Do you know the current birth rate in America today? The U.S. fertility rate fell to the lowest point since record keeping started more than a century ago, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That’s almost unbelievable.

In 1909, the government began keeping track of what’s called the fertility rate. The general fertility rate is the number of births out of 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44. The U.S. birth rate dipped in 2011 to the lowest ever recorded, led by a plunge in births to immigrant women since the onset of the Great Recession. According to CNN, the first three months of 2016 saw fertility rate in the U.S. fall to its lowest level; 59.8 births per 1,000 women.

While this trend is intriguing, I just read the latest statistic, which stopped me in my tracks.

As of last month, August 2016, America had the lowest birth rate of any point in recorded history. Lower than the Seniors, the Builder Generation, the Baby Boomers, Generation X or the Millennials. Women are choosing something other than raising children as a path to the life they want.

What Does This Mean?


There has been a real shift in our view of children and parenting over the last decade. The Millennial Generation is the largest generation in U.S. history, at 80 million strong. (They’re young adults today). Right in the middle of their generation, more children were born in America in 1991 than any other year in recorded history. Today, however, we’ve swung to our lowest fertility and birth rates—just as the largest generation in history steps into the typical age of parenting.

So, why are we not having kids?

1. Women are choosing careers over kids.

Millions of families now believe they cannot enjoy the standard of living they want without two incomes in the home. Additionally, many women would say they enjoy a career more than they’d enjoy raising a child—and it’s tough to do both.

2. The economy often restricts couples from having children.

Sometimes the choice not to have children (or to have less children) is not just about the desire for an affluent standard of living. Some couples would say they simply cannot afford to bring another person into their family and provide for them.

3. Many are choosing a single life, instead of a family.

I’ve written before on the growing number of people living and dining alone. While this may lead to lots of new realities, one certain reality is the difficulty of having a child in the home with no caring adult to raise it. Hence, fewer kids.

4. Parenting children is, perhaps, the most taxing task an adult can do.

Parenting is not for the faint of heart. It requires patience and resilience, strength and emotional intelligence—at least if you want to do it well. In today’s world, that’s a trade off many don’t want to make. It’s just hard work.

Can we ponder the various outcomes of this reality?

What This Means to Us . . .

Study the nations around the world that are not replacing the adult population, and you can see trouble ahead. For years, many of us have watched Japan’s birth rate drop—and lead to fears over whether they’ll be enough young people to fund the millions who are retiring, much less the economy’s need to produce. Japan sells more adult diapers than baby diapers. Last year, Germany passed up Japan as the nation with the lowest birth rate. A study, reported by the BBC, says Germany’s birth rate has slumped to the lowest in the world, prompting fears that labor market shortages will damage the economy. Not far behind are Portugal and Italy.

Is America heading in this direction, with a sagging economy already?

In our nation, we are experiencing “two hills and two valleys.” In other words, two generations are very large, while two generations are much smaller. The retiring generation (Boomers) are 76 million strong. They are retiring at a rate of 10,000 a day. Generation X is smaller in size. (This generation started with the birth control pill). Next, the Millennials number 80 million in size, currently the largest generation in American history. But today, Generation Z is much smaller again, numbering about 59 million, depending on what year you believe their generation began.

Globally, the nations that have the highest birth rates are developing nations. Most of them can be found in Africa, with Niger at the top of the list. So, countries that are economically developed are not having as many babies. But the poorest seem to be having the most babies—89.7% of people under 30 live in developing economies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa. This could be trouble for our world economy as well as our ability to educate and prepare them to compete in the marketplace.

Our “To Do” List

  1. Let’s be intentional about parenting and educating the children we currently have.
  1. Let’s find ways to help educate and mentor children and families in poor nations.
  1. Let’s find ways (if possible) to live on less and raise larger families very well.
  1. Let’s explore adopting children who need good homes and families.
  1. Let’s see the big picture and make the most of every young person around us.

To be clear, just because the fertility rate is decreasing, it doesn’t necessarily mean the US population is going to shrink. The rate of growth may be slower, but the population is still expected to increase, according to CNN. I am certain, however, that our future depends on how well we parent and educate our children today.

