For me, baseball offers so many pictures of real life. It’s about thinking and timing; consistency and strategy. The game of baseball is about both strategy and luck . . . and of course, spotting and developing talent. And nobody knew how to do that more than Brooklyn Dodgers executive, Branch Rickey.

Mr. Rickey is credited with inventing modern baseball. One way he turned it into the business it is today was by creating the “farm system.” In 1918, World War 1 had just ended and economic times were hard. Few teams had the cash to simply purchase big talent. Hard times demanded that talent be cultivated. A baseball team could find talent on another professional club, but to woo them away and purchase them was hard and expensive. “Why not grow your own?” Mr. Rickey asked. Why not generate a steady supply of talent that you can choose from, and then sell off the excess at a nice profit? This led to today’s baseball “farm system.”

Lessons We Can Learn About a Leadership Pipeline


Journalist Kevin Kerrane writes, “The competition among so many young players in the system operated as a kind of natural selection, and it kept constant pressure on the veterans at the top.” Let me offer nine action steps we can learn from Branch Rickey and apply to the development of a leadership “farm system” today:

1. Assemble a cadre of “talent and potential” scouts.

Branch Rickey was a master at figuring out what system worked, and then finding people to implement it. He knew how to spot talent, but more importantly, how to spot people who could spot talent. Charlie Barrett was hired by Branch Rickey to sift through all kinds of dirt to find the gold. By 1920, Rickey had assembled a team of “talent spotters” like Jack Ryan, Carl Lundgren, Pop Kelchner, Joe Mathes, Fred Hunter and his own brother, Frank, who became his right-hand man.

2. Identify and cultivate the places you’ll find the best pool of potential.

Branch Rickey and Charlie Barrett created the first “tryout camp” in 1919. It was here his team of scouts could examine and analyze the young talent who showed up. The scouts looked everywhere, youth sandlots, mill teams and town teams, for “an arm behind the barn.” The key was to find it early for two reasons. First, it was easier to sign a young player with immature talent. Second, they were moldable, and not set in their ways. This idea of a “farm system” began to take off in 1919, when Branch Rickey was president, general manager and field manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.

3. Determine the essentials you’re looking for most of all.

Mr. Rickey created a list of the primary tools a player needed. He said speed is the one common denominator for both offense and defense. He felt it was the best predictor of major league potential. Fielding was least important. He felt you can teach that. The key question was: What internal qualities and external skills are indicators of big potential? The goal is to accumulate a bunch of them, knowing the cream will rise to the top. Rickey called this the “quality of quantity.”

4. Coordinate a pipeline system of development.

Once you know what you’re looking for, it’s easier to create or locate environments where those elements can be cultivated. When Rickey bought minor league and amateur clubs, he saw them not only as moneymakers, but talent makers. It worked like subjects in school—there’s third grade math, and then there’s fourth grade math. It’s tougher each time you move up. Growth should be coordinated in a sequence of steps. Rickey believed you must insert increased difficulty into each level of the system. People are developed in every area this way—in baseball and leadership.

5. Summarize the principles you buy into and teach.

Rickey came up with some timeless principles about baseball that his scouts bought into. For instance, he believed speed was everything, even back in the day of home runs. He also believed “an over-striding hitter cannot be corrected.” He taught an arm is the primary tool for a player, both offensively and defensively. He almost made player development a science, and systematized it into transferrable concepts.

6. Transform your manager and coaches into teachers.

Rickey was all about teaching. In essence, he was an instructor and wanted all of his scouts and coaches to see themselves as instructors. It has been said Mr. Rickey “applied scouting insights to teaching and vice versa, and he winnowed prospects by erecting some hypotheses into laws.” The best staff members are teachers at heart. They can articulate principles, model behaviors and help players start habits.

7. Provide to each level greater incentives and rewards.

As the stakes went up with each league, so must the rewards and incentives. Players needed something they didn’t enjoy before to look forward to experiencing. It makes sense that Rookie Ball and Single A players make less than Triple A players. The stadiums and locker rooms are nicer; the travel is better, the experience is superior.

8. Always include character in what you evaluate.

Rickey believed you not only needed talent on the field, but character too. This meant you looked for the right personal habits, vocabulary, intelligence and even diet from young players. He didn’t demand perfection, but all of these elements were factors in the longevity of their shelf life. In fact, when Mr. Rickey decided to hire the first African-American player, Jackie Robinson, he made sure Robinson not only had the talent to play for the Dodgers, but the character to face the hardships, too.

Boy did it pay off.

My questions for you are:

  • What’s your “farm system” to develop emerging leaders?
  • Are the steps clear to anyone who’s interested in their growth?
  • Do you offer enough opportunities for young leaders to take responsibility?

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

Our American athletes just competed the 2016 Summer Olympic games in Rio. The U.S. has won a total of 121 medals, more than any other country in the world.

