Years ago, legendary basketball coach John Wooden told people that he didn’t see himself as a coach as much as a teacher. He referred to himself as an educator, and the game of basketball was merely a platform to instruct his athletes about winning in life. He succeeded profoundly.

John Wooden

Coach John Wooden

Reflect for a minute on your answer to this question: Are you a coach or a teacher? Coaches can be great, but often, our style shrinks to barking out orders and game plans (instead of teaching) when we’re faced with athletes’ disrespect or short attention spans. Coaching is about the “what.” Teaching is about the “why” and the “how.”

Traditional Coach Teacher
One-way communication. Two-way interaction.
Yells orders. Facilitates learning.
Confronts mistakes by shouting. Confronts mistakes with listening.
Focuses on what needs to be done. Explains how and why it must be done.
It’s about telling. It’s about teaching.

If you’re style is “old school” as an athletic coach, this may sound crazy, but today’s athletes — who’ve been empowered by technology and parents — require a different style in order to follow direction. It’s relationship-based coaching that wins them over at the heart level. Let me explain below.

  1. They don’t need you for information but for interpretation.

Today’s athletes don’t need adults to get information. They have a Google reflex; information is available 24/7. So why not change your style to being an interpreter, to take time and explain why something is important and how to do it. John Wooden slowly taught his players how to put on their socks so they wouldn’t get blisters.

  1. They are drawn to social media more than television.

They spend more hours using Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat than watching TV. Why? It’s interactive. It’s personal. It’s short bursts of content. What if you adapted your coaching style to resemble social media? Interactive. Personal. Short bits of content they can digest. Your message may not need to change, but your methods might.

  1. They need you to start with “why.”

A few years back, Simon Sinek wrote a book called Start With Why. He argues that understanding the “why” is what gets a team on board with an idea. Once you explain the why, they gain a keen interest in learning the “what” or “how.” Too often, we rush to bark out “what” needs to happen—and never gain the hearts of our young players.

  1. They want you to teach them, not tell them.

Too often, I’ve been guilty of merely telling young team members what to do. They don’t respond well to a “teller.” When we stop and actually teach them how to do something, explaining what’s behind a drill or practice or play, we win them over. Telling them gets you temporary behavior modification. Teaching them enables them to “own” the idea.

  1. They need you to believe in what you’re saying.

Young athletes today can smell a fake a mile away. If we don’t buy the message we are exporting to them—we’ll never get them to embody it. Demonstrate your passion not just with the tone of your voice, but with the routines of your life.

My favorite John Wooden story occurred when freshman Bill Walton came to play for him at UCLA. Bill had been heavily recruited out of Helix High School in San Diego, and he knew he was good. He arrived sporting a big, red beard his first year. As he sat with the other freshmen listening to Coach Wooden explain why he didn’t allow facial hair on his team, Walton decided to confront the silly rule. Wooden explained how he wanted them to look clean cut to fellow students and he wanted them to avoid the risk of catching a cold walking outside after showering. This was nonsense to Bill Walton.

After the meeting, Walton approached Wooden, looked down at him, and said, “I’m planning on keeping my beard, coach.”

Wooden looked up at his 6 foot, 11 inch freshman and replied, “You really feel strongly about your beard, don’t you, Bill?”

“Yes I do,” Walton replied.

“Well, then. I really respect people who possess strong beliefs,” Wooden responded. Then, after a short pause, he smiled and said, “We’re going to miss you, Bill.”

Wooden was a teacher who believed in what he taught. And he won the respect of his players. Walton shaved his beard and went on to win championships. Let’s go teach our athletes how to live a good life.


Habitudes for AthletesWant to prepare athletes for excellence in sports and life?

Check out Habitudes® for Athletes.

For almost twenty years now, I have focused exclusively on developing young leaders—in schools, athletic teams, clubs, churches and organizations. In 2003, I launched Growing Leaders, an organization that would be about this single mission. Since that time, we’ve created a system to develop young leaders called Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes. It’s been a rewarding journey.

After working with more than 8,000 schools and organizations since 2003, we now have some results to unveil. Thousands of the students, athletes, staff and young professionals we’ve equipped recently completed an assessment about the changes they experienced through Habitudes. Students tell us they’ve become:

  • More focused with their time and energy.
  • More disciplined in their planning.
  • More effective students in class.
  • Better teammates and leaders.

When we’ve heard back from educators, we’ve been… well, inspired. Let me share the areas where the greatest gains have been made.


The Ups and Downs of Using Habitudes

  1. Detention Goes Down.

Disciplinary incidents drop. In just one year, Duluth High School reported disciplinary action was reduced by almost 50% across the board, including referrals and total number of students involved in rules violations. Only 3% of freshman had one or more discipline referrals, which was a huge drop from the prior year. Another school reported a 60% decrease in fights and a 40% decrease in thefts.

