In February, I led a workshop at the National “First Year Experience” conference in Dallas. Several university staff spoke to me afterward about how difficult student development has become with college freshmen. One advisor said she was viewed as a “mean and nasty” person because she suggested first-year students needed to improve their people skills or study skills.

According to an analysis by Patricia Greenfield at UCLA, life skills such as critical thinking, interpersonal communication, and perseverance have declined with the prevalence of technology at our fingertips. As technology expands, our fundamental skills tend to diminish. “Reading for pleasure, which has declined among young people in recent decades, enhances thinking and engages the imagination in a way that visual media such as video games and television do not,” Greenfield said.

How much should schools use new media versus older techniques, such as reading and classroom discussion? “No one medium is good for everything,” Greenfield said. “If we want to develop a variety of skills, we need a balanced media diet. Each medium has costs and benefits in terms of what skills each develops.”

A Diagnosis

Consider the evolution of our culture. Do you know why belonging to a gym or a fitness center wasn’t popular a century ago? The majority of Americans didn’t need one. They were active bailing hay, working on a farm, or working in factories, where they stood all day and remained active. Fitness centers were unnecessary because physical fitness occurred naturally in their daily lives. Gyms became necessary as our lives became more sedentary. It just makes sense.

The same is true for our emotional, intellectual, social and spiritual growth as well. As technology, social media, and medications expand, we find ourselves needing to create new avenues to develop mature, well-adjusted students who are ready to graduate and take their place as contributing citizens. In my new book Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid, I offer a diagram that illustrates how kids today are growing up in a world that hinders them from maturing holistically. I call it the Generation iY SCENE. This is the scene kids are growing up in today, as well as the unintended consequences we didn’t see coming:

Their World is Full of: Consequently, They Can Assume:
S – Speed Slow is bad.
C – Convenience Hard is bad.
E – Entertainment Boring is bad.
N – Nurture Risk is bad.
E – Entitlement Labor is bad.

Note the list on the right. It seems to me that the ideas of slow, hard, boring, risk and labor are the very realities that enable me to mature into a good man, a good leader, a good husband and father. I am suggesting that our world of speed and convenience actually hinder the natural development of virtues we need to develop into strong adults. When things come quick and easy, I fail to develop the emotional muscles I need and require intentional exercises to fully mature.

I remember exactly when and where I learned the life skill of conflict resolution. I learned it playing outside with a dozen or so friends in a big field in back of our house. After we did our homework, we’d grab our baseball bats and mitts and play ball. We’d choose sides and umpire our own games. In the process, I learned interpersonal skills and conflict resolution.

I often joke that today kids get less and less time outside to do such things. When they do, there are often four mothers outside doing the conflict resolution for them.

The Formula

The fact is, we must become more intentional about student development in certain areas, especially as fewer life skills are cultivated naturally. In short:

The less natural life skills are cultivated during childhood, the more intentional we must be as we lead them in adolescence and young adulthood.

 A Prescription

So—before we know what to prescribe for student development today, we must ask two simple but profound questions as we observe them:

 What social or emotional muscles seem to be weak?

What practices can we introduce into their lives to develop those muscles?

 Just like a Fitness Center enables us to develop physical muscles, specific social and emotional activities enable us to grow internally. At the risk of over-simplifying:

  • It is in waiting that I build patience.
  • It is in face-to-face collaboration that I build interpersonal skills.
  • It is in attempting risky ventures that I build courage.
  • It is in struggling that I build perseverance.
  • It is in boredom that I have margins to imagine and think creatively.
  • It is in challenging labor that I build appreciation for work ethic.

Here’s to asking these questions as you plan programming for your students.

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Developmental psychologists have reminded us for years that people learn in different ways. Students, for instance, may be auditory learners, visual learners or kinesthetic learners—but all have to sit in the same classroom with a teacher who cannot possibly invest the time to specialize in each learning style. In fact, most educators lean toward utilizing the pedagogy they prefer themselves.

When my son was in elementary school, I learned that he was a visual-spatial learner. This does not mean he cannot learn through mere words, but that he learns best and most rapidly when a communicator uses visuals and imagery. His grades reflected the teachers who recognized this and used visuals in the classroom. He has what psychologists call “visual intelligence.”