In this article, I want to focus on some helpful insights we can learn about leadership from the track athletes in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Specifically, I’d like you to reflect with me on the 4 X 100 relay teams we sponsor every four years.

This event enables me to reflect on the “fails” I’ve experienced as I pass on responsibilities to young adults.

The Relay Team and the Handoff

Our four sprinters usually take their place at the starting blocks as the favored team to win a gold medal. Since 1920, our U.S. relay teams have won more medals than any other country. The American men’s relay team has won gold at 15 of the 21 Olympics held. Since 1932, American women have won as many Olympic gold medals in the 4×100 relay as all other countries combined.

When we’ve lost, however, it is usually at the “handoff.”

It is in times of transition that we are most vulnerable. Like the Olympic relay teams, our problem isn’t competency, it lies in passing the baton to the next runner. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, both our men’s and women’s team dropped the baton and disqualified themselves. It was so disastrous, it prompted the chief executive of USA Track & Field to promise a “comprehensive review” of the entire relay program.

What could be so difficult about passing a 12-inch long cylinder to another skilled athlete? In fact, it’s so simple runners just call it a “stick.”

My answer?

This simple pass is as challenging as most anything can be for humans sprinting on a track. One athlete compared the baton exchange to “two ships passing in the night, but if the ocean were the size of a phone booth.”

Five Secrets to a Successful Leadership Handoff

Batons inspire complex evaluations from people like me, because they symbolize the passing of leadership and responsibility. Like our talented Olympians, we leaders often make shoddy passes to potential leaders we mentor every year. Certainly, our students need to “own” when they don’t accept responsibility, but in this post, I’d like to focus on what we can do better as leaders. Here are the fundamentals required of a successful baton pass.

1. Slow Down

Did you realize that an incoming runner on the Olympic relay team is speeding at 28 mph when he or she enters the passing zone? The outgoing runner is moving at 18 mph, which requires incoming runners to slow down in order to make the handoff. So it is with us. Often, established leaders fail to slow down to develop a young team member as they delegate tasks. We merely do it ourselves or “dump” tasks on others.

Q: Do you slow down and connect with young leaders?

2. Clear Communication

Just like relay teams, we must talk as we pass the baton. When I ran on our school track team, I remember saying “Mustang” as I passed the baton. It was the name of our mascot. Regardless of what is said, we couldn’t mumble or slur our words. Clear and key words must be spoken, just like effective leaders use clear language as they transfer values, skills and qualities to young leaders.

Q: Do young team members feel your directions are fuzzy or clear?

3. Proper Timing

In the Olympics, there is a 20-meter passing zone in which runners can transfer the baton. Approximately 15 meters into that zone is the perfect spot to pass the baton. In the same way, proper timing should mark the passing of responsibility and authority to an emerging leader. To miss on the timing issue can ruin a pass. Timing is everything when it comes to leader development.

Q: Do you dump or delegate? Do you wait till the time is right to empower others?

4. A Firm Pass

In a relay race, the runner with the baton must firmly jam it into the hand of their teammate, while clearly speaking the word. With the spoken word comes the transference of the baton itself. The “hand-off” cannot be pensive or indefinite—in word or deed. This is where mentors often botch things. We say we want to empower young team members, but frequently we fail to truly give them authority to take the project.

Q: Is it hard for you to actually give projects away?

5. Let Go Correctly

This is a second cousin to number four. Leaders must let go. Just like runners with the baton have the “eyes” and must trust teammates to take the baton, we must transfer tasks, power and authority— ultimately ownership. Good leaders multiply. Far too often, however, we fail to let go. Parents don’t let go of their children and leaders don’t let go of their power. This is why companies and families bomb at their ultimate job.

Leaders must always remember: success without a successor is a failure.

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here

One of the most common questions I receive from college students is: “How do I find a mentor?” What they mean by this is—how can I locate or identify the right kind of mentor for my personal plans?” Over the years, I’ve found the majority of students say they desire to have a mentor in their life; someone they could call and bounce a question off of; someone who is slow to judge but quick to offer hope.

A couple of years ago, Gallup released findings from the largest representative study of U.S. college graduates. The Gallup-Purdue Index surveyed more than 30,000 graduates to find out whether or not they’re engaged in their work and thriving in their life. In short Gallup wondered: “Do college graduates end up with great jobs and great lives?”

One of the most memorable findings is: where you went to college matters less to your life after graduation than how you went to college. Inside Higher Ed states:

“Feeling supported and having deep learning experiences during college means everything when it comes to long-term outcomes after college. Unfortunately, not many graduates receive a key element of that support while in college: having a mentor. And this is perhaps the biggest blown opportunity in the history of higher ed.”

The students who succeeded were the ones who said, “I had a professor or a staff member who built a relationship with me and offered counsel during my tough semesters or uncertain days. It made all the difference in the world.”

