My guess is, you watched Sunday’s game, and witnessed the Denver Broncos winning Super Bowl 50 through a pretty commanding performance. The story in the moment was about Peyton Manning sealing his legacy with a second Super Bowl ring, and defensive powerhouse Von Miller winning the MVP award for both his ability and leadership. Over the hours following the Super Bowl, however, another story emerged. It’s a tale of two Millennials.

A Tale of Two Super Bowl Millennials

In a post-game press conference Cam Newton, the 26 year-old quarterback of the losing Carolina Panthers, spoke about the game. That short conversation, recorded here, was a painful reminder of the need for leaders to take responsibility for their team, even when the fault may not rest completely on their performance. Cam and the Panthers played pretty well, ending the game with more total yards, first downs, and possession time. What really killed them was the stellar performance of the Broncos defense and a string of drive-killing turnovers. What the Panthers needed, in the wake of the loss, was a leader who’d stand up and take responsibility. Not just for the game, but for the future of the team. Instead, there was pouting, complaining, and a bad attitude. Understandable? Yes. Excellent leadership? No.

During the season Cam got lots of flack for celebrating in the end zone after he scored. His response was: If you don’t like me dabbing, then don’t let me score. Well, that’s exactly what Denver did—they didn’t let him score. (In fact, they sacked him seven times.) He was beaten fair and square. So afterward, in the interviews, Cam had no right to sulk. Denver just did what he told them to do if they didn’t want excessive celebration. You can’t have it both ways. Following a game like this, leaders must take the high road—especially when they hate to lose—and lead with their words and responses. Cam is the face of the team. They look to him for leadership, just like Denver does with Peyton Manning. Cam must learn to lead in wins and losses.

At the same time, on the other side of the field, there was another Millennial who had done his part behind the scenes to get his team onto the field. When Peyton Manning missed 6 weeks of the season, due to a foot injury, a young teammate from the practice squad stepped in to help. Rookie Jordan Taylor was on Manning’s speed dial through the recovery process from his injury. At a moments notice, Taylor would come to the practice facility to catch Manning’s throws. According to Taylor, he effectively participated in 2-a-day practices for most of the season. First regular practice, followed by special training with Peyton. Who knows where the Broncos might have ended up if someone wasn’t willing to get Manning back in shape.

The key difference between these two Millennials on either side of the field is attitude in response to adversity. Taylor is a rookie wide receiver who walked on as a free agent from Rice University, where he had a very successful career. Needless to say, his salary is tiny compared to that of Manning or Newton. Cam Newton’s history you already know: Heisman winner and leader of a national championship team at Auburn University.

Responding to Adversity

These two Millennial leaders may represent the types of leaders you may have on your team or in your classroom. Some young people handle adversity well, taking responsibility and leading change. Others feel the weight of failure. They may pout, get angry, or walk out. So what can the Millennials around you learn from the Super Bowl so they can respond well to adversity?

  1. Teach students and teammates that adversity, (even failure), is an opportunity to improve, not feel shame. Imagine how different Newton’s press conference could be if he said, “I plan to work as hard as I can to get us back here again next year.” Cam actually made a statement yesterday: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser…I am my own person.” I say: “I’m not asking you to enjoy losing. No one does. I am challenging you to be the face of the team and lead them. Don’t pout. Show class.”
  1. Find ways to reward the growth mindset of your students and teammates. Keep the focus on getting better, not on achieving goals that are out of your control. Taylor’s attitude was created by his commitment to improve. He didn’t feel like a failure being on the practice squad because his goal was to improve. Progress, not fame, is the goal. On the other hand, while I love watching Cam Newton play—he must seize this opportunity to grow, emotionally and athletically. Even coach Ron Rivera said, “It’s time for us to learn and grow.”
  1. Meet with your students (or teammates) who’ve experienced failure. Acknowledge that failing is hard, but is a necessary element from which you have to move on. It’s certainly normal for Newton to be mad about the loss, but his mistake came when he took out that loss on the press. As I said, Cam had challenged the Broncos to “not let him in the end zone” and they took him up on it. Time to get better. Remorse or regret should always be accompanied by restoration. Don’t get stuck. Don’t sulk in it.

