I recently spoke with a school administrator who offered one more example of how parents today are choosing to lead their children. I’ve heard this example twice in the last month—and it’s illustrative of far too many parents.

Evidently, a high school student recently brought a note from her doctor to school. The note requested that this teen be moved to a different class because her ex-boyfriend was in her current class. This was emotionally difficult for her.

Now, on the surface, this might make sense to today’s parent. After all, we don’t want an emotional issue to cloud the focus of our beloved child. We want to remove all barriers that would prevent them from making their best grades. Hence, decisions like the one above. Apparently, the parents and their teenage daughter visited the doctor and actually got a note to excuse her from one class, and to position her in another class. Is this now considered normal?

You can already predict what I’m going to say, can’t you?

Why have we, as a generation of adults, chosen to solve our children’s problems for them by removing potential struggles? Since when did it make adolescents stronger to eliminate their hardships and the emotional pain that life brings them?

I can think of three different times in my K-12 education that I had to sit through a semester of classes with a former girlfriend sitting in the row next to me, after a breakup. Was it hard? Absolutely. Was it distracting? You bet it was. But I learned grit. I learned how to manage my emotions because the issue was right in front of me. I grew stronger because my mom and dad never dreamed of removing the situation. In fact, I think I remember my mother talking it over with me one evening and helping me see that I could make it through that rough patch.

Ponder these questions.

Would we ever teach our teenagers to drive a car, but then tell them they can never drive on a road that’s curvy or steep or wet? That would be silly.

Would we ever sign our kid up to play Little League baseball, but insist as they enter middle school that they continue to play T-ball, so they are sure to get a hit?

Would we ever join a family fitness center, and then tell our teens they can’t actually work out with the weights—for fear they’d get hurt. Would we ever tell them, “I will lift the bar bells for you, so you don’t get hurt?”

Most of the time, if our kids are fragile, it’s because we’ve made them fragile. And if we don’t build some emotional strength inside of them, they’ll become fragile adults as well.

Perhaps the student (in the story above) had a legitimate reason to be removed from her class. I’m simply offering a reminder that we must not neglect our duty to host tough conversations with students to help them navigate the tough situations they will face. As leaders, faculty and coaches, I fear we’ve surrendered our leadership role and taken the easy route. In essence, we move them to another classroom so they don’t have to face the music.

Steps We Can Take to Toughen Them Up

Let me suggest some common sense action-steps we can take to strengthen them emotionally and equip them for their future adult life:

1. Empathize with them. Feel their pain and hurt.

Insure they know you feel the hurt they feel, and it’s normal for people.

2. Tell your own story about a similar tough time you faced.

Share about when you went through painful times in your past.

3. Share Ben Franklin’s principle: “There is no gain without pain.”

Tell them that your biggest goal, apart from loving them, is preparing them.

4. Talk over a strategy they can use.

Converse about an action plan they could apply to get through tomorrow.

5. Role-play with them and equip them to respond in difficult situations.

Actually act out situations to prepare them for worst-case scenarios.

6. Practice and discuss the importance of emotional intelligence.

Place them in social contexts, parties or events, to learn to relate to others.

7. Don’t remove the struggles—but teach them to solve their own problems.

Whatever you do, don’t solve the problem by removing it. This harms them.

As our children face adversity, it’s time we ask ourselves: Is my solution going to aid them as adults in dealing with this on their own? Or does it make them more dependent upon me to solve their problems. I dare you.

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Today, I’m thrilled to share a conversation with Dr. Wayne Hammond. Dr. Hammond is the President and Executive Director of Resiliency Initiatives where he and his team work to build resiliency in students to effectively cope with life’s challenges. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

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Tim Elmore:
Wayne, you’ve worked in education and with educators for decades, take a moment and share exactly what you do.

Wayne Hammond: Well my background is as a clinical psychologist. So I was raised in the model that when kids have challenges, our first response is to diagnose what’s wrong. Then we thought if we can remediate it, then the child should do fine. What I learned in practice very quickly was that people don’t want to be fixed, but they want to be valued. When students feel valued and you start with what is important to you, then they tend to accept those challenges and risks when we have to invite them into in the learning process. So instead of seeing kids at risk, we see kids with potential.

It’s just my belief that every student wants to be successful and be a part of something bigger than themselves. They all have greatness inside of themselves. It’s our job as educators to help them explore what is right about them. It’s how kids see themselves, see their strengths, how they draw upon it, and how they allow others to support them that actually creates a lifelong journey for them.

