I just had a conversation with a twenty-eight-year-old about getting out to vote next month in the mid-term elections. He didn’t plan to make the effort, as he didn’t feel it made any difference. When I reminded him that he was the one kicking everyone’s butt to vote a decade ago, he mumbled, “That was then. This is now.” Not only is he not encouraging peers to vote… he’s not making the effort himself.

When social scientists first introduced us to this population of kids called the “Millennial Generation” in 1999, they were optimistic, civic-minded, and socially active. Today, you can easily find a bit of cynicism in them. One university dean put it this way: “A few years back, these students planned to change the world. Now, it appears they’ve changed their minds.”

What a difference a decade makes, right?

Trust is Dropping Among Students

Jean Twenge, lead author of a study that was published last month in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science, says the current atmosphere — fed by the Great Recession, mass shootings, and everything from church sex abuse scandals and racial strife to the endless parade of publicly shamed politicians, athletes and celebrities — may help explain why this young generation’s trust levels hit an all-time low in 2012 (the most recent data available).

photo credit: Satterwhite.B via photopin cc

photo credit: Satterwhite.B via photopin cc

In the mid-1970s, when baby boomers were coming of age, about a third of high school seniors agreed that “most people can be trusted.”

That dropped to 18% in the early 1990s for Gen Xers — and then, in 2012, to just 16% of Millennials.

The researchers also found that Millennials’ approval of major institutions — from Congress and corporations to the news media and educational and religious institutions — dropped more sharply than other generations in the decade that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“Young people today feel disconnected and alienated,” says Twenge, a psychologist and professor at San Diego State University, who wrote a book on Millennials called Generation Me. She finds these outcomes “especially distressing” for a generation that had been expected to be more trusting of government.

For instance, in 2000-2002, 49% of 12th graders who were surveyed said Congress was doing a “good” or “very good” job, compared with just 22% who said the same in 2010-2012. 30% of young boomers were approving in the mid-1970s, and 33% of Gen Xers were approving in early 1990s. (The researchers benchmark these figures every three years to assure they‘re comparing consistent trends. The margin of error is plus or minus 1 percentage point.)

What’s more, in 2000-2002, 54% of 12th graders approved of the job large corporations were doing. That fell to 33% by 2010-12. 40% of boomers approved in the mid-1970s, and 48% of Gen Xers approved in the early 1990s. During that decade, Millennials also had notable drops in approval of colleges and universities, the news media, public schools and religious institutions. Ugh. What have we done?

So How Can We Help Them Learn to Trust?

Call me crazy, but I don’t think society can operate successfully without people learning and earning trust. Marriages don’t work, friendships don’t work, business deals don’t work, bi-partisan politics doesn’t work, and international treaties don’t work. Trust is a must. So how can we begin to cultivate trust in students?

  1. Start with your own circle. Build trust among your team members by doing what you say, saying what you mean, and following through on promises.
  2. Under-promise and over-deliver. I know it sounds cliché, but commit to less than what you can actually accomplish and surprise them in the end.
  3. Start small. Trust is built by taking baby steps on issues where the stakes are low. Begin developing trust on your team by demonstrating it in little ways.
  4. Show trust before you ask for it in return. Extend yourself to others first and demonstrate you trust them with a task or responsibility.
  5. Be honest. If others sense you talk straight even when it’s hard to hear, they learn to take you at your word. Transparency actually builds trust.
  6. Eventually, take on a big responsibility. Do something that requires multiple parties to jump in and participate and where trust is essential to succeed.

Join me tomorrow as I interview Dr. Jean Twenge on our Growing Leaders podcast this fall. We will talk about this research and what we can do to cultivate trust in students.

I’m not sure if you have a dog in the fight. Maybe you’re from New York or Boston. You may be from L.A. or St. Louis or Detroit and feel like you got jipped out of seeing your team play in this year’s World Series, which starts tonight.

