This weekend, it was revealed that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling had been taped recently making horrifyingly racist statements to his girlfriend. Let's leave retribution to the National Basketball Association or the fans, because I want to use this opportunity to talk about what may be the leader's greatest responsibility. It's been said that leaders don't get a day off-that we have to show up prepared to lead. What does that really mean? It means that as leaders, it's our duty to demonstrate the qualities of character and behavior that we want our people to aspire to for themselves. We can't just talk about presence, clarity, calm and trust; we have to live them, to embody them every single day. The led always mirror the leader. If we want our people to reach their full potential, our most important task is to reach our full potential and make sure those qualities permeate everything we say and do. That's how we inspire others to bring forth, as Lincoln called them, "the better angels of our nature." Doing that isn't easy. We're not machines. Sometimes we fall short. Sterling fell far short, and showed that while he may be the team's owner, he's not its leader. His disgrace reminds us that money, titles and executive authority have nothing to do with leadership. Character does. How does your behavior, even in quiet moments, reveal your character and commitment to greatness?

This weekend, it was revealed that Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling had been taped recently making horrifyingly racist statements to his girlfriend. Let's leave retribution to the National Basketball Association or the fans, because I want to use this opportunity to talk about what may be the leader's greatest responsibility.

It's been said that leaders don't get a day off-that we have to show up prepared to lead. What does that really mean? It means that as leaders, it's our duty to demonstrate the qualities of character and behavior that we want our people to aspire to for themselves. We can't just talk about presence, clarity, calm and trust; we have to live them, to embody them every single day.

The led always mirror the leader. If we want our people to reach their full potential, our most important task is to reach our full potential and make sure those qualities permeate everything we say and do. That's how we inspire others to bring forth, as Lincoln called them, "the better angels of our nature."

Doing that isn't easy. We're not machines. Sometimes we fall short. Sterling fell far short, and showed that while he may be the team's owner, he's not its leader. His disgrace reminds us that money, titles and executive authority have nothing to do with leadership. Character does.

How does your behavior, even in quiet moments, reveal your character and commitment to greatness? 

4.28.14 0
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What If Inspiring Others is a Fool’s Chore?

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

A default value is a setting automatically assigned to a piece of software or electronic device so that, if someone like me makes a dumb choice, it resets to the way it's supposed to work. Sadly, the default value of many leaders dealing with underperformance is a cult-like devotion to the concept of motivation - that is, how do we better motivate others (or inspire, convince, tease out the next level of potential) we believe are capable of more? Want proof? How about the millions of acres of forests stripped of trees to make the countless number of books on the topic, or the tens of thousands of hours of motivational speakers in front of audiences, talking to them about personal power and changing their lives? Virtually no one has been immune. With all that, shouldn't everybody's life be changed by now? Shouldn't we all be leaping tall buildings in a single bound? I'm a sucker for every Rudy movie too, but in my opinion, that "superman" description doesn't explain how most of us behave. Motivation is important, vital in fact. But the prime directive* of human behavior is purpose, not words shouted from the outside of us. Meb Keflexighi, yesterday's winner of the Boston Marathon, didn't need much "pumping up" from a vocal leader. His winning drive came from within himself, from his strong will to win and his passion to honor the victims of the 2013 bombing whose names he had written on his race bib. Each of us has passions and visions and dreams. They may be a little dusty, or small, but they are there. Wise leaders help others reconnect to what's important to them (and possibly forgotten). The "inspirational leader" to me is someone who helps others remove things that are obscuring their own visions and purpose, not someone standing on the outside providing the perfect words to pump them up. What's in your way of full passion and performance? What role can you play in helping others reconnect to theirs? * Prime directive = the most important rule or law, which must be obeyed above all others.

A default value is a setting automatically assigned to a piece of software or electronic device so that, if someone like me makes a dumb choice, it resets to the way it's supposed to work. Sadly, the default value of many leaders dealing with underperformance is a cult-like devotion to the concept of motivation - that is, how do we better motivate others (or inspire, convince, tease out the next level of potential) we believe are capable of more?