What is Visual Intelligence?

People with high visual-spatial intelligence are good at remembering images, faces, and fine details. They are able to visualize objects from different angles. People with high visual-spatial intelligence also have good spatial judgment and reasoning. In short, visual intelligence is the preference to learn and communicate visually.

photo credit: somav016a via photopin (license)

photo credit: somav016a via photopin (license)

Now here’s what we need to realize about our world today: we are all becoming more visual in our learning and communication preferences.

Based on an analysis done at UCLA, “Visual intelligence has been rising globally for 50 years. In 1942, people’s visual performance, as measured by a visual intelligence test known as Raven’s Progressive Matrices, went steadily down with age and declined substantially from age 25 to 65. But by 1992, there was a much less significant age-related disparity in visual intelligence.” What’s more, the report’s main researcher, Patricia Greenfield, stated, “In a study, visual IQ stayed almost flat from age 25 to 65.”

This means that while 65% of American adults say they are visual learners, the number is likely significantly higher among the student population. Why are we seeing an increase in visual intelligence and visual learning? Here’s my guess:

  1. We spend more time viewing communication on a screen.
  2. Our world is global, and visuals or icons become common language.
  3. More of us watch videos online then listen to radios or mere voices.
  4. In a world cluttered by information, visuals simplify ideas for us.

Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences

In 1983, developmental psychologist Howard Gardner proposed a unique theory: instead of intelligence being a single ability quantified by an IQ test, what if intelligence existed in multiple categories that humans possessed in varying amounts? He went on to propose eight categories, which included intelligences such as musical-rhythmic, interpersonal, verbal-linguistic, and visual-spatial.

If this is the case, it would be beneficial for both teachers and parents to understand the “intelligences” of their young people. Their brains will tend to think in various ways and specialize in both communicating and learning in different manners, based on their brain-preferences. Whether it’s the use of words, experiences or visuals, kids will grasp ideas more rapidly when communicators connect with their predisposed intelligence. Question: do you know your student’s learning predisposition?

In my survey of more than 3,000 high school and college students, we found the top three components that enabled them to remember information were:

  • Music
  • Experiences
  • Images

All three of these engage the imagination. They paint pictures inside the students. A growing number were visual-spatial learners. As I’ve said, young people who are strong in visual-spatial intelligence are good at visualizing things. These individuals are often good with directions as well as maps, charts, videos and pictures.

Common Characteristics of Visual-Spatial Intelligence

  • Enjoy reading and writing
  • Good at putting puzzles together
  • Good at interpreting pictures, graphs, and charts
  • Enjoys drawing, painting, and the visual arts
  • Recognizes patterns easily

My question of course is this: how are you incorporating metaphors, icons, visual images and art in your communication?

To get started, check out our library of Habitudes®—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes.”

Habitudes encourage right-brain learning by using images to teach leadership skills


I am asked a form of this question multiple times a week:

“What do I do with students’ addiction to technology?”

Faculty, coaches, parents, youth workers and employers are often miffed at kids who sit with their heads down, gazing at the screen of a smart phone. Preoccupation with a phone has been proven to be an addiction, a coping mechanism (for a lack of social skills), and a distraction from priorities like academics. So what do we do about it? Do we simply take their phones and tablets away?

My answer tends to be the same: Technology isn’t going away—so we’re going to have to find ways to redeem it.

photo credit: Simon Bramwell via photopin cc

photo credit: Simon Bramwell via photopin cc

Let me illustrate.

According to research conducted by Patricia Greenfield, a professor of psychology at UCLA, “More than 85 percent of video games contain violence, one study found, and multiple studies of violent media games have shown that they can produce many negative effects, including aggressive behavior and desensitization to real-life violence.”

Most of us suspect this is true, and often, we only see the negative outcomes of video games or commercial technology. However, there is always another side to every coin. Is it possible, for instance, to redeem the use of video games?

According to the UCLA’s research, there is.

Turning Negatives into Positives

The point for us, as educators, is to point out the positive skill sets that can be developed through such tantalizing games and help students harness them. In other words, instead of simply communicating that some technology is “evil”, why don’t we find ways to use it for positive outcomes?

