At the turn of the Twentieth Century, a newly ordained minister was traveling through the Ozarks of Southern Missouri and made what became a momentous observation. More than a new church, what was most needed was a secondary school that would meet the needs of the rural, poor, farm families of the region. Thus began the dream that quickly became reality in 1906 with the founding of The School of the Ozarks. James Forsythe’s founding principle was based on the strong work ethic found in abundance among the hard scrabble youth that would form the student body. The school would be largely self supporting with the students providing the labor. Fifty five years later, I showed up. During the next four years, I acquired all of what became my work ethic, most of what I know about leadership and a lifelong belief in the synergism of the two.
I arrived on a Sunday afternoon in late June 1961. I was already late, since most new students had arrived by the end of May and had already completed 150 of the 540 hours of work required by September to pay for their tuition. That evening, I attended Sunday Evening vespers, which was required of all students. At the time, Dr. Robert M. Good, President Emeritus and leader of the School through the hard years of the Great Depression and World War II spoke to us on the importance of a strong work ethic in every individual’s character. I don’t remember everything he said, but I do remember his concluding remark. With his ever infectious grin and that twinkle in his eye, he said, “Boys and girls, you have to work and work hard to get by in this old world.” The next morning I received my first work assignment and began the practical application portion of “Doc” Good’s lesson.
Over the next four years of high school, I worked 540 hours each summer to pay tuition and 20 hours each week during the academic year to pay for my room and board. Most of that time, I worked on “The Farm.” Since it’s founding, The School of the Ozarks operates a farm to provide most of the food consumed in its very busy dining hall. We raised beef cattle, hogs, chickens, and turkeys and we also produced eggs, fresh vegetables for the canning factory and dining hall, and all the hay and grain for the livestock. It was a large operation that kept about 40 boys busy from 5:00 AM to 5:00 PM, morning feeding to evening feeding, 365 days a year. And that was a normal day! Our leader was the work supervisor, LtCol. Ray Stark, US Army (Retired). “Colonel” Stark knew how to lead young men and he knew how to teach leadership. Most of the lessons in leadership that I will share with you, I learned from him.
It’s not an easy task to keep 40 energetic young men busy every day. We only had two tractors and one truck so most of us were involved in very manual labor most of the time. My plight was worse as I was the smallest boy on the farm and Mrs. Stark took a special interest in my welfare. She would send the “Colonel” out the kitchen door each morning with the strong admonition, “Now you keep that little Hughey boy away from the machinery. I don’t want him to get hurt!” As a result, I spent many long hot summer days on the end of a hoe or a swing blade.
Such work didn’t require a lot of mental concentration. It was boring and mundane, but it gave me ample opportunity to think about my current situation and its impact on my future. In addition to realizing that this was not what I wanted to be doing the rest of my life, I began to develop my personal values. Through hard work, I developed the core values that would make me an effective leader.
Steadfast personal values are the foundation of effective leadership. Personal values, clearly communicated, consistently demonstrated and mutually shared among all members of a team provide the cohesion for the unity of effort required to accomplish a task, objective, or mission. A leader’s vision establishes the destination but it is his or her mutually shared personal values that determine and stay the organization’s course.
Developing mutually shared values is a challenge and it is also the leader’s responsibility. It is the leader’s greatest responsibility.