Want proof? How about the millions of acres of forests stripped of trees to make the countless number of books on the topic, or the tens of thousands of hours of motivational speakers in front of audiences, talking to them about personal power and changing their lives? Virtually no one has been immune. With all that, shouldn't everybody's life be changed by now? Shouldn't we all be leaping tall buildings in a single bound?

I'm a sucker for every Rudy movie too, but in my opinion, that "superman" description doesn't explain how most of us behave.

Motivation is important, vital in fact. But the prime directive* of human behavior is purpose, not words shouted from the outside of us. Meb Keflexighi, yesterday's winner of the Boston Marathon, didn't need much "pumping up" from a vocal leader. His winning drive came from within himself, from his strong will to win and his passion to honor the victims of the 2013 bombing whose names he had written on his race bib.

Each of us has passions and visions and dreams. They may be a little dusty, or small, but they are there. Wise leaders help others reconnect to what's important to them (and possibly forgotten). The "inspirational leader" to me is someone who helps others remove things that are obscuring their own visions and purpose, not someone standing on the outside providing the perfect words to pump them up.

What's in your way of full passion and performance? What role can you play in helping others reconnect to theirs?

* Prime directive = the most important rule or law, which must be obeyed above all others.

4.22.14 2
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Climbing Trees

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

According to that sage source for all things Spring, HGTV, it's now tree climbing season around the country. After a rough winter, the cold weather is finally receding and children are taking to the trees in their backyards, schoolyards and parks. But why do children love to climb trees? Part of it is the daring risk of a fall; the adrenaline of dangling eight feet off the grass, pretending to be a monkey, that gives them a thrill. But it's also the ability to view the world from a different perspective. Children are generally looking up on the adults who rule their world, but in a tree, they become taller. They look down on us, on rooftops, on cars, on everything. Every time you change the point from which you view the world, you change your perspective on what you're seeing. When was the last time you climbed a tree? More to the point, when was the last time you got a radically different perspective on your world? We can all use one from time to time; we're prone to believing that our way of seeing things is the only way. It's not, and standing taller or looking around from a different angle can change everything. If you haven't tried it, try it. Last time you looked at the world from a different point of view, what did you learn?

According to that sage source for all things Spring, HGTV, it's now tree climbing season around the country. After a rough winter, the cold weather is finally receding and children are taking to the trees in their backyards, schoolyards and parks.

But why do children love to climb trees? Part of it is the daring risk of a fall; the adrenaline of dangling eight feet off the grass, pretending to be a monkey, that gives them a thrill. But it's also the ability to view the world from a different perspective. Children are generally looking up on the adults who rule their world, but in a tree, they become taller. They look down on us, on rooftops, on cars, on everything. Every time you change the point from which you view the world, you change your perspective on what you're seeing.

When was the last time you climbed a tree? More to the point, when was the last time you got a radically different perspective on your world? We can all use one from time to time; we're prone to believing that our way of seeing things is the only way. It's not, and standing taller or looking around from a different angle can change everything. If you haven't tried it, try it.

Last time you looked at the world from a different point of view, what did you learn?

4.14.14 0
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Brackets or Possibilities?

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

The last soldier has fallen. The last perfect NCAA Men's College Basketball tournament bracket-at least, the last to enter Warren Buffett's contest that offered one billion dollars to anyone who could pick every March Madness winner-went belly-up yesterday when Syracuse lost to Dayton. It's not really a big deal; the odds of having a flawless bracket are, according to Harvard mathematicians, about 9.2 quintillion to one (that's 9.2 followed by eighteen zeros). You have a better chance of winning Powerball six weeks in a row.

What's more interesting is the question of whether or not the NCAA Tournament is more or less enjoyable when we have a vested interest. On one hand, being invested in something makes us pay closer attention to details and outcomes. On the other, it's precisely the possibility of a college like Dayton beating powerhouse Syracuse that makes March Madness so thrilling. The games aren't played on bracket charts, and a top seed guarantees nothing. You've got to go out and put the ball through the hoop.

