Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • A high school female continues to date abusive males.
  • A college male hangs around friends who get him into trouble.
  • Smart adolescents keep returning to the same old social groups that are going nowhere, that don’t push them to grow or mature.

I think every teacher, coach, youth worker or parent has mourned a young person who consistently makes poor choices about who they hang around, and how those peers prevent them from reaching their potential.

So why is this so common? How can such smart kids do such dumb things?

photo credit: jazbeck via photopin cc

photo credit: jazbeck via photopin cc

When Smart Students Do Dumb Things

Here’s a hint: it has little to do with how smart they are. The truth is, this problem is not so much about their intellect as it is about their emotions. Regardless if they possess a high IQ, a low EQ (what researchers call “emotional intelligence”) can sabotage it every time. This is why those of us who lead them must understand what’s going on.

Brain researchers have told us for years that during adolescence, young people are prone to take more risks than at any other time in their life. The pre-frontal cortex is developing during this period, so the portions of the brain attuned to reward for risks are very high while the portions of the brain that signal consequences for risk are very low. This can lead “smart kids to do some dumb things” at or after school.

In addition, teens who long for those rewards from peers struggle with a paradox. The paradox is so tangible, few of them can explain their own behavior. Let me attempt a simple explanation of my own, based on interactions with high school and college students over the last three decades. Young adults may wrestle with choosing between various peer groups. The fight can be summarized this way:

  1. When I am around healthy, productive people – I like who I am.

Consider what we become when we are around peers who challenge us to be at our best. We feel the exhilarating pull of growth and improvement, whether it’s playing sports, achieving good grades or competing for a spot on the debate team. It may feel hard at the time, but in the process we become a better version of ourselves. I remember hanging around both good athletes as well as smart students in high school and college—and both of them made me stretch and get better. My sense of identity reflected that improvement and I liked myself more than I did earlier.

  1. When I’m around unhealthy, dysfunctional people – I like how I feel.

Unfortunately, this pull forward can be eclipsed by another pull. Students often find that while they like their identity more when around healthy, productive peers, they like how they feel when around static, dysfunctional people. They relax emotionally and intellectually. Further, they feel like they are on top of the heap—and are able to help those languishing peers who need them. Let’s face it: we all like to feel needed; to be a big fish in a small pond. So…many sharp students tend to play the role of “rescuers” and, sadly in the process, get pulled down with peers who are stuck.

Do you remember the story of the crabs in a bucket? Fishermen who have a bucket full of crabs don’t have to worry about any of them climbing out. Do you know why? Because the moment one of them begins to climb to the top, the others pull it back down into the pile. This scenario is all too familiar.

Jared has a genius IQ and is gifted musically as well as academically. Unfortunately, his parents and teachers failed to speak to him about his identity. They felt it was up to him to figure out this for himself. While I understand that the issue of identity is ultimately up to each individual, young people need those in authority to speak into their life and tell them what they see. Our goal should be to invite them into a bigger, more engaging story; into the pursuit of liking who they are, more than how they feel. We must equip them to embrace identity over comfort.

Two Steps We Can Take

  • Talk about their past. Discover and discuss anything you can that might challenge them to live up to a family heritage or name. If their past is stained with poor examples, challenge them to break the cycle.
  • Talk about their future. Talk about how their current decisions will either help or hinder the target they want to hit in their adult life. Remind them that the further out they can see the better the decision they will make today.

Let’s help students love who they are.


How to Equip Young Employees With Soft Skills & Work Ethic

For a limited time, you can get our newest book Habitudes® for New Professionals and its matching Facilitator’s Guide in special Leader Kits. Click here to find out more!



It’s hard to separate good leadership from clear vision. The two just go together. If you were building a house, your vision would be the blueprint. If you were shooting arrows, vision would be the target. If you were a soldier in a war, vision would be your plan of attack (it’s arguably more important than your weapon). Vision is not a luxury—it’s an essential.

What makes “vision” challenging today, however, is the fast rate of change. Organizations can embrace a vision, but in their determination to remain focused, they can miss the need to modify methods en route. Sometimes, leaders even confuse methods with vision, or worse: leaders fail to see the future at all.