A couple weeks before the Super Bowl, Taylor, knowing he was about to travel with the team for the first time this season, realized that he didn’t have the required attire, a suit and tie, to ride the plane. He texted Manning asking if he could borrow one of his suits for the trip. Manning responded with an illusive, “I’ll get you set up.” By set up, he meant an appointment with his custom tailor. Taylor boarded the plane to San Francisco looking good and feeling good, having done his part, even from his spot on the practice squad, to contribute to his team’s preparation.

A new suit was a natural response from Manning, having witnessed this Millennial face adversity with such poise and perspective.

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It’s probably flippant to say that leadership is changing in our day. The fact is, everything is changing and the organizations that survive will not only endure these changes, but employ them.

Case in point. The chief executive of Hong Kong is a man named Leung Chun-Ying. As the nation’s leader, Chun-Ying appoints judges, makes executive decisions and signs bills into law. On paper—he’s the top dog. He has the badge.

When it was announced that Hong Kong would not allow for a free and democratic election to replace his position in 2017, the people did not sit still. They hit the streets and followed a younger leader named Joshua Wong. When I say younger, I mean it. Joshua was a teenager, 17-years old at the time. Wong had started a pro-democracy student group and attracted one hundred thousand people to his ideas.

It’s a picture of what’s happening today. I predict it will increasingly occur as we march further into the 21st century. Leung Chun-Ying is 60. He’s what we would call a Baby Boomer, born in the post-World War 2 era. Joshua Wong was born just prior to the dawn of the new century—and has grown up with social media, websites and viral messages. Chun-Ying is an “old school” leader. Joshua Wong is a “next-generation” leader.

What’s the Difference?

photo credit: Dorret via photopin cc

photo credit: Dorret via photopin cc

So what’s the difference between old-school leaders and next-generation leaders? It’s far too organic to reduce to mere words in this blog, but let me offer some broad brushstrokes to paint the general picture:

Old School New School
1. Leung Chun-Ying (60) 1. Joshua Wong (18)
2. Pursues control over the people 2. Pursues connection with the people
3. Possesses a massive administration 3. Possesses a smart phone
4. Uses pepper spray and police force 4. Uses social media to cast clear vision
5. Leverages laws and policies 5. Leverages inspiration and ideals
6. Gives people a job to do 6. Gives people a cause to embrace
7. Enforces the policies 7. Empowers the people

So, who’s the real leader? You tell me. Chun-Ying has the position, but Wong has the people. One is about rules. The other is about relationships. Perhaps the most important reality that established leaders must recognize is that they are losing control. The more they attempt to seize control, the more a generation of “free agents” eludes their grip and chooses to follow someone else.

I will be the first to acknowledge, some leadership qualities are timeless. Certain skills such as communicating a clear vision, possessing deep character, and utilizing a solid strategy were needed a century ago—and they’re needed today. While the eternal skills of leaders remain, however, the style is always changing; and perhaps never faster than in the world we live in today.

Rules Next-Generation Leaders Follow

Old School leaders must realize the rules governing today’s leaders:

  • Trust is not automatic. It must be earned.
  • Discipline follows passion. Build passionate people and you’ll get work ethic.
  • While both are essential, relationships come before results.
  • People want to know “why” not just “what” to do.
  • Innovation trumps tenure—both in people and products.
  • In general, people want to be led—not managed.

Far too often, I find myself saying to Millennials: “Please respect your older leaders. Even submit to them. But, don’t imitate them.” Let’s make this year a year we embrace the new generation in front of us. This doesn’t mean we compromise our values or vision. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. I believe today’s students need role models who live by principles. It means we realize our style cannot remain the same as it was thirty or even twenty years ago. Our substance should remain steady. Our style must be fluid to connect with those who are following. This enables “old school” leaders to reach the next generation.

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Nihilism with a Smile

February 4, 2016 — Leave a comment

In our work with students, I am experiencing more teens and twenty-somethings who, by default or design, are leaning toward nihilism as a worldview. I thought it would be wise to offer a “heads up” in case you begin to spot this sour perspective among the students on your campus…or in your home.