In our organizations, we're confronted with the same question: how do we balance predictability and control with the potential for exciting surprises? More to the point, how do we, as leaders, keep letting our assumptions about anyone's abilities limit their potential to do great things? Dayton was a number eleven seed; odds makers gave them little chance against Syracuse. But they won. We owe it to our people and ourselves to keep searching for that delicate balance between safe structure and unpredictable possibility that can produce a Cinderella story.

Who in your organization has Cinderella potential?

3.24.14 0
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We're All Young At Something: Over the Hill At 40

Dr. Foster Mobley // Business, Quotables, Sports, Wisdom Leading

One startling thing about professional sports is that the participants are considered washed up and unemployable at an age when most of us are just hitting our stride in our careers. Whether it's baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, you name it (golf might be an exception)-if you're lucky enough to make a living at your sport until you turn 40, that's about the time you'll be handed your gold watch and told, "Thanks. Good luck with what's next." Imagine being over the hill when you're just figuring out who you are and what you're capable of! In sports, that's reality; everything, from reaction time to speed and durability, declines in middle age. That turns sports into a real-time experiment in forced transition from being old in what you know to being young in something new. Knowing their inevitability, how can we best handle such transitions? Many of us don't anticipate, nor face transitions well. We either hang on to what we know and are comfortable with far beyond its value to us, or flail around chasing the first butterfly that passes our gaze. The point is, becoming young can and does happen in an instant. How we manage those transitions is about our humility, openness and wisdom. What skills and beliefs can you call on for your next rookie assignment?

One startling thing about professional sports is that the participants are considered washed up and unemployable at an age when most of us are just hitting our stride in our careers. Whether it's baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, you name it (golf might be an exception)-if you're lucky enough to make a living at your sport until you turn 40, that's about the time you'll be handed your gold watch and told, "Thanks. Good luck with what's next."

Imagine being over the hill when you're just figuring out who you are and what you're capable of! In sports, that's reality; everything, from reaction time to speed and durability, declines in middle age. That turns sports into a real-time experiment in forced transition from being old in what you know to being young in something new. Knowing their inevitability, how can we best handle such transitions?

Many of us don't anticipate, nor face transitions well. We either hang on to what we know and are comfortable with far beyond its value to us, or flail around chasing the first butterfly that passes our gaze. The point is, becoming young can and does happen in an instant. How we manage those transitions is about our humility, openness and wisdom.

What skills and beliefs can you call on for your next rookie assignment?

11.18.13 0
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Yasiel Puig Versus the Wall

Dr. Foster Mobley // Quotables, Sports, Wisdom Leading

If you've followed baseball recently, you've heard about Yasiel Puig. The Cuban-defector playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been setting the world on fire since his debut in June: hitting over .400, setting all-time records for hitting, running into walls, and basically playing like a 23-year-old possessed. He's become an obsession for the entire island of Cuba. Here's my question - is it better to go a thousand miles an hour with your hair on fire for as long as you can, like Puig, or to pace yourself, conserve your energy and avoid getting hurt? Going all-out and burning your candle at both ends might thrill your fans and fire up your team, but is it the best way to achieve your goals? Answer - it depends. Depends on your talent. Depends on your goal. Depends on team needs. It truly depends. In Puig's case, when he was called up to the majors to join the Dodgers, the team sporting the highest payroll in the history of the game was languishing in last place and showing few signs of life. Today, barely a month later they are challenging for first place in their division and have righted their ship, largely sparked by the energy and heroics of Puig. Sometimes, a leader's job is to inspire his or her team and demonstrate the pedal-to-the-metal commitment that he or she wants the team to possess. In that case, it's not a bad idea to stock up on Five-Hour Energy, pull a few all-nighters and leave everything on the field in order to deliver something amazing in a short time. Basically, you're running into the outfield wall to make an incredible catch. And, logic would tell you that it's inadvisable to keep doing that long term. If your job, or success, frequently depends on energy drinks and all-nighters, you're pretty much toast. If Puig keeps going face-first into walls, eventually he's going to end up on the disabled list. When your goal is to guide your team over a long-term time horizon, you need to stay on the field. That means being smart and wily-like the old bull - or a longtime baseball veteran. Where could moderating your energy or tempering your willingness to crash into walls actually fire up your team's performance?

