I’ve noticed something about my generation of established leaders. Wanna know what it is? We like control and we don’t want to let go of it.

USA Today recently ran a cover article about this very reality. A growing number of Baby Boomer and Builder generation leaders who are at retirement age are choosing to stay in the game. And why shouldn’t they? Isn’t 75 the new 65? People are living longer and healthier lives today. So—if you look at many of the largest companies in the U.S., you’ll find a gray and aging CEO:

  • Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway . . . is 85 years old.
  • Rupert Murdoch, Chairman of Twentieth Century Fox . . . is 85 years old.
  • Ellen Gordon, CEO of Tootsie Roll . . . is 84 years old.
  • Robert G. Wilmers, CEO of M & T Bank . . . . is 81 years old.

The list goes on and on. In fact, over the last decade, the number of CEO’s ages 65-69 almost doubled in the U.S. The number who are ages 70-74 increased by 33 percent. According to management consulting firm Korn Ferry, “Over the last ten years the average Fortune 500 CEO age has inched up to 58, from 56.” It’s showing no signs of slowing down. The fact is—we who are seasoned veterans often don’t want to stop leading our organizations.

Lots of Gray and Green

Here’s the problem, as I see it. The two largest generations in America today are the Baby Boomers and the Millennials; the oldest and the youngest populations in the workforce. Lots of gray (seasoned veterans) and lots of green (new and fresh staff). To me, the greatest dilemma is not merely that people are working longer in their careers (some even need to do so). Our dilemma is we are not shifting the source of our fulfillment. We remain in the same positions at the top, monopolizing the same tasks we have for years. It’s wrong. We need to alter how the work gets done. If you’re a veteran who’s 40-45 years old, I suggest this is the perfect time to make this shift. For a veteran who’s 60-65 years old, it’s a necessity. Younger team members are longing to have a say in major decisions, to put their fingerprints on big projects and to help determine where the organization goes.

But, alas, we don’t want to let go. For many of us, it’s tied to our identity.

The Shift Does Not Mean Quitting

The shift I am speaking of is to transfer the source of your satisfaction from “doing the job” yourself, to “mentoring younger team members” to do so. I began to do this in the 1990’s, as I entered the stage of mid-life myself. I loved my work and drew much fulfillment from it. But I could tell I was going to lose my 20-somethings if I continued to focus on my own skill set. So, I shifted where I got my fulfillment to empowering Michael, Denise, Dan, J.T., Colleen, Jennifer, Steve, Robert, Suzy, Tim, Chris and so many other young leaders.

I began to see that my work can be equally satisfying—if not more so—if I changed the scorecard. It wasn’t about my personal performance. It was about preparing others. It’s a tough but needed shift. And so far, Baby Boomers are not doing it so well, on the whole. We need to get over ourselves.

I see this in dozens of other countries where I have traveled. Veteran leaders refuse to let go of their power and let younger “pups” step in and learn to lead. As a result:

  • The organization grows gray and often loses touch with the pulse of culture.
  • The younger, potential leaders find somewhere else to invest their talent.

Making the Shift

So, let me outline some steps I had to take to make this fulfillment shift:

  1. Stop keeping score on how something gets done and focus on results. Let young team members do the task their own way, as long as it bears fruit.
  1. Let go of the phrase, “The Buck Stops Here,” and embrace the phrase: “Success without a successor is a failure.” Responsibility can be shared.
  1. Find pleasure in spotting talent and passion—then reward it. Fan into flame any sightings of potential and find a place for those people to invest it.
  1. Give up your pursuit of control. Too many worship at the altar of control. Make your goal connecting to younger teammates and invest in them.
  1. Stop worrying about your recognition and begin pondering your legacy. The world gets bigger when it’s not about you.

I plan on staying involved at Growing Leaders until I can no longer contribute to our cause. But long before then, I plan to continue turning over the reins of projects to young and energetic staff who love the same cause I do. So, now I love empowering and cheering on Jim, J.T., Alysse, Clari, Tyler, Hannah, Chris, Matt, Andrew and others. I am having the time of my life “developing” more than “doing.”

Years ago, Bill Gates modeled this, when he stepped down as CEO of Microsoft. Like many others, he remained involved as Chairman but allowed the operations to shift to other staff, which enabled him to invest in and mentor them.

My challenge—as you age, please adjust.

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Impulse. It’s a term we hear more and more these days. And that’s probably because we see it all around us, in our daily lives.