Here’s an analogy. Did you realize that part of the reason for the turn around in high New York City crime rates, during the 1990s, was that NYPD police officers would identify gang members painting graffiti on walls around the various burros, nab the culprits in the act, and arrest them? Then, however, they would connect them with employers who needed to hire talented graphic artists. The employers surveyed the graffiti, commented on its virtues, and critiqued where it could be improved—then offered the artists a job. Many of those gang members were transformed and began using their once-criminal skills for the benefit of others… and a nice paycheck. Crime was turned into legitimate income. Everybody won.

Why not discuss this with your class or team? What are some negative by-products of technology that could be transformed into something productive, both for the student and for their community? Where could the skill sets of your tech-addicted students be redeemed, moving them from consumer to contributor?


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I am moved, just as you likely are, when I hear a story of a kid who somehow found it within herself to do something very brave. Last year, we all heard of Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year old girl who was shot three times by the Taliban in Pakistan for her work to insure girls get an education. After surviving the wounds, she continued to take a stand. She became the youngest recipient to win a Nobel Peace Prize. One journalist called her the “most famous teenager in the world.”

All week, I’ve been musing about how we can better cultivate courage in students. In a day where so many of us (both educators and students) fear failure, where we avoid taking a stand for fear of making enemies, where we hesitate to say something because it may haunt us on social media for the rest of our lives—we must find ways to equip students to take courageous steps, even when they’re afraid.

After covering why courage is essential and why it’s difficult to muster in Part 1, I wrote yesterday about what courage really is (and what it isn’t). Today, I’d like to launch a conversation on how we develop courage — both in ourselves and in our students.


photo credit: Gould Academy via photopin cc

Cultivating Courage in Students

My friend Andy Stanley suggests that courage is a blend of clear perspective and the irresistible urge to act. Clarity generally comes first. Here are some steps we can take with our students to enable them to grow in courage:

1. Help them clarify their moral compass. 
This means we talk over what they really believe in deeply. We are most likely to exhibit bravery when we know the principles we most value.

 2. Identify their strengths and unique gifts.
Courage surfaces when students have opportunities to act in line with their primary gifts. In other words, they’ll be most confident in areas of strength.

3. Read the stories of past courageous leaders.
Once a person exhibits backbone, the spines of others are often strengthened. Help students locate narratives of past leaders who stood amidst adversity.

4. Attempt something new and risky every week.
I’ve practiced this for years now. Courage requires a risky step. Ask them: when was the last time they did something for the first time?

5. Together, make an “all in” commitment to a good habit for a set time.
Being brave is often about doing a good thing, not a great thing. Identify a good habit you can start practicing together and commit to it for two weeks.

6. Hold them accountable on key decisions they’ve made.
Courage is sustained through friendly accountability. Once they decide to commit to a brave decision, hold them accountable to follow through.

7. Interview a courageous leader and ask: what gives you courage?
This has been priceless to me. I love finding people who’ve displayed bravery and discussed what it was that enabled them to act courageously. Take notes.

8. Encourage them to participate in “rejection therapy.”
This is a self-help game created by Jason Comely, where being rejected by someone is the sole winning condition. This exercise emboldens the players.

9. Nudge them to get involved in a cause for which they’re passionate.
Ambrose Redmoon once said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

10. Help them do what they fear the most… and the death of fear is certain.
True strength is keeping everything together when everyone expects you to fall apart. Courage expands when we initiate in an area we fear treading. MLK MLK

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made an incredible statement just a year before he died:

 You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you’re afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death in the spirit. You died when you refused to stand up for right. You died when you refused to stand up for truth. You refused to stand up for justice.

In the end, the brave may not live forever, but the cautious don’t live at all. Let’s equip our students to really live.


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  • Understand why students (both in high school and college) aren’t graduating career ready
  • Gain insights on what employers are seeking in today’s graduates
  • Increase students’ awareness in preparing for a career
  • Discover a teaching style that engages today’s “screenagers”

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This week, I’m blogging about the virtue of courage (specifically, how we build courage in students today). Courage has always been challenging to cultivate. We humans tend to shrink from doing what is difficult, unpopular or may garner enemies. However, it’s my belief that our society today makes displaying courage especially hard. (I listed five reasons why our world discourages courage in Part 1 of this series.)