Tim: I love that approach. Dr. Hammond, talk about how you have developed this keen interest and deep concern for resilience in students today. You do see their potential, but also that many of them aren’t reaching it because they aren’t able to bounce back.


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Wayne: Well part of the journey is to hear those stories and identify what are those strengths. I go back to a story about Terry Fox High School. It was in the bottom ten of the school division in all indicators: academic, health, and behavioral issues. Within three years, they are now in the top tenth of the school division in academic performance, behavior issues, and mental health concerns.

The biggest factor we focused on was shifting the culture of the school from simply providing content, to seeing the kids’ potential. We worked with the teachers, which I believe is the greatest asset of a school. The reason being is that they are the ones that have relationships. It’s a journey for us to support this capacity for kids to take smart risks, become part of something bigger than themselves, and to know what success really means.

Tim: We’re on the same page there. In an earlier conversation, you talked about the four steps that schools or educators need to take with students. Would you take a moment and talk about those four steps and why they’re important? 

Wayne: The first step is to put relationships before directing. It’s about connecting and building that trust factor. The second step is about inspiring. But that inspiration often doesn’t come because kids don’t believe in themselves until someone else believes in them first. It’s all about connecting and inspiring. The third step is about building upon what they bring, building up what they need, and building forward. The fourth step is about teaching them how to be adaptable and show that perseverance.

These kids can do amazing things; they just don’t know it yet. It’s our job to facilitate that process. I believe the goal of education is to create an environment where kids are going to thrive, whether that is junior high, senior high, or college/university.

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At Growing Leaders, we believe in the potential and power of the emerging generation. Today’s emerging generation—the young people we call “Generation iY”—will carve a new path in history. Each new generation, however, is responsible not only to do something new, but to remember what has come before. Stories of great leaders from history personify an opportunity to learn what it takes to grow, to press on, to lead. This is what biographies offer us. They allow us to learn from past leaders. In fact, you may just find your most helpful mentor is a dead person!

If you know a young leader looking to grow—or you personally what to be inspired—here is a list of 12 great biographies to consider for growth and inspiration. Just imagine what could happen. Utilize these stories to help the students around you to expand their view of the world, teach them something about history, and embolden their own drive to become a great leader.

1. John Wooden | Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court
John Wooden is the multi-award winning legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins men’s basketball team. As the title implies, he has an abundance of wisdom to offer young leaders from the stories in his life—both on and off the court.

2. The Wright Brothers | The Wright Brothers
We all know that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, but do you know the story behind this huge accomplishment? Their story, and legacy, is full of passion, imagination, and entrepreneurship.

3. Malala | I Am Malala
If you don’t know Malala, you should. Malala is a teenage activist who stood up to the Taliban in her native country of Pakistan. Now a Nobel Peace Prize recipient (at only 17!), Malala proves the importance of standing up for what you believe in, especially for those who have no voice.

4. Winston Churchill | Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill
You probably already recognize Churchill for his leadership of the United Kingdom during the second world war. This book, however, provides an interesting look into the personal side of this great leader.

5. Abraham Lincoln | Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times
Abraham Lincoln is, of course, recognized for his leadership of our country and his work to end the evil of slavery. This book explores both Lincoln’s story and his greatest leadership characteristics, especially how they can apply to you today.

6. Aung San Suu Kyi | The Lady and the Peacock: The Life of Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of a Burmese political leader who led a revolt over an oppressive regime in the 80s and 90s and won the Nobel Prize for her work. Her inspiring story is deeply rooted in the practice of non-violence, which so many great leaders have utilized in recent history.

7. The Mirabal Sisters | In the Time of the Butterflies
Written as a novel, this book tells the story of “Las Mariposas,” four sisters who stood up to the unjust rule of a dictator in the Dominican Republic. Their story, and their mission, lives beyond them because of this work.

8. Martin Luther King, Jr. | The Autobiography of Martin Luther King
You probably already know about the life and deeds of Martin Luther King, Jr. This book, his own autobiography, puts the struggle of the Civil Rights movement into the words of its greatest advocate and leader: MLK himself.

9. Harriet Tubman | Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom
Harriet Tubman was known as a leader of the Underground Railroad, but there’s so much more to her story . The account of her life, which shows the powerful things that can happen when you commit to an ideal greater than yourself, highlights the necessity of hard work, standing up to injustice, and unfailing idealism.

10. Nelson Mandela | Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela was the South African leader who fought to end apartheid, the systematic oppression of black Africans. From his work in his youth, to his 27 years in prison, to his eventual election as president of the country—Mandela’s story would be unbelievable, if it weren’t also true.