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

Now that my kids are grown adults, I feel more comfortable teaching both parents and faculty the art of leading young people into healthy maturity. Like many parents, my experience raising my first child enabled me to relax a bit on my second child. We tend to obsess at the tiniest quirk in our first baby, and by child number three, we’re not as stressed. In fact, I just read this sequence and chuckled at its familiarity:

  • First child eats dirt. Parent calls the doctor immediately.
  • Second child eats dirt. Parent cleans out his mouth.
  • Third child eats dirt. Parents wonder if they really need to feed him lunch.

After careful reflection and gathering data, I now offer some recommendations on some common parental or faculty behaviors we must replace. I learned these over the years and these shifts have made all the difference in the world as I lead students.

1. Motivation: We must replace FEAR with WISDOM.

Our generation of parents are riddled with fear. We’re scared our kids won’t make the honor roll; they’ll get pregnant; they’ll get abducted, you name it. Even though research shows that “stranger abduction” only represents one-hundredth of one percent of all missing children, we fret like it happens in our town every day. School shootings scare us into keeping our kids close and in view at all times. Imagine the message this sends to our young: The world is evil! Don’t take any risks. Never trust anyone. It’s enough to produce the most anxious population of American teens to date. So here’s my question: what if we replaced motivating kids with feelings of fear with encouraging them by using words of wisdom. Simply offering logical wisdom for each decision completely reframes their attitude and stifles their inner fear. Let’s be rational, not emotional.

Fear-based Parent: You can’t walk to the mall! The traffic is horrible; you might get hit by a car and killed!

Wisdom-based Parent: You can walk to the mall if you’re with Ben or Collin. Be sure to look both ways before crossing the street. Text me when you get there.

2. Evaluation: We must replace a focus on GRADES with a focus on GROWTH.

I changed the way I spoke to my kids about their report cards when my daughter turned 12. Prior to that time, I was like most parents. If she made three A’s, two B’s and a D . . . I focused on the D. I talked to her about her weaknesses. It was not fun. Once I began gazing at her high grades and talking about what she liked about those classes, we both had a better attitude with which to conquer the D. Too often, we’re misguided and create stress in our children. We measure the wrong things. Our focus should be on strengths, not struggles: where are they growing and thriving? This is where they’ll likely spend time in their careers. Let’s obsess over growth, not grades.

Grade-obsessed Parent: Why didn’t you make all A’s? What’s this C doing on your report card? You’re not going to get that scholarship!

Growth-obsessed Parent: Let’s explore the subjects where you were strong. Wow—look how you’ve grown! I love how you’ve improved in science.

3. Schedules: We must replace CLUTTER with SIMPLICITY.

According to Dr. Robert Leahy, the average teen today has the same level of anxiety as a psychiatric patient did in the early 1950s. Stress levels have continued to climb for more than seventy years. This is absurd. Part of our problem is the complications we face daily. Noise. Screens. Busyness. Information. Pings. I believe humans are not hardwired to consume the volume of data we do each day. We need margins for our mental and emotional health. What if you became more intentional about clearing the calendar and creating space for unsupervised play or relaxation? What if you made your students choose one or two activities and not do them all? Research tells us that when our days have margins we actually develop empathy and creativity.

Cluttered-life Parent: Quick, suit up or we’ll be late for your soccer practice, piano lesson and karate match. Hurry, we don’t have time to mess around.

Simplified-life Parent: Let’s plan to participate in just one extra-curricular activity this fall. It will leave time for family, house chores and unscheduled fun.

4. Identity: We must replace UNCONTROLLABLES with CONTROLLABLES.

Stanford psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck taught me this. In her book, Mindset, she suggests we naturally tend to have a “fixed mindset.” We assume if we make a bad grade in math, we’re just not good at math. It’s a fixed fact. Or, we just aren’t good readers, or good communicators. She says we must cultivate a “growth mindset” in our students. We must treat our brains like a muscle that can grow. Then, parents and instructors must focus on encouraging variables that are in their control, not out of their control. Instead of flattering them for their beauty, we affirm their integrity, which is much more in their control. When we encourage controllable qualities, we empower our young to grow and encourage good priorities. What gets rewarded gets repeated.

Fixed-mindset Parent: You’re just not good at math; you just aren’t a natural student. Your sister is the smart one in the family.

Growth-mindset Parent: You may not be good at math . . . yet, but one day you will be. And I do appreciate your honesty and I love the empathy you show your friends.