As I meet with students, I consistently hear them say things like:

• “I don’t want to take a leadership position. I’m afraid I’ll lose my friends if I have to confront them on something.”

• “I’m scared to death of graduating. I know how to do well in school, but I fear I won’t measure up as I enter college… or a career.”

• “I moved back home after college. Now, I’m afraid to move out. I’m worried I’ll make a bad decision about my first job and apartment. I feel stuck.”

What Exactly is Courage?

Contrary to what myths and legends may communicate, courage isn’t super-human. It actually can co-exist with fear and doesn’t remove our innate human weaknesses. We actually display it in everyday choices we make, but unfortunately, today’s world tends to safeguard kids from developing much of it—especially when it comes to the current demand for guarantees, safety rules, and risk-free policies from over-functioning parents. What’s more, kids who have grown up watching movies of knights slaying dragons or playing video games like Call of Duty (where the hero takes on fifty enemies) can get the wrong idea about courage and easily disqualify themselves as people who just don’t have any.

When I teach leadership to students and list the fundamental qualities of a leader, courage always ranks at the top of what students believe they lack.

To put it simply, courage is the ability to do what frightens you.

It’s the willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.

When we develop courage in students, we enable them to take appropriate risks, to take initiative and act — in short, to be a decision-maker and a responsibility-taker.

If I were to break it down a bit further, I’d describe courage in five ways:

1. Courage is contagious.
The good news is, just like fear can be contagious, so can courage. When a student takes a stand on what is right, they often give permission to others to do the same. This is why leadership often begins with entrepreneurship.

2. Courage is initiating and doing what you are afraid of doing.
As I said earlier, courage can co-exist with fear. In fact, it acts in spite of fear. You can’t build courage with mere lectures or theories. Like a muscle, courage only grows when we act. It requires that we run to the roar.

3. Courage is the power to let go of the familiar.
When we cling to what’s familiar or comfortable, we tend to eliminate risk. Unfortunately, risk is a prerequisite for courage. When we risk too little and rescue too quickly, we diminish a student’s chances to grow courage.

4. Courage is vision in action.
Anyone can catch a vision. In fact, anyone who’s ever taken a shower has probably gotten a good idea. Courage is what enables us to get out of the shower, dry off, and do something about that good idea.

5. Courage takes the risk and seizes what is essential for growth.
Healthy courage is always about forward movement and growth. Leaders always push teams toward progress. It involves risk and action. Once these are displayed, they become a model for others to follow.

It was during my first 30 years that my parents, teachers, coaches and mentors pushed me to be courageous. I remember experiencing a bad bicycle accident on a steep hill in San Diego when I was in high school. After my mom lovingly nursed me back to health, she and dad let me know that the quickest way to battle being overcome with fear was to get right back on that bike when I was able. And I did.

I had a mentor who challenged me to join him and serve the homeless on the streets of San Diego. It was a scary time for me as a middle-class teen, but I did it. My courage muscle kept growing. During college, I worked with a youth group where we discussed the song lyrics of rock bands like KISS, Styx, Elton John and others. During those days, I ended up seeking out those musicians and talking to them about their lyrics and their impact on kids. I spoke with Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Tommy Shaw, Dennis DeYoung, Ozzy Osborne, Elton John and others. It was frightening, but those risky ventures continued to grow my courage muscle.

During the 1980’s, my employers gave me increasing responsibilities in areas I had no experience. I was scared—but as I assumed authority, my courage muscle expanded. In 1990, I was in a small plane crash while in New Zealand. It was one of the most horrifying moments of my life—but in recovery, I was able to speak on a national news broadcast about what I had learned from the experience. By this time, I learned that fear and courage can co-exist… but courage must push me to do what I fear.

Tomorrow, I will post a third blog in this series and discuss the steps we can help students take to foster courage in their lives and leadership. Talk to you then.

Get FREE Access to Our New Video Series

The Missing Piece to Career Readiness is a series of three videos aimed to help adults:

  • Understand why students (both in high school and college) aren’t graduating career ready
  • Gain insights on what employers are seeking in today’s graduates
  • Increase students’ awareness in preparing for a career
  • Discover a teaching style that engages today’s “screenagers”

Get Your Free Access Here