11. Gandhi | Gandhi: A Life Inspired
Gandhi was not only the famed leader of the Indian resistance against British rule, he was also the inventor of what we now call nonviolent resistance. His insight and passion have served as an example of what it means to be a leader for generations, and that legacy will continue.

12. Florence Nightingale | Florence Nightingale: A Life Inspired
Well-known in her time, Florence Nightingale was the leader of a movement that created what we now know of in the modern world as the profession of nursing. Ms. Nightingale was both a leader in medical reform, and an outspoken advocate for learning from your mistakes—no matter how embarrassing they are.

I hope that you will consider giving one of these books to a young leader you know, or perhaps even reading one yourself. As you might imagine, when I sat down to create this list, there were a lot of books I had to cut out. If you are interested in receiving what I consider to be the rest of the list, click below to see four more biographies.

Want More Biographies to Recommend?
Here’s Four More Biographies Every Young Person Should Read

Download this List Here

I’m sure the headline above appears a bit random. Is there really a common denominator between the Pope and Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom?

Apparently, there is.

About a month ago, Instagram’s CEO and co-founder Kevin Systrom met with Pope Francis at the Vatican for the very first time. You already know, not everyone gets an audience with the Pope. What was the purpose of their meeting?

They met to discuss the power of images.

Instagram is now the fastest growing platform for social media sharing among the younger population, passing up Facebook from just a few years ago. Facebook remains the largest social media site, but it’s significant that they were smart enough to buy Instagram, foreseeing the trend toward posting and sending images over words. Systrom asserts they intend for Instagram to be the “dominant platform for visual communication.”

So, let’s listen in on the conversation between the Pope and Kevin Sysyrom. There were at least three realities that emerged as they conversed that we can integrate as we teach and lead students:

What Pope Francis and Kevin Systrom Reveal About the Power of Images:


Images unite generations and cultures.

This is literally what Kevin Systrom said to TIME magazine, which reported the meeting between the two leaders. Here were two men—one corporate, one sacred—connecting over a curated set of pictures that Systrom brought with him. He suggested that images unite people from different ages, different cultures and across all borders. Just think about international traffic signs. We’ve gone to images or icons because we all recognize their meaning, regardless of our language or culture. These images bring people together.

Images can tell stories in real time.

The set of images Kevin brought to Pope Francis told the stories of recent tragedies that people from all over the world had endured—pictures from the exodus of immigrants from Syria to Europe, to the Nepalese earthquake and its aftermath. In a picture, we can unveil so much without even saying a word. Images become the language. I remember pictures from history that connected me to the story of my country, and the narrative of my past.

Images reveal truth.

Finally, images can communicate a truth, whether it’s simple and straightforward, such as the trending photos of Taylor Swift’s 1989 tour., Or they can communicate pain—like the aftermath of the terrorist attack in Brussels, Belgium. They can also communicate hope —like the images of so many who are aiding refuges internationally. Images have the power to make us laugh or learn. Through symbolism, images often represent a truth or remind the viewer of an important axiom. And because they’re a metaphor—they’re disarming, even as they teach.

So What Do I Do with This Information?

These are but a handful of reasons I chose over the years to leverage images and narratives to teach leadership and life skills. They engage both the head and the heart—both hemispheres of the brain. Images make you think and feel at the same time. Each of our images, called Habitudes® (images that form leadership habits and attitudes), actually represent a timeless truth we believe the young must learn in order to lead themselves and others well. Since 2004, when we published the first Habitudes book, it’s been remarkable to see how memorable they are once students learn the truth that is captured in the image. I just spoke to a thirty year old who learned some of the Habitudes images back in college, a decade ago. She still remembers and uses them to this day.

So how do images impact our everyday lives?

If you’re communicating with colleagues, a study done by Social Bakers last year exposed the visual nature of social networking. The study indicated that photos trump the market on Facebook, making up 93 percent of the social network’s most engaging posts.

Research from Skyword found that when you’re sending a message—if your content includes compelling images, you can average 94 percent more views than your boring counterparts. Our eyes are drawn to visuals.

If you’re looking to get your message noticed on-line, a study done with Google+ users  revealed that images play a role in providing visual cues to grab someone’s attention on-line. Researchers found that a post on Google+ was three times more likely to be re-shared if it included an image.

So, what are we waiting for? It’s time we include images as we communicate. Get the picture?