Why Don’t We Do This?

photo credit: Chilenos via photopin (license)

photo credit: Chilenos via photopin (license)

Most of you reading this article will agree—students benefit from mentors. At the same time, more of us talk about mentoring than actually do it. Some of us excuse our lack of involvement by saying we can’t find “hungry students.” Others say they just don’t know what to say to connect with students. After all, they’re . . . uh . . . different. Many of us never mentor anyone because we hold a stereotype in our minds of what a mentor looks like. And . . . alas, we just don’t fit our own stereotype.

Perhaps this list below will help.

In their insightful book, Connecting, Dr. Robert Clinton and Paul Stanley outline the seven different kinds of mentors that most often exist in our lives. Dr. Clinton was one of my professors as I did my doctoral studies and has remained a long-distance mentor in my life. I have tweaked the list he offered to fit our world today, and I offer it to you below. It is important for us to examine these seven roles for two reasons:

  1. To determine which kind we most need in our own life.
  2. To determine which kind we are best suited to be for someone else.

Seven Kinds of Mentors

Knowing your personal style and gifts will enable you to better decide what kind of mentoring role you will successfully fulfill in a student’s life. Note these different kinds of mentors below:

  1. The Mentor Tutor

They help with basic qualities and skills of maturation. It generally involves frequent meetings, and the agenda originates from the mentor—not the mentee. Why? Because the mentee is often young and inexperienced, not knowing what they must learn.

  1. The Mentor Personal Guide

They offer accountability and direction as the mentee makes significant decisions. The mentee may already be mature, but just needs advisement on an infrequent basis. It still involves a maturation process, but it can be done by a peer with gifts or perspective.

  1. The Mentor Coach

They provide motivation and skills needed to meet a task or a challenge. While there is a relationship, it can be a short-term connection until the mentee acquires the ability to perform a task independently. It involves meetings that are scheduled more on a project basis.

  1. The Mentor Counselor

They furnish timely advice and perspective on self, others, and interests or passions. This mentor enables the mentee to step back and gain a big-picture view, adding insight on issues, for a person who’s less mature, experienced or has blind spots.

  1. The Mentor Teacher

They impart knowledge and understanding on a specific subject. Mentor-teachers are most common when a mentee needs to learn more about a new issue and the mentor has the insights needed. It can involve frequent or infrequent meetings.

  1. The Mentor Sponsor

They give out of their network, experience and accumulated knowledge. They may not be “conversationalists,” nor know a lot personally, but they generously give from their wealth of contacts and reading. They can offer protection and direction.

  1. The Mentor Model and Consultant

They offer a living, personal example for life, marriage, family or career. Often seasoned veterans, they embody a wise lifestyle in each life station they experience along the way. They may be people of few words, but their lives are vivid sermons.


Which of these mentor types do you need most yourself?

Which of these could you naturally become for a student?

Looking for a practical encyclopedia on mentoring? Check out
lifeGIVING Mentors: A Guide to Investing Your Life in Others

Order Today

National Leadership Forum 2017

Racing Toward the Future as Y Shifts to Z


Chrome. Vines. TBH. Likes. Snapchat. Memes. The world of Generation Z will evolve as they move from middle school to high school—to post-secondary education. Do you know how they think? Their vocabulary? Their values? Their vices and virtues? To teach them, we must earn their trust. And trust requires understanding.

Most Generation Z students we’ve interviewed believe the adults in their life have “no idea” what their life is like after midnight. (Hint—they’re often not sleeping). These students are different than Millennials, who grew up in a time of expansion. Generation Z has grown up in a time of recession. Their life is full of angst and data; of screens and multi-tasking. So how do we lead them? Is there a way to be both “timely” and “timeless” as we teach and train today’s student?

We’re planning an extraordinary line up of presenters and conversations that focus on planning and dreaming about the future. Come for valuable content—practical work-shopping—innovative ideas—inspiring examples.

Participants will gain:


  • An understanding of the trademarks of Generation Z.
  • An educated plan for pedagogy to connect with teens today.
  • Methods to enable students to practice metacognition as they learn.
  • Ideas for motivating the young, enabling them to cultivate aspirations.
  • Eight new practices that will prepare students for careers and leadership.
  • An understanding of how social emotional learning improves mental health and performance.
  • The single most important “app” the young need from their elders.
  • Ideas of how to leverage social media for good and for growth.
  • Six timeless principles this new generation needs to thrive as adults.