  • Impulsive shopping and purchases
  • Impulsive eating
  • Impulsive messages posted on social media
  • Impulsive drinking
  • Impulsive hookups
  • Impulsive marriages and divorces

Now that I think about it, much of our daily conduct falls into one of two categories:

  1. Routines
  2. Impulses

Neither of these require very much of an old virtue my parents and grandparents called: “self-control.” Self-control is an evaporating discipline because so many intriguing visuals pop up each moment of our lives. We are enamored by what’s in front of us. Unless we’re reacting by rote or habit, we seek the dopamine shot that comes with the next text or tweet or Instagram post. And we react. Oh, boy, do we react.


Want proof?

We have a growing problem with obesity because we cannot seem to curb our eating habits.

We have a growing credit card debt, and national debt, because we cannot seem to corral our spending habits.

We have a growing problem with road rage in America, because we cannot seem to control our emotions in traffic.

We have growing digital addictions because we cannot seem to discipline ourselves when it comes to time on a screen.

If we want to get technical, the term “impulsivity” (or impulsiveness) can be defined as “impaired decision-making.” It’s the tendency to act on a whim, displaying behavior characterized by little or no forethought, reflection, or consideration of the consequences. One dictionary definition says impulsive actions are:

“Typically poorly conceived, prematurely expressed, unduly risky, or inappropriate to the situation often resulting in undesirable consequences. They imperil long-term goals or strategies for success. To be impulsive means to act without forethought.” 

Impulsiveness contaminates our thinking, and clouds our judgment.

The Hormone Ghrelin . . .

So what’s going on inside of us, when we act impulsively? You might be surprised.

Impulsiveness is associated with several psychiatric disorders and behavioral disorders, such as ADHD, bipolar and eating disorders. In October 2015, a team of doctors reported data indicating there is a strong correlation between food reward behavior and impulsivity. They surmised that the hormone, “ghrelin” produced by the stomach not only increases food reward behavior but also increases impulsivity.

The doctors concluded: “The impact of ghrelin on neurotransmitters (is) critical for the regulation of impulsive behavior.”

So—here’s the $64,000 question.

Is there a way to influence the release of the hormone ghrelin inside of us? There might just be. Although the research is new, it appears the best way to curb its flow is by that old-fashioned quality: self-control. If we can exercise self-control over the elements that spark the hormone, we have a chance at avoiding impulsive behavior. We can actually remain “under control.”

Self-control is one of the behaviors that signals maturity. When I am under control, I am not enslaved by my impulses. I’m not at the mercy of my appetites, but can temper them. I can meet deadlines, because I can beat procrastination. I can face hardship because I want solutions more than temporary comfort. I can confront problematic people because I want to make things right, not just patch things up.

These are all signals of emotional intelligence and emotional maturity.

What Has Cultivated Our Impulsive Culture?

So, just what sparks the hormone’s release inside of us? It varies, but let me just reveal what have been the culprits in my past:

  1. Social media—the ping of a text, tweet, or some other post
  2. Fast food restaurants—the salt and savor of fried foods
  3. Credit cards—the ability to obtain products before I can afford them
  4. On-demand entertainment—the chance to get what I crave when I want it

I am not saying it is always wrong to indulge in the above list. I love them all. But they all ignite the hormone in me that nudges me to be impulsive. What’s worse, sometimes I don’t see the consequences right away, so I don’t associate the cause with the effect.

The Assignment

So here’s your challenge. This week, be intentional about removing the elements that spark impulsive behavior for you. Purposely deny yourself those guilty pleasures that TV commercials say we deserve. Make a list like I did above, where you identify those items in your life that bully you to make decisions based on your appetites—and dry up their source. If you have to, try taking a break from technology. Deliberately, limit the food you put on your plate. Pay off your credit card statement this month or make a deal with yourself you won’t buy any new “want” until you do.

As you work with students, you’ll then have “street cred” to challenge them to do the same. Make it a game, a competition. Challenge them to make their own list and rule their appetites. Self-control enables them to be “grown.” It allows them to be “under control” instead of “out of control.”

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Have you ever wondered why people act a certain way that may seem strange to you? Why does that executive assistant refuse to smile and not respond to emails? How come my boss gets so tense once a month? And why does the shipping room manager become aggressive in the afternoons?

The “freshman” year of my career over thirty years ago, created all kinds of bewilderment in my mind. I saw officers do strange things, I heard staff members say peculiar things, and even my boss treated me in a manner that was foreign to me. Wrestling with these anomalies along the way through my career—I discovered the power of organizational culture, and the dangers of operating without it.

It was the reason behind all of these problematic behaviors.