If you've followed baseball recently, you've heard about Yasiel Puig. The Cuban-defector playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers has been setting the world on fire since his debut in June: hitting over .400, setting all-time records for hitting, running into walls, and basically playing like a 23-year-old possessed. He's become an obsession for the entire island of Cuba.

Here's my question - is it better to go a thousand miles an hour with your hair on fire for as long as you can, like Puig, or to pace yourself, conserve your energy and avoid getting hurt? Going all-out and burning your candle at both ends might thrill your fans and fire up your team, but is it the best way to achieve your goals?

Answer - it depends. Depends on your talent. Depends on your goal. Depends on team needs. It truly depends. In Puig's case, when he was called up to the majors to join the Dodgers, the team sporting the highest payroll in the history of the game was languishing in last place and showing few signs of life. Today, barely a month later they are challenging for first place in their division and have righted their ship, largely sparked by the energy and heroics of Puig.

Sometimes, a leader's job is to inspire his or her team and demonstrate the pedal-to-the-metal commitment that he or she wants the team to possess. In that case, it's not a bad idea to stock up on Five-Hour Energy, pull a few all-nighters and leave everything on the field in order to deliver something amazing in a short time. Basically, you're running into the outfield wall to make an incredible catch.

And, logic would tell you that it's inadvisable to keep doing that long term. If your job, or success, frequently depends on energy drinks and all-nighters, you're pretty much toast. If Puig keeps going face-first into walls, eventually he's going to end up on the disabled list. When your goal is to guide your team over a long-term time horizon, you need to stay on the field. That means being smart and wily-like the old bull - or a longtime baseball veteran.

Where could moderating your energy or tempering your willingness to crash into walls actually fire up your team's performance?

7.15.13 0
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Traffic Jams on Everest

Dr. Foster Mobley // Quotables, Sports, Wisdom Leading

Recently, famed mountaineer Conrad Anker said something about Mount Everest that was probably the last thing you would expect to hear about the fabled mountain: it's overcrowded! It turns out that hordes of well-heeled adventure tourists are making their way up the mountain in record numbers, aided by guide companies that will get even marginally qualified climbers to the summit-for the right price. As a result, says, Anker, "If you're going to Everest for that pristine, I'm-in-the-mountains [experience], it's not the place to go." He also points out that climbers have left an unfortunate sign of their passing: tons of garbage, which doesn't biodegrade in the frigid Himalayan temperatures. I find that to be a fascinating metaphor for the way we leave our mark on the environments we enter and how those marks endure, sometimes for years. A leader immersed in the dynamics of a team or organization is like the mountaineer ascending Everest. The environment may appear forbidding and invulnerable (a team made up of veteran salespeople, for example), but beneath the exterior crust, it's surprisingly fragile. Just as oxygen bottles, food containers and medical supplies may remain beneath Everest's ice for decades, careless words or inappropriate anger may leave marks on the psyches of even the toughest professionals. We must always consider what we leave behind when we climb into the rarified air of leadership. What lasting marks are you leaving on your people?

Recently, famed mountaineer Conrad Anker said something about Mount Everest that was probably the last thing you would expect to hear about the fabled mountain: it's overcrowded! It turns out that hordes of well-heeled adventure tourists are making their way up the mountain in record numbers, aided by guide companies that will get even marginally qualified climbers to the summit-for the right price.

As a result, says, Anker, "If you're going to Everest for that pristine, I'm-in-the-mountains [experience], it's not the place to go." He also points out that climbers have left an unfortunate sign of their passing: tons of garbage, which doesn't biodegrade in the frigid Himalayan temperatures. I find that to be a fascinating metaphor for the way we leave our mark on the environments we enter and how those marks endure, sometimes for years.