The Giants and Royals Share Something in Common

I do know one thing. The teams that made it — the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals — have something in common: they’re organizations that are attempting to build cultures among their teams. Sure, they want to win ballgames, but they both understand you can’t do that consistently if all you do is focus on scorecards. You have to build a culture in the club first. Healthy cultures lead to wins; healthy things naturally grow and reproduce. Culture trumps everything else. It’s why an average player can get traded and suddenly excel. Culture is intangible, but real.


I’ve visited a number of athletic organizations over the years. Many of them are toxic, full of self-absorbed, non-communicative “good ol’ boys” who have low emotional intelligence. Camaraderie only happens if they win. In all due respect, these guys (who were once athletes themselves) aren’t necessarily good leaders who create environments in which young players want to participate.

Did You Hear?

The Royals are perceived as a team devoid of stars… but they don’t lack heroes. Meet Alex Gordon, a lifelong Royals fan, whose work ethic is beyond compare. His pre-game regimen is unbelievable—and would tire out most veterans. Eric Hosmer got a game-winning hit in the playoffs and gave the ball… to his parents. Mike Moustakas made the play of the game one night, and when complimented by broadcasters, he responded, “Yes sir. Thank you.” Lorenzo Cain won the AL championship MVP award, and complimented both the leadership of the Royals and his mother who sacrificed so he could begin playing baseball as a high school sophomore. Dayton Moore is building this culture in a small money market… and winning.

The Giants are building a culture, too, and have already demonstrated that winning follows great cultures. This is their third world series in five years. Talking with the players on the major league roster, you get the idea they’re quirky—not your typical team of players. But according to my friend Jeremy Affeldt, they love each other, they laugh a lot, and they give teammates everything they have on the field.

What Do All Cultures Possess?

Think about the last time you visited a foreign country. Did you notice each culture possesses traits that set them apart from other cultures? Here’s what you find:

  1. Shared Customs.   (Certain practices they do that differentiate them)
  2. Shared Values.       (Certain qualities they hold precious as a population)
  3. Shared Language. (Certain terms and metaphors they communicate)

Both the Royals and Giants have become intentional about the customs, values and language they communicate as they onboard young players.

Our organization, Growing Leaders, has gotten to know many of the staff and athletes in both of these clubs. We’ve come to respect them, as they allow us to play a small role in building character and leadership in their minor league players by enhancing their customs, values and language. It is an honor.

I just need to figure out who to cheer for in the World Series. What a great problem to have.


 The newest season of Habitudes® for Athletes is out:
The Art of Navigating Transitions

This new season will help you athletes:

  • Persevere in the midst of new settings and challenges
  • Make wise decisions that keep them on the team and out of trouble
  • Overcome disappointments in both sports and life

Learn more here



Here’s a question both high school and college students are wondering about. For that matter, so are their parents, who might end up paying for their student’s higher education degree. For educators, you likely think about this problem often. Put simply, the question goes something like this:

Does our current system of courses and majors meet the needs of today’s student?

It seems to me that colleges that continue to promote a growing list of “majors” are operating in an antiquated framework. According to Jeff Selingo, author of College (Un)Bound, “For most college students, the idea of a major is outdated in a 21st Century economy in a constant state of flux. College majors are for the most part an organizing function for the faculty of an institution who want to have departments for their academic disciplines.”

As I meet with university students, it feels as though most of them are in a state of flux, too. About half of freshmen students have either changed their major or plan to do so the following year. Almost all of the other half drop out. Many of those first year students simply fall through the cracks. There has to be a better way to engage them in the learning process.

A proposal is on the table at a new university in Canada that plans to do away with majors. Yep, you read that right. In their place, students will be able to “distinguish themselves via practical and demonstrable skills in four areas of focus: technology, entrepreneurship/management, health professions, and creative industries.”

They, of course, believe that colleges must be organized with structured curriculum and classes in order to take licensing exams or apply to graduate schools. Most majors, however, don’t have specific requirements. A lot can be accomplished at the undergraduate level that would be perfectly relevant to our 21st century needs AND would engage today’s student.

Moving from “Choose Your Major” to “Solve a Problem”

I like the question I’m hearing from some educational pioneers. Instead of asking college students the typical question:

What do you plan to major in?

