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7 Questions on Leadership with Mike Cobb


Name: Mike Cobb


Title: Senior Manager of the NEOM Baccalaureate and Interim Head of NEOM Community Schools


Organisation: NEOM


Mike Cobb is an esteemed educator with an illustrious career spanning over 34 years, during which he has been at the forefront of educational innovation and transformation.


A visionary and charismatic leader, Mike has dedicated his life to shaping the future of education and empowering students to achieve their full potential.


Throughout his career, Mike has been driven by a profound passion for helping students not only excel academically but also experience cognitive, social, and emotional growth. He firmly believes that education should foster an environment that promotes authenticity, agency, and agile frameworks for deeper learning.


Mike's diverse background in education has taken him through various settings, including U.S. Independent Schools, international schools, and a significant leadership role in the NEOM project. As a Head of School, he has demonstrated an exceptional ability to inspire and motivate both educators and students, cultivating a positive and dynamic learning environment.


Beyond his role as a school leader, Mike has also excelled in several other areas of education. He has contributed significantly as a campus-wide program developer, designing innovative curricula that resonate across cultures and engage learners from diverse backgrounds. Furthermore, his expertise as a classroom teacher has allowed him to connect directly with students and shape their educational experiences firsthand.


Mike's influence extends beyond the confines of his own school, as he has also become an internationally recognized speaker on education. He leverages his knowledge and insights to inspire educators, administrators, and policymakers worldwide, advocating for an education system that empowers learners as inquisitive problem-solvers and pioneers of the future.


Embracing a new vision of education, Mike Cobb envisions a system that is agile, relevant across cultures, and respectful of the dignity of each learner. He firmly believes in nurturing a learning environment that encourages students to retain their curiosity and develop critical thinking skills essential for success in an ever-evolving world.


In summary, Mike Cobb is a true education visionary, a leader who leaves an indelible mark on the lives of countless students, educators, and educational institutions. Through his dedication and passion, he continues to shape the landscape of education, paving the way for a brighter and more enlightened future.


Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!


I hope Mike's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Cheers,

Jonno White



1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?


As a school leader some of the biggest challenges center on the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) nature of the ever-changing and unpredictable landscape that school leaders have to navigate.


Volatility: School leaders often face rapid and unexpected changes in the educational landscape. These changes can be related to policies, technology, funding, student demographics, or societal shifts. Adapting to these changes while maintaining stability and continuity can be demanding.


Uncertainty: Educational institutions are affected by various uncertainties, such as shifting political priorities, evolving educational methodologies, and global events like pandemics or economic fluctuations. Leaders must make decisions without complete information, which can create stress and the need for agile problem-solving.


Complexity: School leadership involves managing multifaceted systems with numerous stakeholders, including students, parents, teachers, staff, and the community. Each stakeholder group comes with its own set of expectations, needs, and challenges, making decision-making and communication complex tasks.


Ambiguity: In the education sector, leaders often encounter ambiguous situations where there are no clear-cut answers or solutions. Balancing the needs of diverse stakeholders, while staying true to the school's mission and values, can lead to ambiguity in decision-making.


School leaders also face external pressures, such as budget constraints, accountability measures, and the demand for continuous improvement. Navigating these pressures while maintaining a positive learning environment can be a delicate balancing act.


Managing human interactions and relationships can be particularly challenging. Addressing conflicts, fostering a positive culture, and motivating stakeholders toward common goals require strong emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills.


2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?


My leadership journey mirrors that of the Karate Kid, where I learned the intricacies of school life through hands-on experiences through everyday tasks. Starting as a teacher and coach, I immersed myself in the classroom, understanding the nuances of student engagement and educational methodologies.


As I progressed, I took on divisional leadership, gaining insight into the complexities of managing different grade levels and academic programs. This journey continued as I ventured into admissions and enrollment, where I honed my ability to connect with prospective students and their families, understanding their needs and aspirations.


Each step of the way, I absorbed valuable lessons, much like Daniel-san absorbed the wisdom of Mr. Miyagi. As I moved on to the Head of School roles, I found myself drawing from the diverse experiences I had accumulated – from teaching, coaching, and divisional leadership to admissions and enrollment.


Just as Daniel-san's seemingly mundane tasks translated into invaluable karate skills, my journey through various roles provided me with a comprehensive understanding of school operations, strategy, and the significance of a cohesive learning community.


But my journey didn't stop there. Inspired by a passion for transformative education, I pushed beyond the familiar boundaries of tradition school environments. I sought to become an advocate for relevant and agile learning.


My leadership journey continues to evolve, fueled by a commitment to empowering learners as inquisitive problem-solvers and pioneers of the future. Like the Karate Kid, I embrace each challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow, forever committed to enhancing the educational experience for students and educators alike.


3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?


As a school leader, I embrace a structured and intentional approach to my workday, placing a strong emphasis on priorities and relationship-building. I follow the adage "people by day, paper by night," recognizing the significance of prioritizing human interactions during the day and dedicating administrative tasks to the evening.


My mornings often begin with a focus on connecting with your team and staff members. I prioritize face-to-face interactions, engaging in open-door conversations with teachers, staff, and students.


These discussions allow me to listen to their needs, understand their concerns, and offer support where necessary. Building strong relationships with my school community is essential to foster a positive and collaborative environment.