In light of this, I wanted to share some quotes with you from major leaders who miss this point and failed in the category of vision:

photo credit: ebravolosada via photopin cc

photo credit: ebravolosada via photopin cc

“There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean the atom would have to be shattered at will.”  –Albert Einstein, 1932

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”  –Western Union internal memo, 1876

“Reagan doesn’t have that presidential look.”  –United Artists executive after rejecting Reagan for the film The Best Man

“Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.”  –Dr. Dionysius Lardner, 1830

“X-rays will prove to be a hoax.”  –Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883

“Everyone acquainted with it will recognize it as a conspicuous failure.”  –Henry Morton, Stevens Inst. of Technology, on Edison’s light bulb, 1880

“The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad.”  –The president of the Michigan Savings Bank, advising Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.”  –Ken Olson, president, chairman of Digital Equipment Co. (DEC), 1977

“If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one.”  –W.C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954

“No, it will make war impossible.”  –Hiram Maxim, inventor of the machine gun, in response to the question “Will this gun not make war more terrible?”, 1893

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?”  –Associates of David Sarnoff, mocking his call to invest in the radio in 1921

“There will never be a bigger plane built.”  –A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that held ten people

photo credit: Beinecke Library via photopin cc

photo credit: Beinecke Library via photopin cc

“How, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I’ve not the time to listen to such nonsense.”  –Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat, 1800s

“The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous.”  –Comment of Aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Haig, seeing a tank, 1916

“I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.”  –HG Wells, British novelist, in 1901

“The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.”  –IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959

“It’ll be gone by June.”  –Variety Magazine on Rock n’ Roll, 1955

“A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” –New York Times, 1936

So the next time some young leader approaches you with a zany idea that you see no apparent use for… think again. Pray you don’t make this list someday.

How to Equip Young Employees With Soft Skills & Work Ethic

For a limited time, you can get our newest book Habitudes® for New Professionals and its matching Facilitator’s Guide in special Leader Kits. Click here to find out more!




Another batch of college graduates just finished their degrees this past December—and are now in a job hunt. Sadly, many have lost hope of actually launching a career right away. Millions of them are loaded with potential—but no one has equipped them to close the gap between potential and performance. So what can you do about that?

Before I answer that question, let me give you the numbers.

At a time when unemployment among those aged 20 to 24 is over 13% (the highest percentage of any age group), a growing number of college students feel unprepared for the job market. In fact, according to an online survey from Millennial Branding that polled 1,345 students across the country, most college students believe, “that a bachelor’s degree is the new high school diploma.” This comes from Dan Schawbel, founder of Millennial Branding. The study also found that 57% of students think internships are extremely important to help them learn real world skills, knowing they don’t learn them at school. Going to work full-time, for many, is like moving to a foreign country. Here’s a consensus of graduates’ opinions:

  • The classroom doesn’t get you ready for a real job.
  • The skills needed in a career are not learned or experienced at home.
  • Employers are looking for some experience, but most students haven’t held down a job (not to mention a full-time job) prior to graduation.
photo credit: MiiiSH via photopin cc

photo credit: MiiiSH via photopin cc

Building the Right Habitudes in Their Career

This is why we are releasing a tool to spark conversation and discovery for young employees. Whether they’re interns, recent grads, or young professionals, we feel there are 13 essential conversations students need to have about their careers. They make up the brand new book Habitudes® for New Professionals. Let me offer a sampling of one of those conversations below:

Social Currency

I was in Singapore and had brought some cash with me from my last trip to Asia. I felt good about using my leftover money from a previous exchange. When making a purchase at a shopping mall, however, I got a shock. I handed the clerk some cash—and got a strange look from her. When I asked what was wrong, she smiled and said, “Sir, this money isn’t good here. It looks like it’s from the Philippines.”

I looked at it closely and suddenly grew embarrassed. Sure enough, she was right. I was trying to buy something in a foreign country with the wrong cash.

As ridiculous as this story sounds, it’s a picture of a principle every new team member needs to learn at work. Each company and supervisor has a certain currency you can spend at work. It’s not financial currency, though—it’s social currency. It’s learning to interact with bosses and colleagues in a way that both parties can give and receive what’s needed. It works like cash—but it’s actually more valuable. When the proper social currency is used, everyone wins. Both relationships and results improve.

It’s especially important for new professionals to understand this concept because they can’t influence through a fancy management position. They don’t have one yet. They’re new. The only currency they may have is social currency—influencing through relationships and results. This is how team members in any industry can gain influence. When you work hard, perform well, and do a good job representing your organization in public, you receive great credibility that can allow you to influence that organization behind closed doors. My friend, author Andy Stanley, says it this way: Loyalty publicly results in leverage privately.

