By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital
September 19, 2004
Years ago, a relatively unknown actor played a small part in a Broadway
play. He had no speaking role, but his presence on stage was supposed to
connote power and wisdom. The actor was playing the President of the
United States. He had to project presidential-ness and exude power, all
without saying a word.
Interestingly, this unknown actor, the one with no speaking lines, was given
the largest dressing room on the set. The presidential seal adorned the
door. During and between rehearsals, every other actor and stagehand
referred to him as 'Mr. President.'
The director knew that to play the most powerful man on earth, the actor
needed to be treated like the most powerful man in the play.
In any business, how people perceive themselves goes a long way in
determining their performance.
I thought about this after spending a day with Julie Thompson, principal at
Carter Elementary School. Teaching, whether it is done in a classroom or
at the dinner table, is about the respectful, disciplined mentoring relationship
between individuals. I saw a group of women (and three men) dedicated to
teaching and inspiring young kids. The walls were full of provocative
messages about enthusiasm, responsibility and performance. These placards
were the type that typically found in a football locker room.
If the Knox County school system budget increased from $310 million to $330
million would the teachers work harder or care more deeply? Of course
not. But how differently would those teachers feel about themselves if the
community made a collective statement that we highly value their work? An
extra $20 million dollars might buy little more than a few more computers or
construction paper. In the big scheme of things, those marginal benefits
are minimal and short-lived. But imagine the impact on the people ' and
eventually the children ' if we did the equivalent of placing every teacher in
the star's dressing room and referred to them in hollowed, reverent terms?
What if we said, 'we highly value your work and this objective?'
There are all sorts of power plays and political wrangling between the county
taxing and school spending authorities. I am far removed from those
struggles and do not profess to understand those dynamics. But I do know
how people react when you tell them that they are important, skilled, effective
and deserving of support and admiration. There are multiple ways to do
that on an
individual level, but as a community, about the only way we can do
that is with money. If you constantly tell a child or a teacher that he is
deficient, underperforming, undeserving and a second-class priority, he will
eventually believe you. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Imagine if
football coaches tried to inspire players, while at the same time they had to
beg for adequate practice facilities or had to buy their own whistles.
The Sermon on the Mount, as recorded in the book of Matthew, makes an
interesting observation: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).