When I ponder why, the answers come quickly. As I have blogged before, kids today are growing up in a culture that actually fosters nihilism. Unless they’re growing up in a marvelously positive, two-parent home with lots of love and support (and they don’t keep tabs on what’s happening over the last ten years in the economy, among terrorists groups, on Wall Street or within hate groups against others in the U.S.) our kids today can easily slip into a worldview that’s pessimistic. Even nihilistic.

Young adults today are reacting predictably. By and large, the numbers tell us they’ve withdrawn. They’re into themselves. Survival is the name of the game. Many are in a “wait and see” mode. School. Careers. Marriage. They are even waiting to have children. In 2014, 47.6% of American women ages 15-44 did not have any kids, the highest percentage of women without children since 1976. (This illustrates how young adults today are becoming comparable to Generation X.)

What is Nihilism?

Nihilism is “the rejection of all moral principles, often in the belief that life is meaningless.” When someone becomes a nihilist, they appear skeptical, negative and disbelieving. Any sense of order seems futile. They respond in conversations with sarcasm and cynicism. Even pessimism. “Why try?”, they ask. “It won’t make any difference.”

It’s part of the downside of post-modern thought. It maintains that nothing in the world has real meaning; in fact, nothing really exists. Why adhere to social order? Why labor to cooperate with someone else, when it may mean I don’t get what I want? When taken to an extreme, nihilism produces disillusionment. What I see most in students who struggle with nihilism, however, is a warped sense of humor. Sarcasm on steroids. Without any meaning, they tend to divert themselves with something to laugh at; to make fun of. Otherwise, life is a downer. I call it: nihilism with a smile. It’s the best alternative when you’ve lost hope.

Visible Results in Students?

Some of the signals of this unwitting perspective in students are:

Lack of ambition or drive: Why be motivated to do something if it doesn’t matter?

Lack of meaning or hope: With no hope in the future, I have no power in the present.

Lack of organization or structure: Why go to the trouble? Chaos makes more sense.

Lack of empathy and concern: Why should I care when I have to look out for myself?

Lack of joy or happiness: When I’m consumed with myself, I tend to get depressed.

So, if our kids have grown up with widespread reports of violence and corruption, how should we lead them, teach them, and parent them? What kind of conversation should we host with them, and what experiences should we offer them in order to help them avoid becoming a pessimist, a cynic or worse yet, a nihilist?

Four Possible Actions

Try inserting some simple experiences into these students’ lives:

  1. Go with them on a service trip, local or global, and do something meaningful. Involve them in a sacrificial project, serving people who can do nothing in return. Talk about it afterward. What problems need to be solved?
  1. Read prisoner Victor Frankl’s book with them, Man’s Search For Meaning.” Talk about his message. Frankl spent years during the WW2 Holocaust in a concentration camp and came out better than ever, his life full of meaning.
  1. Introduce them to a person who’s experienced far more trauma, hardship or even depression and emerged stronger in the end. Meet with this person and talk about how they made sense of the meaninglessness in their life.
  1. If their nihilism is widespread, offer to go to a counselor with them. Often, a therapist can furnish perspective on life, and healthy responses to depression or disillusionment. Help your student see they’re not strange, but need help.

There’s nothing wrong with laughing at life. It’s just not a good answer to nihilism.

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Growing Up with Terror

February 3, 2016 — Leave a comment

One of our readers wrote in asking this question:

Given that most of our teens have grown-up where terrorism and mass murders are part of the landscape, do you have any comments on how to help our kids and their friends deal with all the strife now that the occurrences are more frequent?”

I think it’s a great question.

Pause for a moment and think about the world a high school or college student is growing up in today. Our world is vastly different than it was twenty years ago. Consider what they’ve seen and how it might affect their perception of reality:

photo credit: WTC 33 via photopin (license)

photo credit: WTC 33 via photopin (license)