  1. Retention Goes Up.

Kids stay in school, and more graduate. At several high schools, ninth grade retention rates increased measurably in just one year, going from 20% of students dropping out of school to 10%. Further, students not only stay in class, they succeed: Principal Jason Lane said, “After the first semester, we had the lowest failure rates for many of our courses in recent history.”

  1. Attention Goes Up.

Student engagement increases. Although adolescent attention spans linger at about seven seconds, Habitudes helped capture and engage students. Several principals said, “Habitudes contributed to a 45-50% increase in community service hours per student.” Additionally, a Cobb County high school reported, “ a 400% increase in student-initiated clubs. Even some of our homeless kids now volunteer to support our special education programs.”

  1. Pretension Goes Down.

Pretension is the unpleasant quality of people who think of themselves as more impressive or important than they really are. Habitudes discussions foster humility and perspective among students. The result is courtesy in the classes and hallways, according to high school principals. Fayette County schools reported measurable improvement in student attitudes.

  1. Intention Goes Up.

Students begin living life on purpose. As a result, the culture is healthier. One Gwinnett County principal reported the rate of his students making straight A’s climbed measurably, while students making all A’s and B’s increased to almost half the student body. Another principal Billy Richardson said, “Ultimately, we are seeing students from all demographics engage in the Habitudes conversations and prepare for their life ahead of them.”

  1. Extension Goes Up.

Success doesn’t end with high school. Students graduate college and career ready. They think like leaders. Mill Creek High School reported, “Last year, we had 35 students in our leadership club. This year, we have 370 members who receive monthly leadership training and opportunities to serve and lead, with another 70+ on a waiting list.” Additionally, they said, “We had almost 260 junior and seniors volunteer part of their lunch twice per week to mentor 9th graders.”

One of the best success stories we’ve seen comes from Mill Creek High School. Dr. Jason Lane, principal at Mill Creek (which happens to be the largest public high school in Georgia), had this to say:

After hearing about Habitudes and learning how it benefited other schools, we decided to implement the program. Within a short amount of time, I began to notice a difference. Conversations that happened in the classroom and in the hallways literally 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. Habitudes has been an invaluable tool to help reframe the conversations we have with our students on leading themselves, leading in school, and what is expected from them.

This is just one of many stories we’ve received from our Habitudes partners. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our webpage dedicated to Secondary Schools. You will find the large variety of Habitudes resources we offer and how schools are using them. We’d love for you to join us in this story.

Looking to develop leadership skills in students next year? 

Check out Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes



Today’s students are as busy as ever. Some would argue they’re more busy than ever. The numbers tell us, however, that students are busy with activities (such as clubs, practices, recitals, etc) more than with working at a job. Even the percentages of young adults ages 18-34 who are employed have dropped over the last three decades:

1980 – 69%

1990 – 71%

2000 – 69%

2009-2013 – 65%

And when you adjust for inflation, young adults are getting paid less too, according to the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Education. While it doesn’t represent a gigantic drop, it represents enough that caring adults should notice.

According to the Barna Research Group, a mere 36% of students said college prepared them for life. This is sad but true. I’m not sure if their expectations were too high or if their college performance was genuinely too low, but only 42% felt they needed their degree for their job, and even less said their degree was related to their job. Four out of every ten wish they’d chosen a different major.

Why This Matters

A few years ago, we began to see the numbers drop on the summer job market. You may or may not know this, but summer youth employment has dropped in the last decade. Only 54% of white teens work now, alongside 39% of Hispanic teens and 35% of African American teens. While this may not sound like an alarming decline or position, it signals something larger. Those who dismiss this decline in working youth should remember that according to a 2011 study from The Center for Immigration Studies, those who work when they’re young are more likely to be employed later in life (this was found after controlling for factors such as family background, etc). What’s more, the study found that those who work as teens also make more money and are employed in higher-status occupations.


According to journalist Amy Rosen, “This research also shows that holding a job during their formative years instills the habits and values that are helpful in finding or retaining gainful employment later in life. This may include showing up on time, following a supervisor’s directions, completing tasks, dealing courteously with customers, and working hard. In other words, having a summer job is a pretty strong indicator of future job success.”

What Can Ordinary People Like Us Do About This?

Especially with summer ahead, let me suggest some steps we can take to better prepare our young people for a career and future leadership roles as adults:

  1. Talk about the value of work.

I have said this before: while I am a fan of extra-curricular activities such as sports, theatre, music, etc, there’s something about work that offers a genuine picture of life, not a facsimile. It represents exchanging talent and time for income. The value that surfaces in a young worker is healthy self-esteem and identity, as well as a healthy sense of responsibility with money and time.