Throughout the day, I allocate specific time slots for strategic meetings and collaboration with other school leaders. I purposefully structure these meetings to using agile processes to address key priorities and challenges, ensuring that each participant's time is respected and utilized efficiently.


Lunchtime provides an opportunity to interact with students in a more relaxed setting. I visit the cafeteria or other communal areas, engaging in conversations with students to understand their perspectives and experiences. This intentional approach to student interaction fosters a sense of belonging and trust within the school community.


As the afternoon progresses, I set aside time for instructional rounds, observing classroom activities, and engaging with teachers about their teaching practices. These observations allow me to provide constructive feedback, recognize exceptional efforts, and identify opportunities for professional development.


Towards the end of the school day, I reserve time for addressing urgent matters that may have arisen during the day, ensuring that any immediate concerns are dealt with promptly.


In the evening, I shift your focus to administrative tasks, using this time for paperwork, data analysis, and strategic planning. This intentional scheduling allows me to manage administrative responsibilities efficiently without compromising the relational aspects of your role.


4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?


Recently I have been reminded of the vital role respect, accountability, and trust play in building innovative and creative cultures. As I observed a team of educators working on a collaborative project, I noticed how the atmosphere of mutual respect and trust nurtured a sense of safety and willingness to take a risk.


This environment empowered team members to freely express their ideas, take calculated risks, and contribute to the collective vision without fear of judgment. Additionally, the emphasis on accountability ensured that everyone held themselves and each other responsible for their contributions.


This combination of respect, accountability, and trust not only fostered creativity and innovation but also strengthened the team's cohesion and willingness to experiment with new approaches.


As a leader, I was reminded that nurturing such a culture is foundational to unlocking the potential of both individuals and the entire organization, creating a dynamic learning environment that fuels continuous growth and achievement.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?


The books "Atomic Habits" by James Clear, "Scrum" by Jeff Sutherland, and "The Art of Community" by Charles Vogl have had a profound impact on my leadership, transforming my approach and effectiveness in guiding educational institution.


"Atomic Habits" highlights the significance of small, incremental changes and how they can lead to powerful transformations. By implementing the principles of habit formation, I have worked to foster a culture of continuous improvement among my team.


These habits have been instrumental in shaping the school's vision and goals, allowing everyone to make consistent progress towards achieving them.


"Scrum" introduced you to an agile framework for project management and collaboration. Embracing Scrum principles, I have streamlined decision-making processes, enhanced communication within my team, and prioritized tasks efficiently.


This agile approach has made my school leadership more adaptable to changes and better equipped to respond to the evolving needs of the educational landscape.


"The Art of Community" emphasizes the importance of building strong, inclusive communities within organizations. Drawing from the book's insights, I have cultivated a sense of belonging and trust among my staff, parents, and students.


By fostering a collaborative and supportive environment, I have empowered everyone to contribute to the school's growth and success, creating a thriving educational community.


The importance of these books lies in their practical and actionable advice, which I have integrated into my leadership style. Together, they have enabled me to create a dynamic, innovative, and compassionate learning culture that values continuous improvement, embraces change, and prioritizes the well-being and engagement of all stakeholders.


6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?


One piece of advice I would give to a young leader is to never stop learning and growing. Embrace a growth mindset and be open to new experiences, challenges, and feedback.


Seek out opportunities for professional development, whether through formal education, mentorship, or hands-on experiences. Continuously strive to improve your skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities. Remember that leadership is a journey, and it's okay to make mistakes and learn from them.


Stay curious, adaptable, and committed to your personal and professional growth. By continuously learning, you'll become a more effective and influential leader, making a positive impact on those you lead and the organizations you serve.


7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?


Working with thousands of students, parents, and teachers along the path of self-discovery and leadership has been an incredibly transformative and fulfilling journey. Each interaction and experience has left an indelible mark on my life, shaping me into the leader I am today.


The relationships built with students have been the heart and soul of this incredible impact. Witnessing their growth, seeing them overcome challenges, and celebrating their achievements have been the most rewarding aspects of my work.


Being a part of their educational journey, walking with them through their self-discovery process, and watching them flourish have been moments of profound joy and pride.


Engaging with parents has been equally meaningful. Collaborating with them to support their child's development, addressing their concerns, and celebrating the triumphs together have strengthened the sense of community and trust within the school.


The partnership with parents has taught me the value of effective communication, empathy, and the importance of involving families in their child's education.


Working alongside dedicated teachers has been the ultimate inspiration. Collaborating with passionate educators, exchanging ideas, and witnessing their dedication to fostering a love for learning have reinforced my belief in the power of an authentic learning experience.


Seeing teachers grow and flourish in their own professional development has also been a gift as I have witnessed so many seize opportunities for growth.


Through these collective experiences, I have discovered the immense power of relationships in nurturing an inclusive and transformative learning environment. The impact of working with thousands of students, parents, and teachers has been a catalyst for my own growth and self-discovery as a person.


It has taught me the importance of empathy, resilience, and adaptability in leadership. These experiences have fueled my passion, motivating me to continue striving for positive change and growth in the lives of those I serve.


Ultimately, this journey has been a profound reminder of the privilege and responsibility that comes with leadership. It has shown me that leadership is not just about guiding others; it's also about continuously learning from them and allowing their experiences to shape our own path of growth.


As I continue on this incredible journey, I am humbled by the transformative impact I've witnessed and the boundless possibilities that lie ahead for both myself and those I have the privilege to lead and inspire.

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