  • Since the year 2000, approximately 140,000 people around the world have been killed by terrorist attacks. Today’s kids have grown up with this reality. Here at home, hate crimes remain common. Over the last few years, we watched them in Florida, Ferguson, Baltimore, Louisiana, Oregon, New York, Charleston and San Bernardino, with between 4,000-6,000 committed each year. There are 784 active hate-groups in America right now. This is simply terrorism at home. We see evidence of our preoccupation with terrorism in movies like Iron Man and Zero Dark Thirty.
  • Since 2001, corporate scandals are on the rise. Kids have seen 14 major scandals since 2001. Only about one in five Americans has much trust in banks, according to Gallup polls, about half the level in 2007. Trust in big business overall is declining too. Sixty-two percent of Americans believe corruption is widespread across corporate America. We see evidence of this in pop culture in the recent movies, Too Big to Fail, and The Big Short.
  • And politics? Don’t even go there. Kids have watched partisan politicians produce either a stalemate or, worse, corruption. In 1964, 77% of the U.S. population said that they trusted the government to do what was right. By 2014, this number had fallen to 24%. We don’t assume a congressman or senator will do what’s best for our nation, but what will get him or her re-elected. It’s about power not principle. We see evidence of this in the Netflix series, “House of Cards.”

So—in our current reality, filled with violence and corruption in many places, how do we address this and prevent our students from being marred by it? Certainly the reality of terror, corruption, and hate are real.I’m not suggesting we live in denial. All of us are being affected in our worldview by current trends. There is more fear in the air; there is more apprehension and caution. So, let’s talk about some positive, doable steps we can take as we lead our students.

Four Steps We Can Take

  1. Talk about what’s happening. Explain what’s behind a violent mindset.

Far too often, teachers, staff and parents assume it’s best to not even bring up the subject when a terrorist act occurs. Sadly, it’s an “elephant in the room.” Students notice when we avoid difficult issues. Because it’s on their minds, I believe the best defense is a good offense: talk about it. Help them interpret what’s happening and help them understand that, while terror goes back centuries, it’s always been an indecent way to express rage. Find time to interpret any hate crime or terrorist act in the media and process how it happened; why it happened; and what the best response should be.

  1. Help them see the good other students are achieving.

Make a regular habit of finding true stories of students who are making the world a better place. While this sounds cliché, it is easy to assume everything in the world is horrible when you watch the news each day. Make it a weekly habit of highlighting students who invent, who serve, and who achieve something for their community. This doesn’t need to be directly tied to “counter terror.” It can simply be your commitment to feeding their minds with an equal amount of redemptive stories to balance what we’re all hearing in the news.

  1. Involve groups of students in acts of service.

In addition, what if you matched every act of terror in the news with an act of service? I’m serious. Each time a major news story breaks (like ones in Paris or San Bernardino) you and your students plan a RAK (Random Act of Kindness) to counter it. It doesn’t have to be news worthy, but it can condition your students to return good for evil. Teach them “reciprocal behavior.” Just like reciprocals in math are inverted fractions, reciprocal conduct is performing an opposite or “upside down” act as a reactive measure to offset the first. It’s a positive response to a negative.

  1. Hold up a role model in front of them.

We live in a day where society and social media debunk heroes, sharing their dark sides and removing them as examples for our kids. While I realize these men and women from history were imperfect, humans live best when we have ideals and models to follow. Roman biographer Plutarch’s entire work is based on the premise that tales of the excellent can lift the ambitions of the living. Thomas Aquinas argued that to lead a good life, we must focus on the exemplars, not ourselves, and imitate their actions. Philosopher Alfred N. Whitehead said,   Let’s offer this to our students.

I remember my junior high school and high school teachers addressed the hijacking incidents that were going on back in the 1970s right in class. It helped me process the terror on the news. We live in a day when we must do this again.

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I just read an interesting case study on the way music has evolved over the last fifty years. You know, from genres like classic Rock and Roll, to Blues, to Disco, to Grunge and Funk, to Rap and Hip Hop—and ranging from Boy Bands to solo artists. The numbers were very interesting to analyze. The rise of female artists, the move from bands to solo artists and the expansion of profanity in lyrics all seem to relay how society is changing.

There are a few highlights I thought you’d find intriguing.

Healthy Changes

  • Increase in female artists.
  • Increase in collaboration between artists.
  • Increase in diversity among artists.
  • Increase in mixed generations within artist groups.

Unhealthy Changes

  • Increase in lyrics about loneliness.
  • Increase in songs about violence and substance abuse.
  • Increase in profanity and sexual perversion.
  • Increase in songs about lust over love.