A leader immersed in the dynamics of a team or organization is like the mountaineer ascending Everest. The environment may appear forbidding and invulnerable (a team made up of veteran salespeople, for example), but beneath the exterior crust, it's surprisingly fragile. Just as oxygen bottles, food containers and medical supplies may remain beneath Everest's ice for decades, careless words or inappropriate anger may leave marks on the psyches of even the toughest professionals.

We must always consider what we leave behind when we climb into the rarified air of leadership.

What lasting marks are you leaving on your people?

6.24.13 0
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Sometimes, commitment is its own reward

Dr. Foster Mobley // Sports, Wisdom Leading

The 2013 Women's College Softball World Series started on May 30. As you may know, I have a long history of involvement with the sport, and most recently with the UCLA softball team, so I take great interest in this tournament. Countless things impress me about the young women who come to the tournament to try and win the national championship for their schools: their talent, their passion, and their discipline. And I'm impressed most by what drives them - these young women work so hard with the near certainty that they will not receive any reward beyond the joy of competition, love of school, love of team and concern for each other. There's one women's professional softball league in the U.S.: National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). It has four teams. The players make from $4,000 to $25,000 a season. Unlike male college athletes in basketball, football and baseball, there's little chance of a monetary payoff at the end of the rainbow. Even a possible Olympic team berth, recently a renewed possibility for 2020, offers little beyond the prospect of competing for their country; Olympic softballers seldom get the endorsement opportunities of gymnasts, women's soccer players, swimmers, and figure skaters. No, if you're competing at the highest levels of college softball, you're working and sweating and sacrificing for excellence for intrinsic rewards. That's why I believe that these women are such wonderful examples of wisdom. They know they aren't going to get huge shoe contracts or TV commercials, and it doesn't matter. They simply want to be there for each other and to perform at the highest levels possible. I've seen what happens when everyone on a team shares those same values, and it's extraordinary. Watch the finals of the 2013 Women's College Softball World Series beginning tonight if you can. You'll see some amazing future leaders in action. Do the rewards in your organization promote real excellence?

The 2013 Women's College Softball World Series started on May 30th. As you may know, I have a long history of involvement with the sport, and most recently with the UCLA softball team, so I take great interest in this tournament. Countless things impress me about the young women who come to the tournament to try and win the national championship for their schools: their talent, their passion, and their discipline. And I'm impressed most by what drives them - these young women work so hard with the near certainty that they will not receive any reward beyond the joy of competition, love of school, love of team, and concern for each other.

There's one women's professional softball league in the U.S.: National Pro Fastpitch (NPF). It has four teams. The players make from $4,000 to $25,000 a season. Unlike male college athletes in basketball, football and baseball, there's little chance of a monetary payoff at the end of the rainbow. Even a possible Olympic team berth, recently a renewed possibility for 2020, offers little beyond the prospect of competing for their country; Olympic softballers seldom get the endorsement opportunities of gymnasts, women's soccer players, swimmers, and figure skaters.

No, if you're competing at the highest levels of college softball, you're working and sweating and sacrificing for excellence for intrinsic rewards. That's why I believe that these women are such wonderful examples of wisdom. They know they aren't going to get huge shoe contracts or TV commercials, and it doesn't matter. They simply want to be there for each other and to perform at the highest levels possible. I've seen what happens when everyone on a team shares those same values, and it's extraordinary.

Watch the finals of the 2013 Women's College Softball World Series beginning tonight if you can. You'll see some amazing future leaders in action.

Do the rewards in your organization promote real excellence?

6.3.13 0
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Dr. Foster Mobley

Trusted advisor and coach to admired executives globally for 3 decades, Thought leader on wisdom-based approaches to breakthrough leading, "Lead Coach" for Deloitte's experienced and high potential leader development, Team performance advisor to two NCAA championship teams