According to David Needle, organizational culture represents the collective values, beliefs, and principles of team members and is a product of an organization’s history, products, market, technology, strategy, type of employees, management style, and even the national culture of which it is a part. Culture also includes the organization’s vision, values, norms, systems, symbols, language, assumptions, beliefs, and habits.

Culture provides the paradigm with which we view and assess behavior. Culture offers us a lens with which we see things and a roadmap to an organization-wide definition of normal.

A New Culture Creates a New Normal.


I recently spoke at an elite private K-12 school that had hired a new headmaster. The new leader fired all existing board members and several staff and faculty. Suddenly, there was a new normal on campus. The headmaster initiated it.

Almost overnight, the culture began to change. People questioned their jobs and walked on eggshells for months. Eventually, folks got used to a new normal.

In 2015, I consulted with a college athletic department that had implemented some new policies. In an effort to transform the negative attitudes among the staff and coaches, these policies were put into effect immediately. Ho-hum.

When I met with the athletic director, he seemed confused as to why the policies weren’t changing anyone’s attitudes for approach to their job.

I think I know why.

Culture beats policy every time. Any team of executives can develop a new set of policies and hang them on the wall. I have come to believe, however, that what’s happening down the hall is more influential than what’s hanging on the wall.

David Ravasi and Majken Schultz write in the Academy of Management Journal:

“Organizational culture is a set of shared assumptions that guide what happens in organizations by defining appropriate behavior for various situations. It is also the pattern of such collective behaviors and assumptions that are taught to new organizational members as a way of perceiving and, even, thinking and feeling.”

How Can You Change Culture?

Whatever level of leadership you enjoy, you can influence the culture. People notice what the influencers do and act accordingly. The people you influence . . . watch you.

Culture is shaped by four distinct methods in an organization:

  1. The actions and behaviors of leaders.
  2. What leaders pay attention to.
  3. What gets rewarded and what gets punished.
  4. The allocation and attention of resources.

Even if you’re not the top leader in your department, these four methods are shapers of behavior and hence, the culture of the team around you.

Several have written on the fact that there are as many cultures as there are managers. Organizations often have very differing cultures as well as subcultures. Although a company may have its “own unique culture,” in larger organizations there are sometimes co-existing or conflicting subcultures because each subculture is linked to a different management team.

So, how are you being intentional about the culture of your:

  • Department?
  • Team?
  • School campus?
  • Company?
  • Family?

If the idea of influencing culture intrigues you—may I invite you to join us at our 2016 National Leadership Forum on June 23-24, 2016? The theme is Leaders at Every Level, and together we will be exploring this same subject: organizational culture. We hold it in Atlanta, and will be hearing from culture experts such as:

  • Dr. Ken Blanchard, best-selling author and management guru
  • Gene Smith, Vice President and Athletic Director at The Ohio State University
  • Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools
  • Dr. Wayne Hammond, CEO of Resilience Initiatives
  • Kyle Stark, Assistant General Manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Austin Moss, Manager of Player Engagement, the National Football League
  • Tim Elmore, best-selling author and president of Growing Leaders

Check out the details 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

Today, I’m thrilled to share a conversation with Dr. Ken Blanchard. Dr. Blanchard is a leadership expert, speaker, and author. His New York Times best-selling book, The One Minute Manager, has sold over 13 million copies. Dr. Ken Blanchard will also be a speaker at our National Leadership Forum this summer in Atlanta. Here are some highlights from our conversation.


Tim Elmore:
You have been on a great journey equipping leaders for decades. Millions of us have benefitted from not only The One Minute Manager, but all you’ve written on situational leadership. What are some of your findings today as you continue to equip leaders in so many arenas in your company?

Ken Blanchard: Well Tim, one of the things we are finding now is that leadership is much more of a side-by-side relationship rather than top down. In fact we even rewrote The One Minute Manager for the first time in over 30 years to make it more collaborative. If you want young people to win, you have to stand side-by-side and set goals to keep them accountable. You are just as much accountable for their goal as they are.

Tim: Let’s look at the other side of this coin for just a moment. What would be some of your greatest concerns for leaders in general today, in our high speed, high volume, 21st century world?

Ken: I think the biggest concern is the speed of change. You have to manage the present and create the future at the same time. You don’t want to send people with present-time responsibilities to create your future because they are overwhelmed. You constantly have to learn. You’ve got to constantly challenge yourself emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually.

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Tim: Ken, you’ve had a special heart for education and the next generation, since the start of your career. Would you talk about that for a minute?