But there is one discovery I noted that is worth talking about here.

photo credit: Hibernate via photopin (license)

photo credit: Hibernate via photopin (license)

The tangible rise in the word “I” or “I’m.” We’re singing more and more about “me.” Between 2005 and 2015, “I’m” was the number one term in song lyrics. In fact, not long ago, I flipped through stations on my car radio for a few minutes on my drive to an appointment. It may not surprise you that the four songs I heard were:

  • Because I’m Awesome!”
  • The World Should Revolve Around Me”
  • Tell Me I’m Pretty”
  • “Dontcha Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?

Please forgive me if you feel I’m over-speaking. I’m not trying to turn all of life into a lesson or the world into a classroom. But I believe this shift is a commentary on our culture. I’ve written before that we live in a time of self-expansion. When I play sports, I am not as concerned about the team this year as I am about my own playing time. (After all, I am playing for scouts.) When I perform on a theatre stage, I’m counting my lines in the script more than paying attention to the plot as a whole. When on the job, I’m obsessed with getting noticed or being recognized; I’m building my personal brand. In life, I am about building my platform: my followers, likes, shares and views. When it comes to music, I’m obsessed with me. In the report, I identified that while musicians were collaborating more these days, there are fewer bands. In other words, artists are singing solo, but will do a “gig” or a group collaboration with other performers as long as they don’t lose their individual identities as solo artists.

In fact, while fifty years of music has always included themes like love, partying, sex and loneliness, 2015 produced a whole new category: “being awesome.” Never before has there been so much sung about me being so awesome.

What Signals Genuine Maturity

When I step back and evaluate what this says about the society we live in, I wonder if it informs us about how we’re failing to help kids mature. My short summary of what I believe about human maturation can be boiled down this way.

Maturity is generally about two feats:

  1. Discovering who I really am.
  2. Getting over myself.

As we educate and equip students, we must help them accomplish both of these feats. They must identify their strengths, their personality, their interests and passions. Once they do, however, we must help them see that life is about playing a role in a larger community—and fitting into a bigger picture. When I left for college at 18, my parents had done both. I knew I was loved and I recognized my gifts and value. Just as clear, however, was the fact that life wasn’t about me. There were thousands of other “special” kids at my college. I had to learn to play the cards in my hand and leverage them to solve the problems in front of me. My career choice was not just about “what I liked” or what “paid well,” it was about meeting a need in the community in which I found myself.

The four common categories we measure for maturity are:

  1. Biological
  2. Cognitive
  3. Social
  4. Emotional

In each category, we must help adolescents and young adults get over themselves.

* Biological—to use their bodies for the good of others, not merely for personal pleasure. They must harness their physical prowess and energy to serve people.

* Cognitiveto learn and to engage their minds to solve problems. To develop the mental discipline to handle complex challenges that will help the larger community.

* Social—to cultivate interpersonal skills to connect with the needs of others, not just my own. They must cultivate relationships in order to contribute to others.

* Emotional—to become emotionally intelligent, so that I empathize with others and add value to them. This skill separates us from the automation of technology.

When Dwight Eisenhower was ten years old, his older brothers were permitted to go out trick-or-treating on Halloween. (It was a more adventurous activity than it is today). When young Dwight asked if he could go, his parents told him he was too young. He pleaded with them, watched his brothers leave, then went into a fit of uncontrollable rage. He screamed and yelled and beat his fists against an apple tree in their front yard. His father disciplined him and sent him to bed. It was a night he’d never forget. After sobbing in his pillow for a while, his mother entered his room and sat quietly beside his bed. After he grew quiet, she spoke a Proverb softly to him: “He that conquers his own soul is greater than he who takes a city.”

As she began to bandage his hands, she told her son to beware of his anger and hatred inside. Of all her sons, he had the most to learn about mastering himself.

For Ike that night was a turning point: “I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life,” he said. The concept of “conquering his own soul” became a significant one in his leadership in both the military and his presidency. It’s the acid test of growing up.

Let’s get beyond ourselves and help our students do the same.

The New Habitudes® Experience:

HabitudesOnline & HabitudesPlay

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