They ask students:

What problems do you want to solve?

Every student I know (with few exceptions) would be totally intrigued by a school that provided discussions and curriculum that enabled them to solve a problem, such as finding a cure for the HIV virus, getting enough clean water to the millions who don’t have any, ending sex-trafficking, or curing cancer. Wow. Talk about getting their creative juices flowing!

May I speak forthrightly? Most high school seniors have no idea what they want to “be” when they grow up. But it’s easy to get them (and their college counterparts) to talk passionately about what they want to fix in the world. They know our world is broken, and solving a strategic problem engages them at the heart level. Can you imagine a whole new set of courses that don’t fit neatly into a “major” category?

Furthermore, imagine what it would be like if students talked about solving problems instead of completing majors:

  • “I’m learning human biology so we can eliminate hunger.”
  • “I’m learning geography and engineering to get clean water to Africa.”
  • “I’m learning computer science to enable developing nations to connect.”
  • “I’m learning political science to help people engage their local and federal governments.”

Jeff Selingo reminds us: “Stanford University recently called such a pathway, ‘purpose learning.’ As part of a yearlong design exercise to rethink undergraduate education, students suggested doing away with the major and replacing it with a ‘mission.’ The goal of the exercise was to ‘help students select a meaningful course of study while in school, and then scaffold a clear arc for the decade of their careers.’”

To take it a step further, my experience tells me a major is simply a box to check on an application anyway. Students know they must declare one, so they conform. This system continues to get perpetuated, with colleges creating all kinds of “majors” to entice students who question whether they fit into a liberal arts college. According to Jeff, “Since 2000, there has been a 20% increase in the number of majors at American colleges and universities, according to an analysis of the U.S. Education Department data. [...] The 1990s saw similar growth in the number of majors. Indeed, nearly 4 in 10 majors on today’s government list didn’t exist in 1990.”

The bottom line is this: If the point is to engage students in something relevant and equip them to meet the needs of our 21st century world, then it seems we may want to re-think the way we approach the classroom. I say we connect students to tangible problems and let the studies follow.

Let me know your thoughts. Do you have any better ideas?


SLL-Res-KitSave over 33% on our Student Life Leader’s Resource Kit!

This kit of four resources will help you understand, connect, and grow college students into mature leaders.

Order Today!


I am constantly asking the question: How can we help those in education really equip students for life? It’s actually the broader question of a yearlong exercise at Stanford University’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, also known as the d.school.

photo credit: ¡Carlitos via photopin cc

photo credit: ¡Carlitos via photopin cc

May I remind you of our current reality within the field of education? Students, parents and employers are all asking if our current liberal arts path is the right one for the 21st century. Does it need updating to become relevant again? I think so, and so do thinkers far wiser than me.

“From a design perspective, we were fascinated by a set of issues,” said Sarah Stein- Greenberg, managing director of the d.school. “There are clearly new human behaviors around the way people are learning. It’s changing faster than ever. We wanted to know what we’d uncover and add another layer to the conversation.”

Unlike other design exercises that focus on problems or industries students are sometimes unfamiliar with, this project placed every student in the middle of what they were studying. “There was a real sense of mission and purpose,” Stein-Greenberg said.

The goal of the exercise, Stein-Greenberg said, was to emerge with provocative ideas that would spur discussions and pilots on campus. “There are folks who take action as a result of a provocation.”

Four broad provocations emerged in this discussion at Stanford:

  1. The “open loop” university. This idea imagines the college experience as a series of “loops” over a lifetime. This plan would admit students at 18 but give them six years of access to residential learning opportunities to use any time in their life. It would allow alumni to return mid-career for professional development and new students to get real-life work experience.
  2. Paced education. This abolishes the class year and replaces it with adaptive, personalized learning that allows students to move through phases of learning at their own pace. The goal is to help students make better choices about what they want to study and understand their own learning style.
  3. Axis flip. Rather than traditional academic disciplines, the curriculum would be organized around common and transferable skills that could be used over the course of a lifetime. Schools and departments would be reorganized around “competency hubs” so that there would be deans of scientific analysis, quantitative reasoning, moral and ethical reasoning, and communication effectiveness, among others.
  4. Purpose learning. Instead of majors, students would declare a “mission” to help them find meaning and purpose behind their studies. This moves the emphasis in college from “choosing a major” (and changing them four times) to “choosing a problem to solve.” Intrigued with a world problem, students remain engaged and seek to gain tools to create a solution.