5. Feedback: We must replace emphasizing BEHAVIOR with emphasizing BELIEF.

I recently met with a focus group of parents. While they were all very engaged in their role as moms and dads, one reality surfaced that surprised me. It was the level of anger they expressed toward their kids—short tempers, bursts of emotion, sometimes loud yelling. This tends to equate to punishing our children when they misbehave instead of disciplining them. We look backward and retaliate instead of looking forward and incentivizing better behavior. When offering feedback, my kids respond far better when I speak from “belief” in them. This means I convey the thought: “I know you’re better than what you just did.” When I correct students because I’m convinced they’re capable of more, I call out the best in them, rather than the worst. Too many kids are fragile and need us to get this one right.

Behavior-based Parent: I can’t believe you did that. What is wrong with you? You never get that task right!

Belief-based Parent: I’m giving you this feedback because I know you’re capable of exceeding my expectations. I’ve seen what you can do.

Here’s to replacing our human tendencies with visionary leadership.

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

An AP high school teacher recently said to me: “I’ve been asked to teach history, science and math over my career, but I don’t get the chance to teach the most important subject that will enable my students to succeed in life!”

“What’s that?” I inquired.

He frowned, and sighed, “Social emotional learning.”

What Is Social Emotional Learning?


It’s become a buzzword today, as we discover that test scores are not enough to prepare our students for a career. According to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic and Social Emotional Learning), social emotional learning is “the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.”

It sounds so elementary, but it’s as profound as a school course can get. Am I serious? You bet I am. It’s one of the reasons I founded Growing Leaders in 2003. Life skills and leadership are absolutely necessary in both K-12 and higher education, but we’ve treated it as if it were a luxury or an elective. Consider these realities:

  • Students participating in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs scored an average of 11 percent more on achievement tests. That’s measurable. SEL programs improved students’ academic performance by 11 to 17 percentile points.
  • Participants of SEL programs were more likely to complete high school (91% to be exact) and have lower rates of depression, PTSD, anxiety, and social phobia.
  • Participants of SEL programs had significantly lower rate of violence and heavy alcohol use. In short, the habits and disciplines were healthier.
  • Psychologists believe that if schools taught students to work well with others, regulate emotions and constructively solve problems, students would be better equipped to deal with life’s challenges, including academic ones.
  • In a survey, 93% of teachers said that they want more focus on social emotional learning in schools. They recognize how important it is.

Aren’t Teachers Doing This Already in High School and College?

To be sure, some faculty naturally weave this into their subject in the classroom. However, due to the pressure to raise test scores, many teachers feel the necessity to neglect the very “life skills” they know will prepare a student for life and leadership in order to “teach for the test.” They don’t like it, but it’s part of today’s educational landscape. Unfortunately, here are the results of this lack of SEL:

  • Only 29% of 6-12th graders say that their school provides a caring and encouraging environment.
  • 30% of high school students say they engage in high risk behaviors (sex, substance use, violence, suicidal thoughts).
  • 10% of students suffer from a mental illness that prevents them from functioning at home, school, or in their community.
  • 70-80% of students don’t receive the mental health care they need. This is due to a school failing to value SEL for students.
  • Compared to control groups, students who participate in SEL programs have significantly better school attendance records, less disruptive classroom behavior, like school more, and perform better in school. They also reduced anti-social, violent, and drug-using behaviors.

I believe teachers in every generation recognize the need for social emotional learning and cultivating emotional intelligence in their students. Today, however, our teachers often don’t feel they have a chance to have this conversation with students.

Teaching Social and Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence can be developed, and it must start with us, the adults. We must model for our students the essence of EQ:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship management

Envision for a moment what your students could look like if you took time to build these qualities in them. What if you added “soft skills” to all the “hard skills” you attempt to build in them? What if your interaction in class taught them not only “what to say” but “how to say it?” What if before you taught the “what” of your lesson plan, you affirmed “why” you believe in your students’ future? What if you got beyond merely what to remember and taught them how to think? What if your classroom went from looking like a factory assembly line (rows of desks) to a Starbucks (various tables and chairs) scattered around? What if your focus went past “knowing the answer,” and taught “how to deliver the answer?” What if your class covered not only how to get results but how to build relationships? This is precisely what the content is about in Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, courses one and two.

This is also one of our chief topics at the National Leadership Forum 2017. Join us in Atlanta to discover how you can weave social emotional learning into your work with students.

KIPP’s Network of over 200 Charter Schools rate of college completion by its student rose from 25% to 44% after implementing a Social Emotional Learning program. What could happen where you are?

Looking to try social emotional learning with your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

For me, baseball offers so many pictures of real life. It’s about thinking and timing; consistency and strategy. The game of baseball is about both strategy and luck . . . and of course, spotting and developing talent. And nobody knew how to do that more than Brooklyn Dodgers executive, Branch Rickey.

Mr. Rickey is credited with inventing modern baseball. One way he turned it into the business it is today was by creating the “farm system.” In 1918, World War 1 had just ended and economic times were hard. Few teams had the cash to simply purchase big talent. Hard times demanded that talent be cultivated. A baseball team could find talent on another professional club, but to woo them away and purchase them was hard and expensive. “Why not grow your own?” Mr. Rickey asked. Why not generate a steady supply of talent that you can choose from, and then sell off the excess at a nice profit? This led to today’s baseball “farm system.”

Lessons We Can Learn About a Leadership Pipeline


Journalist Kevin Kerrane writes, “The competition among so many young players in the system operated as a kind of natural selection, and it kept constant pressure on the veterans at the top.” Let me offer nine action steps we can learn from Branch Rickey and apply to the development of a leadership “farm system” today:

1. Assemble a cadre of “talent and potential” scouts.

Branch Rickey was a master at figuring out what system worked, and then finding people to implement it. He knew how to spot talent, but more importantly, how to spot people who could spot talent. Charlie Barrett was hired by Branch Rickey to sift through all kinds of dirt to find the gold. By 1920, Rickey had assembled a team of “talent spotters” like Jack Ryan, Carl Lundgren, Pop Kelchner, Joe Mathes, Fred Hunter and his own brother, Frank, who became his right-hand man.

2. Identify and cultivate the places you’ll find the best pool of potential.

Branch Rickey and Charlie Barrett created the first “tryout camp” in 1919. It was here his team of scouts could examine and analyze the young talent who showed up. The scouts looked everywhere, youth sandlots, mill teams and town teams, for “an arm behind the barn.” The key was to find it early for two reasons. First, it was easier to sign a young player with immature talent. Second, they were moldable, and not set in their ways. This idea of a “farm system” began to take off in 1919, when Branch Rickey was president, general manager and field manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

3. Determine the essentials you’re looking for most of all.

Mr. Rickey created a list of the primary tools a player needed. He said speed is the one common denominator for both offense and defense. He felt it was the best predictor of major league potential. Fielding was least important. He felt you can teach that. The key question was: What internal qualities and external skills are indicators of big potential? The goal is to accumulate a bunch of them, knowing the cream will rise to the top. Rickey called this the “quality of quantity.”

4. Coordinate a pipeline system of development.

Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to create or locate environments where those elements can be cultivated. When Rickey bought minor league and amateur clubs, he saw them not only as moneymakers, but talent makers. It worked like subjects in school—there’s third grade math, and then there’s fourth grade math. It’s tougher each time you move up. Growth should be coordinated in a sequence of steps. Rickey believed you must insert increased difficulty into each level of the system. People are developed in every area this way—in baseball and leadership.

5. Summarize the principles you buy into and teach.

Rickey came up with some timeless principles about baseball that his scouts bought into. For instance, he believed speed was everything, even back in the day of home runs. He also believed “an over-striding hitter cannot be corrected.” He taught an arm is the primary tool for a player, both offensively and defensively. He almost made player development a science, and systematized it into transferrable concepts.

6. Transform your manager and coaches into teachers.

Rickey was all about teaching. In essence, he was an instructor and wanted all of his scouts and coaches to see themselves as instructors. It has been said Mr. Rickey “applied scouting insights to teaching and vice versa, and he winnowed prospects by erecting some hypotheses into laws.” The best staff members are teachers at heart. They can articulate principles, model behaviors and help players start habits.

7. Provide to each level greater incentives and rewards.

As the stakes went up with each league, so must the rewards and incentives. Players needed something they didn’t enjoy before to look forward to experiencing. It makes sense that Rookie Ball and Single A players make less than Triple A players. The stadiums and locker rooms are nicer; the travel is better, the experience is superior.