Think about it. Michael Jordan wasn’t the head coach of the Chicago Bulls, but he certainly led the team. Lebron James isn’t the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he may have more influence than his head coach right now. It’s not about a position but a disposition… one that’s earned through the power of relationships and results.

Who’s Got the Gun?

In their book Managing Up, Michael and Deborah Dobson suggest a fitting analogy for social currency. Imagine you’re in doctor’s office. Patients are in the waiting room, and all is calm… when suddenly, a person walks in with a gun. Everyone can see it. Instantly, that person has influence. They have the power to control people’s behavior. We commonly assume that to persuade them, we’d have to get a gun ourselves. No doubt, that would be the easiest way to do it.

But we’ve all heard stories of people who talked someone out of shooting a gun, committing a crime, or even committing suicide. It was done through trust and relationship. To influence in that context—you must earn it.

The same is true with positions in an organization. At the risk of sounding crass: your boss has the gun. Their position lends them the power to change behavior. Brilliant leaders don’t lean on their position (their gun) but develop trusting relationships among team members. Those on the team, however, don’t have the advantage of having the gun. They MUST cultivate their influence in other ways, and I believe it’s done best through discovering what the social currency is in your workplace and leveraging it effectively.

When I began working with John Maxwell at twenty-three years old, I learned quickly that his most valuable currency was “time.” When I saved him time by helping him on a project, I gained all kinds of influence. A colleague of mine had a boss whose currency was “accuracy.” Another friend told me her supervisor’s currency was “loyalty.” Once you understand this principle, you can earn dividends, regardless of your title.

Habitudes for New Professionals

Social Currency is just one of the 13 new Habitudes® available in Habitudes® for New Professionals. For a limited time, you can get this new book and its matching Facilitator’s Guide in special Leader Kits. Click here to find out more!





I had an 18-year old student tell me last month that he had benefited greatly from our Habitudes® books and videos. But after discussing the original four book series, he had a question,

“What are the attitudes and habits of leaders who last for the long haul? What do leaders do that enables them to finish well?”

I felt our next 30 minute conversation might be helpful as a blog post. While we could have talked about hundreds of traits, here are the answers I gave him.

photo credit: Dorret via photopin cc

photo credit: Dorret via photopin cc

How Leaders Finish Strong

Act instead of react-This means leaders usually don’t start their day on email, reacting to the impulse of others. They initiate based on priorities and are able to remain on mission which allows them to achieve their goals because they aren’t at the mercy of the whims of others.

Think and act well- Thinkers need to act more. And people of action need to think more. Usually a person is one or the other, but a good leader can posses both traits. They balance time in research and planning but are able to stop and act on what they learn, even without all the facts.

Work in the area of strength – They don’t waste time emulating someone else or mastering a competency where they’re weak but focus on character development.  They align time and skills. They are ruthless in saying “no” to what’s merely good so they can say “yes” to what fits. They are OK with stepping out of their comfort zone.

Keep and share what you learn. … but they don’t lose it – Lasting leaders are lifelong learners—but it doesn’t end there. They retain what they learn by carefully filing it where they can find it and by sharing it constantly with others. They understand the paradox that you keep what you give away.

Always keep the big picture in mind – Lasting leaders of learning develop the ability to act in light of the big picture, which means keeping an eye on what’s happening in general around them and on the future. This enables them to be adaptable and avoid getting stuck in old methods.

Possess an uncanny optimism about problems you may face – Finally, I have found that lasting leaders finish well because they never lose sight of the silver lining in every dark cloud. They don’t become grumpy old men or women because they see how challenges actually furnish new opportunities.

Case in point: There’s a statue of a boll weevil in Enterprise, Alabama, that stands as a testament to seeing problems as possibilities. Evidently, an infestation of these tiny beetles took over the Enterprise area during World War I, crippling the town’s vital cotton industry. Knowing that cotton crops couldn’t survive so long as the boll weevils remained in the area, the town’s farmers turned to peanut farming to make ends meet.

Over the next few years, Enterprise would become one of the leading producers of peanuts in the country, not only saving the local economy but also elevating it to levels unseen to that point. So in 1919, the town erected the monument in a roundabout along Enterprise’s main drag, depicting a woman holding a pedestal above her head with a boll weevil resting on top.