  1. Mix in chores around the house.

A hundred years ago, four-year olds were doing age-appropriate chores at home. Today, that’s almost unheard of. I suggest by elementary school, suitable chores should be given to kids in exchange for income. This is not an allowance — it’s income for work. The difference? They are loved unconditionally for being part of the family, and they are paid for doing something valuable around the house. Dave Ramsey calls this a “commission” instead of an “allowance.”

  1. Give them a “taste” of part-time work when they’re old enough.

Even if it’s five to ten hours a week, help them scope out employment opportunities or entrepreneurial possibilities in their community. To be honest, they may just get hooked. I began as a paperboy at twelve years old. While I hated the early morning hours, I loved the revenue I generated. This may squeeze into their sports time, but remind them of the statistics I shared above — that this is giving them a head start.

  1. Don’t merely give them everything they want.

If we give them what they should earn, they will never be incentivized to get a job. Incentives are a big part of life. We learn to delay gratification in light of a benefit coming along later. Giving them all they want is actually a mild form of child abuse. It gives them a false sense of reality and doesn’t prepare them for the adult world.

According to Jennifer Breheny Wallace of The Wall Street Journal, “In a survey of 1,001 U.S. adults released last fall by Braun Research, 82% reported having regular chores growing up, but only 28% said that they require their own children to do them.”

Let’s give our young people the head start they need.


Looking to develop leadership skills in students this summer?

Check out Habitudes®: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes



We’ve all been reading about Millennials (or Generation Y) for fifteen years. As they graduate school and enter their careers, they’re bringing a new set of expectations with them. Their idea of a “work day” often looks different than their Baby Boomer boss’. As I interact with established employers, coaches, educators and leaders, I find they fall into one of two major camps as they view these new workers.

What Two Kinds of Executives Say About Today’s Graduates:

  • “These kids are lazy, entitled slackers. They’ve got lots to learn about a job.”
  • “These kids are redefining the workplace. They’ll reinvent what jobs look like.”

In reality, there’s a kernel of truth in both of these viewpoints. No doubt, students will need to adjust as they move from a dorm room to a cubicle. They may not be able to wear flip-flops or shorts when working for a Fortune 500 company (at least right now), but I believe they’re on the front edge of a new “on-demand” workforce that’s more about projects than the clock, who may do their best work at midnight rather than noon, and who communicate virtually more than face to face. I believe management will need to adjust as these Millennials become the majority in 10 years.

The Cultural and the Timeless

The fact is, effective leaders are able to separate what is cultural (trends that change all the time) from what is timeless (the changeless virtues all team members must possess). They adapt to the changing culture—the new rules and new ways to get work done more efficiently—but they cling to the timeless truths that make for a good workplace.


Think about it: if leaders never change anything, they’ll become dinosaurs quickly. If they’re always changing everything, they create a volatile and unstable culture at work. Both consistency and change are necessary. So here is my question as we attempt to equip graduates for work: What are the timeless qualities leaders must build into team members in every generation? Let me suggest eight virtues that will never go out of style:

Timeless Traits Regardless of the Generation

1. Discipline
There comes a time in everyone’s career when the work is no longer glitzy or glamorous — it just needs to get done. We don’t feel passionate in that moment, but we must do what is right, even when we don’t feel like it. This is a timeless virtue. While kids always want to find work they are passionate about, nothing takes the place of grit and old-fashioned work ethic.

2. Respect for authority
While this virtue may look slightly different in each new generation, civilization will cease to make progress unless each population of workers learns to submit to governing authority. Even if it comes kicking and screaming, growth cannot be achieved without coordination and organization from an agreed-upon leader. Respect for those who cast the vision and manage the progress is essential.

3. Empathy
Imagine a new population of colleagues who possess zero empathy for their peers. While job descriptions may still be followed, organizational culture would be lifeless. Genuine excellence occurs when people care more about each other than they do about money. This turns a one-mile walk into a second mile and motivates people better and faster than perks. It gives work meaning.

4. Resourcefulness
More and more leadership gurus are proposing that resourcefulness is the meta-competency of the 21st century. Why? Because information is no longer scarce. Anyone in any position has access to any question. Resourceful team members who can dig and find solutions will be in high demand. Organizations seek out people who can adapt and reinvent themselves because they possess this trait.

5. Delayed gratification
Regardless of what age we live in, team members who are not slaves to instant gratification will be attractive to employers. People perform better when they can wait on solutions they want and perform due diligence on rewards they seek. Delayed gratification is not only a mark of maturity, it is a sign of value. People who embody it frequently get promoted to leadership roles.