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Some say today that leadership development is overrated. Folks talk about it too much. After all, not everyone is supposed to be a leader. Right?

I suppose if you define a “leader” in a traditional way, meaning it’s the person with a position at the top of the organization, then, it’s true. Not everyone will be the CEO, the president, or the chairman. I have seen, however, the genius in schools and organizations who re-define the term, and develop leaders throughout their team—regardless of their position—and gain measurable results. In other words, they believe leadership has less to do with a position and more to do with a disposition. It’s a way of thinking and acting. Consequently, they commit to develop leaders at every level of the flow chart—and it pays off. It becomes part of the culture.

It has been said, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you adjust the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

After working with more than 8,000 universities, schools and organizations, we’ve seen incredible results on campuses that choose to develop a “culture of leadership.” In fact, thousands of the students, faculty, staff, young professionals and athletes who’ve been equipped to think like leaders have completed an assessment and experienced tangible life-change. Both business leaders and educators tell us their emerging leaders have become:

  • More focused with their time and energy.
  • More disciplined in their planning.
  • More effective in learning settings.
  • Better team players and leaders of their peers.

Among students, we’ve had high school principals report that disciplinary incidents drop and GPA’s rise. In just one year of utilizing our Habitudes® process, Duluth High School reported that disciplinary action was reduced by almost 50% across the board, including referrals and total number of students involved in rules violations.

Over a three-year period, Dr. Kerry Priest reports incredible impact on the culture in her department at Kansas State University. They focus on a co-curricular program for leadership development that impacts faculty, staff and students. Their integrated approach sets the pace for many other higher education institutions. Becky Barker, Director of Leadership and Volunteerism at the University of Oklahoma reported the same kind of transformation when a robust culture began to sway behavior in their department.

Coach Ken Rucker began offering leader-development on the Texas Longhorn football team back in 2007. Focusing purely on freshman athletes, Coach Rucker saw a culture change on the team in two short years. Over the following seasons, their corrective incidents declined and student-athlete engagement rose. Danny White reports the same kind of influence within the athletic department at Virginia Tech. Their staff does an incredible job at building leaders at every level.

We have the undeserved privilege of collaborating with a number of Chick-fil-A restaurants across the U.S. Those owner/operators who furnish leadership training to their entire team, have witnessed incredible culture-change, greater retention of team members and increased emotional connections in the community. In their industry, because of their focus on team culture, they are winning the war for talent.

Mill Creek High School, (the largest high school in Georgia) chose to offer leadership principles to the entire staff and student body. Dr. Jason Lane, principal of Mill Creek, reported, “Within a short amount of time, I began to notice a difference. Conversations that happened in the classroom and in the hallways went from students displaying disrespectful behavior to seeing them open doors for each other and their teachers, as well as saying “thank-you” and “please”.  It was a light switch that flipped on for them. We have reframed the conversations we have with our students on leading themselves, leading in school, and what is expected from them.”

So, how might you up the ante on creating a culture of leadership?

We believe that a culture of leadership is just what every school and organization needs. That’s why we are hosting a National Leadership Forum on June 23-24, 2016 in Atlanta, GA. This year, our theme will be:

“Leaders At Every Level”
The Secrets of Developing a Culture of Leadership

The two-day forum will offer best-practices and timeless principles on creating a culture of leadership. Our presenters will be:

  • Ken Blanchard – Best-selling author of The One-Minute Manager and Situational Leadership, on how to choose a coaching style for your team.
  • Gene Smith – Vice President and Director of Athletics at The Ohio State University, on how to deepen a brand and see a return on investment.
  • Maria Carstarphan – Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, on how to overcome scandal and rebuild a culture.
  • Kyle Stark – Assistant General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates on how to create a system that accelerates the development of mature men.
  • Wayne Hammond – President and Executive Director of Resiliency Initiatives, on how to assess resilience and cultivate right attitudes.
  • Austin Moss – Manager of Player Engagement at the National Football League, on building a brand to add value to both your team and community.
  • Tim Elmore – President of Growing Leaders, on how to leverage the timeless principles that nurture a leadership culture in your organization.

For Details or to Register, CLICK HERE.

Your personal invitation to:
National Leadership Forum 2016

The 2016 NLF will help you:

  • Identify specific action steps to foster a leadership culture.
  • Learn how to spot potential leaders early in your staff, faculty or students.
  • Develop a “growth mindset” instead of a “fixed mindset” in staff.
  • Cultivate healthy leaders at every level of your school or organization.

Learn More & Register Here