Near the statue, a marker explains that, “In profound appreciation of the boll weevil and what it has done as the herald of prosperity, this monument was erected by the citizens of Enterprise, Coffee County, Alabama.”

Get your free access to our FREE video series called
The Young Employee Dilemma.

Today we launched our third video all about learning to lead a multi-generational team to maximize each generation’s strengths. Throughout this series of 15 minute videos, our goal is to answer four important questions:

  • Who is this New Generation in the Workforce?
  • How do you Motivate Young Employees?
  • How do you Lead a Multi-Generational Team?
  • How do you Equip Young Employees with Soft Skills & Work Ethic?

If you’re interested, you can get free access here.


Five years ago, I read a book by two teenagers named Alex and Brett Harris. Maybe you read it too—it was called Do Hard Things. It challenged their peers to not settle into the lifestyle of a typical high school or college student, getting lost in selfies, video games, Facebook updates and narcissism. They gave credence to the idea that we become the best version of ourselves when we “do hard things.”

I love it.

“There are so many ways in which doing hard things as a teenager and in college prepared me for what I’m doing today,” Alex says, who is in his last year at Harvard Law School. He is an editor of the prestigious Harvard Law Review and plans to clerk for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals next year in Colorado. The hard choices weren’t always big ones—opting to read rather than watch TV, to study rather than play video games, to join the debate team rather than the basketball team.

Image Source: The Rebelution

“Doing hard things in one season prepares you to step into the next with momentum and purpose,” he wisely points out. Their books and their challenge (the Rebelution movement) was launched by teens, for teens, and frankly, I believe that’s far more effective than a challenge from some Baby Boomer or Gen Xer. Everything these guys do is counter-cultural and counter intuitive in our current world of speed, comfort and convenience. … and it’s really working for them.

“That’s because rebelling against low expectations and doing hard things is a mindset that grows with you,” his brother Brett affirms.

What This Means Today

Now here’s the clincher: Brett still works with their Rebelution movement but has spent most of the past two years caring full-time for his wife, Ana, who suffers from Lyme disease. A tick-borne illness, Lyme disease has serious implications if left untreated. Ana was probably bitten when she was 10 but wasn’t diagnosed until a few months after their marriage. Along with maintaining doctors’ appointments and medical options, Brett cooks for her, bathes her, carries her up the stairs, and, during her sickest months, helped her manage the panic attacks induced by the bacterial infection in her brain. Wow… talk about a whole new application for “doing hard things.” It now surrounds caring for his disabled wife—nothing glitzy or glamorous, nothing the media wants to cover or photograph. But listen to Brett’s rationale for how he handles his current hardship:

“If I’d spent my teen years running away from responsibly and difficulty, what would I do now? I could have zoned out, played video games and found ways to escape. I could have pushed the responsibility onto her parents instead of taking that on myself.”

Our Take Away

As I mused about these two guys in their mid-twenties now, I was challenged in my own parenting, teaching, coaching and training of students. These guys “got it” when they were teenagers. Somehow, the adults in their life weren’t consumed with “preventing” tough things from happening, but preparing the boys for life. Let me offer some principles we must buy into if we’re to do the same with our students:

  • As leaders of learning, we must communicate that everything they do now either prepares or ill-prepares them for the future. Each stage is a rehearsal for the next stage.
  • We must enable them to see the long-term ramifications of their actions.
  • We must teach them to check their motives for what they do. Is it all about getting noticed or famous… or is it about their development?
  • We must equip them to take on difficult challenges, knowing this acts as a workout for future challenges.

I love the advice Alex and Brett have for parents today: “We can’t shield our kids from hardship and then hope to release them into a suffering-free existence in adulthood. Loving your children means preparing them for hardship by allowing them to engage with the world, deal with the consequences of their actions and work through inevitable disappointments and failures.”

This is a philosophy that many books on discipline mention. It is also a great way to enter 2015, don’t you think?

– See more at: Growing Leaders blog

The Young Employee Dilemma

Get your free access to our FREE video series called The Young Employee Dilemma.

Throughout this series of 15 minute videos, our goal is to answer four important questions:

  • Who is this New Generation in the Workforce?
  • How do you Motivate Young Employees?
  • How do you Lead a Multi-Generational Team?
  • How do you Equip Young Employees with Soft Skills & Work Ethic?

If you’re interested, you can get free access here.