6. Self-awareness
This is the first component of emotional intelligence; it is also a rare trait in people. I believe this is a timeless skill or quality because of the pace of progress we are making with technology. Screens don’t cultivate emotional intelligence or interpersonal skills like genuine face-to-face interaction.

7. Teachable spirit
This is all about remaining coachable into one’s later years. It means maintaining a hungry mind, a humble heart, and a growth mindset, even into the second half of your career. Once again, this is timeless because change happens so rapidly. So it’s important for people to adapt and adopt new ways.

8. Resilience
Much is being written about this topic today, probably because so few of us (and the Millennial generation) possess it. Due to modern culture, we’re conditioned to quit early when things get tough or never make a long-term commitment. We are used to a world that is fast, convenient, and full of stimulation. Team members are needed who can bounce back (and even bounce forward) from a fail.

Here’s to balancing the art of adapting to culture and technology—and embracing the timeless virtues that teams will always need.

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A great gift for your college graduates. This special package includes Habitudes for the Journey and Habitudes for New Professionals.

This gift will help your graduates:

  • Choose their own set of core values for making wise decisions in life
  • Create an ongoing plan for personal growth outside the classroom
  • Persevere in a career when it may move slower than they wish


Order today!

Yesterday, I posed a question on whether a loaded childhood—chalk full of activities, high stress, and low margins—actually delays healthy adulthood. In other words, if a kid never gets to be a kid when they’re young, they’ll want to be one in their twenties or thirties. I’ve seen it far too many times.

Today, I want to share some research on one secret that educators in Finland have discovered that enables their students to experience healthy childhoods… which, in turn, leads to engaged adolescents and healthy adults. I was inspired by this information after talking to several teachers, including Kelly, who’s on a Fulbright research scholarship in Finland this year. (You can find her musings at

Photo courtesy of Filling My Map

Photo courtesy of Filling My Map

Every educator I’ve met who’s taught in Finland has echoed the same conclusion. Finland doesn’t have the most innovative classrooms. They do not deliver the most brilliant lesson plans. They, in fact, follow the same formulas for pedagogy that many other industrialized nations follow. However—they’ve found a way to lead the pack in many K-12 test scores and produce self-directed students who succeed more often than our American kids. You can look at the scores yourself.

Their secret? They simplify life.

Let me outline just a few examples of how adults in Finland have chosen the “less is more” approach with students (and how it’s paid off big time):

  1. Less formal education.

Although they’ve led the way in test scores, they actually start kids in school at age seven. In America, parents often think age five is too late and launch them into pre-school. Finland believes kids need to be kids early on, so when they begin school, they are really ready (especially boys). Everything after ninth grade is optional.

  1. Less possessions.

While every culture has the rich and the poor, as a whole, Finland’s less materialistic than the U.S. They live in smaller houses, buy fewer clothes, and don’t overwhelm shoppers with 300 choices of cereal or bread when ten will do. Men don’t buy big trucks and women wear less make up. Simple is better.

  1. Less classroom hours.

Unlike our schools, Finnish schools actually start the day between 9:00-9:45 am. In fact, the government is discussing legislation that would prevent schools from starting any earlier, knowing that adolescents need more sleep to perform better. The school day ends between 2:00-2:45 pm. They typically have three to four 75- minute classes a day with several breaks in between. Kids stay engaged.

  1. Fewer teachers per student.

Unlike our schools, Finnish elementary students stay with the same teacher for six years in a row. Obviously, those teachers really figure out the learning needs of each child and have a vested interest in their success since they don’t pass a troubled kid off to a new instructor next year. They ARE the instructor next year.

  1. Less homework.

This one is huge. Finnish schools have the least amount of homework in the industrialized world. Teachers actually believe kids can and should get the work done in class. According to one teacher, it’s as if faculty have an unspoken agreement: “I won’t give you homework if you will work hard on this assignment in class.”

  1. Less subjects.

Believe it or not, Finland actually covers fewer subjects in school and in less hours. Why? Because the parents, teachers and students trust the system and engage it. Instead of being suspicious of each other, they say to kids: This is your chance to get it. You better grab hold of it. Kids are not overwhelmed — they are engaged. One teacher said he often had to push students out of class at the end of the day because they wanted to stay and finish their projects.

Wow. Maybe “less is more” after all.

Question: How could you help simplify the life of your students?

Special offer: Save 37% on our Habitudes® College Graduation Gift!

A great gift for your college graduates. This special package includes Habitudes for the Journey and Habitudes for New Professionals.

This gift will help your graduates:

  • Choose their own set of core values for making wise decisions in life
  • Create an ongoing plan for personal growth outside the classroom
  • Persevere in a career when it may move slower than they wish



Order today!