8. Always include character in what you evaluate.

Rickey believed you not only needed talent on the field, but character too. This meant you looked for the right personal habits, vocabulary, intelligence and even diet from young players. He didn’t demand perfection, but all of these elements were factors in the longevity of their shelf life. In fact, when Mr. Rickey decided to hire the first African-American player, Jackie Robinson, he made sure Robinson not only had the talent to play for the Dodgers, but the character to face the hardships, too.

Boy did it pay off.

My questions for you are:

  • What’s your “farm system” to develop emerging leaders?
  • Are the steps clear to anyone who’s interested in their growth?
  • Do you offer enough opportunities for young leaders to take responsibility?

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

Our American athletes just competed the 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio. The U.S. has won a total of 121 medals, more than any other country in the world.

In this article, I want to focus on some helpful insights we can learn about leadership from the track athletes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Specifically, I’d like you to reflect with me on the 4 X 100 relay teams we sponsor every four years.

This event enables me to reflect on the “fails” I’ve experienced as I pass on responsibilities to young adults.

The Relay Team and the Handoff

Our four sprinters usually take their place at the starting blocks as the favored team to win a gold medal. Since 1920, our U.S. relay teams have won more medals than any other country. The American men’s relay team has won gold at 15 of the 21 Olympics held. Since 1932, American women have won as many Olympic gold medals in the 4×100 relay as all other countries combined.

When we’ve lost, however, it is usually at the “handoff.”

It is in times of transition that we are most vulnerable. Like the Olympic relay teams, our problem isn’t competency, it lies in passing the baton to the next runner. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, both our men’s and women’s team dropped the baton and disqualified themselves. It was so disastrous, it prompted the chief executive of USA Track & Field to promise a “comprehensive review” of the entire relay program.

What could be so difficult about passing a 12-inch long cylinder to another skilled athlete? In fact, it’s so simple runners just call it a “stick.”

My answer?

This simple pass is as challenging as most anything can be for humans sprinting on a track. One athlete compared the baton exchange to “two ships passing in the night, but if the ocean were the size of a phone booth.”

Five Secrets to a Successful Leadership Handoff

Batons inspire complex evaluations from people like me, because they symbolize the passing of leadership and responsibility. Like our talented Olympians, we leaders often make shoddy passes to potential leaders we mentor every year. Certainly, our students need to “own” when they don’t accept responsibility, but in this post, I’d like to focus on what we can do better as leaders. Here are the fundamentals required of a successful baton pass.

1. Slow Down

Did you realize that an incoming runner on the Olympic relay team is speeding at 28 mph when he or she enters the passing zone? The outgoing runner is moving at 18 mph, which requires incoming runners to slow down in order to make the handoff. So it is with us. Often, established leaders fail to slow down to develop a young team member as they delegate tasks. We merely do it ourselves or “dump” tasks on others.

Q: Do you slow down and connect with young leaders?

2. Clear Communication

Just like relay teams, we must talk as we pass the baton. When I ran on our school track team, I remember saying “Mustang” as I passed the baton. It was the name of our mascot. Regardless of what is said, we couldn’t mumble or slur our words. Clear and key words must be spoken, just like effective leaders use clear language as they transfer values, skills and qualities to young leaders.

Q: Do young team members feel your directions are fuzzy or clear?

3. Proper Timing

In the Olympics, there is a 20-meter passing zone in which runners can transfer the baton. Approximately 15 meters into that zone is the perfect spot to pass the baton. In the same way, proper timing should mark the passing of responsibility and authority to an emerging leader. To miss on the timing issue can ruin a pass. Timing is everything when it comes to leader development.

Q: Do you dump or delegate? Do you wait till the time is right to empower others?

4. A Firm Pass

In a relay race, the runner with the baton must firmly jam it into the hand of their teammate, while clearly speaking the word. With the spoken word comes the transference of the baton itself. The “hand-off” cannot be pensive or indefinite—in word or deed. This is where mentors often botch things. We say we want to empower young team members, but frequently we fail to truly give them authority to take the project.

Q: Is it hard for you to actually give projects away?

5. Let Go Correctly

This is a second cousin to number four. Leaders must let go. Just like runners with the baton have the “eyes” and must trust teammates to take the baton, we must transfer tasks, power and authority— ultimately ownership. Good leaders multiply. Far too often, however, we fail to let go. Parents don’t let go of their children and leaders don’t let go of their power. This is why companies and families bomb at their ultimate job.

Leaders must always remember: success without a successor is a failure.

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here