This will be a forum you’ll want to attend with your team. Don’t come alone. The ideas and insights could revolutionize a classroom, a department, a company, a team or an entire school. Join us to hear:

  • Dr. John C. Maxwell, Founder of the John Maxwell Co, and best-selling author.
  • Dr. Jean Twenge, Psychology professor and author of Generation Me.
  • Jason Russell, Founder of Invisible Children, President of Broomstick Engine.
  • Dr. Meria Carstarphen, Superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools.
  • Dr. Britt Andreatta – Author, Ted Talk Speaker and Certified  Coach.
  • Dr. Tim Elmore, President of Growing Leaders and best-selling author.
  • And many more presenters, labs and panels…

You’re Invited to the National Leadership Forum 2017
Fast Foward: Racing Towards the Future As Y Shifts to Z

When you attend the 2017 National Leadership Forum, you’ll get the key to…

  • Rediscovering the reason you began teaching or training young adults in the first place, with the tools to successfully stay refreshed throughout the year.
  • Mastering a teaching method that allows Generation Z to own their learning.
  • Enjoying a lasting connection with your students that compels them to give their best day in and day out.
  • Making Monday your favorite day of the week.
  • Preview where student engagement and education is heading in the future.

Learn More Here

One of my jobs is to work with new professionals, helping them on-board into the workforce. They are usually university graduates, tech grads, or college dropouts who didn’t see the point in finishing their degree.

When I meet a dropout, they often don’t fit the stereotype you’d expect. They aren’t undisciplined, they don’t come across uneducated and they certainly don’t lack work ethic—at least the ones I’ve met recently. They do, however, have no time for courses they believe to be irrelevant to their future or real life. Here are some actual lines I heard from twenty-somethings who chose to drop out of college:

  • “I just don’t have time to waste on classes where the prof loves to hear himself talk. The subject is mandatory but has nothing to do with my life.”
  • “I can’t carry the debt from college when I have no guarantee it’s gonna get me anywhere. I knew I had a better chance elsewhere.” 
  • “I like the classes and people alright, but it wasn’t for me. Everyone told me that a college degree is the ticket to a higher salary, but I am making more money than two of my friends who graduated. Plus . . . I have no debt.”

Certainly, some of these sentiments are borne out of a skeptical adolescent or an idealistic young adult who doesn’t fully realize what they’re saying. On the other hand, I find a growing number of students pondering the same thoughts. They ask:

Is a four-year college degree relevant for the career and life I envision?

Colleges That Are Changing with the Times

Fortunately, there are some stellar universities that “get it” and are working to ensure the classes they require aren’t antiquated, nor lead to a degree that’s obsolete.

Arizona State University

Arizona State has created a project where students earn a degree without traditional classes. Backed by a $4 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education, students learn the subjects for their major areas of study through a series of projects—instead of a set of classes. For example, engineering students may build a machine or a robot and learn the concepts of mechanical engineering in the process. If they don’t understand the subject, professors can schedule an impromptu class or students can simply dig on their own using other resources on campus, or through on-line courses from other colleges. Think about it. A student can earn a degree without taking a set of traditional courses—but through actually experimenting in their interest areas.

Georgetown University

Georgetown University is an elite private college in the Washington D.C. area that is experimenting with offering a bachelors and masters degree—in four years—using a combination of classes, internships and actual real-life projects. Randy Bass, the vice provost of the school of education, has been the mastermind behind this experiment in both traditional classes and job skill training. After all, that’s what students need and what employers want after graduation. Professors have determined the skills graduates need and have woven them throughout the experience. Students don’t have to wait for capstone courses they are interested in, after years of taking general education classes. It’s all mixed in together and very experiential. And very practical. Bass says, “We’re creating a new kind of degree.”

Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech started doing this over a decade ago. After noticing their engineering students dropping out too often, they merged the math, science and engineering departments and launched freshmen students into projects. The lectures would complement what the students were “building”—so it was never just theories. The school actually got the students started on their senior project during their sophomore year. (What a great idea!) They were told to look around the world and find one problem that needed to be solved. Then, to invent something that would solve it. The result? Student retention went way up. Student engagement rose. Graduation rates soared and problems got solved.

What They Have in Common

These sound like schools I’d want to send my children to attend. But notice what they all have in common:

  1. Project-based and experiential learning.
  2. Practical and academic learning are merged.
  3. Relevant subjects are introduced into the education.
  4. Time and money are saved as the learning becomes pragmatic.
  5. Flexible plans are laid, taking education beyond a one-size-fits-all.
  6. Students graduate with a degree that engaged them in their dreams.

Carl Rogers once said, “The only person who is educated is the one who’s learned how to learn and how to change.” Are we educated people ourselves? Herbert Spencer wrote, “The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” How are you re-thinking what you offer to students? Is it what they need?

Looking to develop leadership skills in your students? Check out
Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

Habitudes helps students and young team members:

  • Break out of the herd mentality to influence others in positive ways.
  • Take initiative and set the pace for other teammates.
  • Overcome complex problems through creative persistence.
  • Capitalize on personal strengths to be career-ready upon graduation.

Learn More Here