Ken: I think that is so important. With our Blanchard Institute and Foundation, we wanted to put our focus into student self-leadership programs to help students realize they have to lead themselves. They can’t operate on assumed constraints others have put in their heads. We teach them how to collaborate for success with people and ask for the help they need.

Tim: We need voices like yours that are timely and timeless. So let’s discuss what you’re going to be talking about at our National Leadership Forum in June 2016, with our theme being “Leading at Every Level.”

Ken: One of the thoughts that we have is that being an effective leader and creating a great culture, starts with you. We really think that self-knowledge is very important. Once you are comfortable with yourself, the next concern is one-on-one leadership. Then you move on to becoming a team leader, which is more complicated. Now you are trying to build a sense of community. The last one is organizational leadership, where your major focus is creating culture with high results and high satisfaction.

There are two parts to servant leadership, vision and direction. Once you have established yourself as a leader, your job now is to help people win. I look forward to expanding upon this topic at the 2016 National Leadership Forum.

Click Here to Listen to the Whole Conversation

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During the third year of my career, my senior supervisor was terminated. Suddenly, the board of directors was faced with a vacancy in the executive position, and was charged with selecting a new leader. It would take months. While I was still a young twenty-something, they asked me to serve in the interim.

I was both flattered and stunned. How could I not take the job?

Over the next several months, I learned an important lesson in leadership. It’s a reality nearly everyone faces at one point or another. For the first time in my adult life, I was swimming in the deep end of the pool, and I was in over my head. I had assumed mammoth responsibilities, and I lacked the experience leaders need to face them with poise. Over time, I watched people struggle to follow my lead. It had nothing to do with how much they liked me as a friend. It had everything to do with how much they felt they could depend on me as their leader. I wasn’t really ready for the role. I didn’t know how to describe what I faced at the time, but I do now. The simple axiom I learned was this:

Your competence should always meet or exceed your authority.

You are a leader. You are influencing your school, your organization, your team, or your family. This important axiom is one I believe every good leader practices as a rule. They know that if they violate it over the long haul, they’ll sabotage their influence. Consider this truth for a moment: if you lead a team, and your staff knows that you have far more authority than you’re competent to handle, they may be forced to respect your position, but they likely won’t truly follow you.

An Experiment in Leadership

Tour Guide

The Harvard Business Review recently reported a lab experiment with 294 students that were divided into small groups, and placed in an imaginary scenario. They were all stranded in a desert and told to do whatever they must to survive. Half of the teams were told to work together, but they were not instructed to choose a leader. The other half was told to select a leader to manage the team. After a short while, this second half was permitted to choose a new leader, again and again. In the end, several discoveries were made by the researchers—but I’d like to focus on just one of them here. The teams who performed the best were NOT led by confident, authoritative leaders. In other words, when a team chose a leader based purely on how much authority they displayed up front, they did not fare well at all. The teams that performed best were led by competent—although humble and even quiet—leaders. The second best performance was by teams that had no leader at all. The bottom line: students often select a leader based upon a façade of confidence, but when it becomes clear that their authority outweighs their competence, things go sour.

Confidence cannot replace competence. Titles cannot replace competence.

To be clear, I am now leading a team that includes members who each have gifts to serve in areas that I do not. I am not saying leaders must be the smartest people on their team in every area. I am simply saying that leaders must demonstrate a competence that matches the level of power they have. John Maxwell calls this the Law of Respect. People tend to follow a leader who is stronger than they are.

Image Over Substance

Unfortunately, undergrads show an alarming disregard for competence as they choose their leaders, according to the same Harvard study. At a young age, image still plays a huge role in their decision-making process; they’ve not yet learned how deceptive appearance can be. Growing up in a world of social media, it’s easy to judge merely by appearances.

Substance is something we come to appreciate over time. It’s a learned skill. Cornell University’s David Dunning and Justin Kruger found that college students who display authority tend to over-estimate their expertise, while students who actually have expertise tend to under-estimate it. They lead well because their competence actually is greater than their authority, both in perception and reality.

The lesson for both students and adults?

We must not let persuasiveness or apparent confidence trump genuine competence. The best leaders often display humility and transparency about their flaws. What’s important is to look at their track record. Never prioritize image over substance.

I distinctly remember my career taking a step forward, years after that initial lesson, when I’d been leading for almost nine years. Our department experienced growth and my productivity spoke for itself. I had earned my stripes. People listened to me. My competence had overtaken my authority. What a great feeling for any leader. I just have one question for you: What do other’s respect about you? Is it your authority or your competence?

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