You can find a complete description of these ideas with design sketches here.

Tomorrow, I will explore the idea of purpose learning and imagine with you what college could look like if we made this improvement.

SLL-Res-KitSave over 33% on our Student Life Leader’s Resource Kit!

This kit of four resources will help you understand, connect, and grow college students into mature leaders.

Order Today!


The sports world was consumed this summer with Derek Jeter’s farewell to the New York Yankees (and baseball fans everywhere). He got applause from every ballpark because Jeter played the game with class. He ended his career at Yankee stadium with a walk-off single that won the game. He worked hard, kept a great attitude, was a great teammate, and was very competitive—but never once, in 2,903 games of major league baseball, did he get ejected from a game. Yep, he is different.

photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc

When asked how and where he learned to play the game—he refers to his father. From his own lips, here are eight lessons we learn about leading kids from Derek Jeter’s dad:

  1. Never let anyone outwork you.

Derek said he watched his dad work relentlessly as a substance abuse counselor. He never claimed to have the biggest talent, but he taught his kids to “work hard and never let anyone outwork you.” That way, it’s not about giftedness but work ethic.

  1. Inspire your followers by doing what you want done.

Derek’s dad modeled the way in everything from optimism to passion to fun around the house. Derek said his proclamation that he’d play shortstop for the Yankees came from his dad who played college baseball: “I wanted to be like him.”

  1. Don’t project on kids, but push them when it’s time.

His dad never once pushed him into baseball, but once he showed a passion for it, Jeter’s parents helped fuel it. Many an evening, Jeter and his sister Sharlee could be seen fielding grounders or taking swings in the yard with dad.

  1. Be tough, but fair.

Like most teens, Derek had clashes with his dad, but he said later, “While he was tough, he was always fair.” Dad would explain the reasons why he’d set up the rules and boundaries in the house. It provided emotional security for the kids.

  1. Agreements are better than rules.

Every August, Jeter was presented with a contract drawn up by his Dad on a legal pad, permitting him to play sports only if he complied with a series of expectations that included posting high grades, participating in extracurricular activities and avoiding drugs or alcohol. Derek never once violated that contract.

  1. Explain your leadership values.

Derek remembers, “There were a lot of times when you clash with your parents, but they were pretty good at explaining things. When you’re a kid, you don’t always agree, but my parents were always good at explaining, ‘Why.’” This helps kids follow.

  1. Err on the side of optimism.

Derek says the greatest lesson he learned from dad was to stay positive. Even in his 32-game slump in 2004, Derek put his uniform on, expecting to get a hit. He’d talk to his dad every day about the potential of that new day. He knew slumps would pass.

  1. Constantly express appreciation.

Derek tells us, “My parents have always been supportive—daily.” So on Father’s Day, he expects that he’ll tell his Dad, ‘Thanks,’ but that is not anything unusual—Jeter thinks that is an appreciative sentiment that should be relayed more than once every 365 days.

When you lead kids well, the relationship evolves from supervisor to consultant to friend. Their relationship has matured over the years, but Derek Jeter says that he knows with any pressing issue, Dad is still one of the two people he’d turn to first. “We’re more friends than anything,” Jeter said. “I think as I’ve gotten older, you still have the father-son relationship, but we’ve become closer friends. He’s still my Dad, but more so, a friend. I’d definitely go to him first with anything.”

How could a parent or coach want anything more?


P.S. Derek Jeter just wrote a children’s book that has 10 values and life lessons. Here’s the link: http://derekjeterpublishing.com


Looking to develop leadership skills in students this school year? Check out

Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes