This week, I’m blogging about how America continues to shift as a modern society. A new study found that Americans now eat most of their meals alone, as families find it more difficult to find time to eat together. Additionally, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of single-person households. Some predict the trend will continue and even increase.

photo credit: Stuart Grout via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuart Grout via photopin cc

At first, we saw divorces emerge in society during the 1970s and 80s. Later, it was couples living together (gay or straight), finding it difficult to sustain civil unions even when unmarried. By 2003, the majority of people began to live alone. Single-person households became the most common living arrangement in the United States. Now, an increasing number even eat alone.

So in a world saturated with social connectivity, how do we find ourselves so prone to eat and live alone? Is it because we are battle weary of relationships by the time we return home from work and just don’t want another “needy” person distracting us from our agenda? Or is it that technology is so prevalent that we are socially backward today, unable or unwilling to do the work necessary to cultivate a healthy relationship. It appears we are overwhelmed by a thousand messages coming at us each day, and we simply want to “veg” when it’s “our” time.

I read a news story recently about a motorcyclist who got thrown onto a roadway after a collision. He lay on the pavement without moving for quite a while. All those who saw him simply glanced at him, then continued moving when the light turned green. It was almost unbelievable. After fifteen minutes, a driver stopped and rolled down their window to ask if the person needed help. The incident was telecast, as it was staged by a local station to see how responsive people would be at this busy intersection. Evidently, they failed the test.

So How Are You Doing?

I mentioned yesterday that I believe human beings are designed for community. We are social creatures who thrive when we live among each other and experience relationship, support, accountability and personal growth. We are at our best when we are NOT alone, when we BELONG to a team or community. Let me suggest some personal steps you can take (if you haven’t already) to experience this. In addition, I suggest you encourage your students with this list:

  1. Create a personal board of directors.

I started doing this twenty years ago. I recognized my talent and ambition was taking me further than my wisdom could keep up. I met with three other guys, and we each became a “board” for each other as we pursued our personal missions.

  1. Pursue personal connections at work beyond 9 to 5.

It’s easy for me to see work merely as a category. I believe those we work with can become some of our closest comrades if we let them. Why not observe the needs of your colleagues and offer to help them or connect with them after work hours?

  1. Request mentors to speak into your life on the areas you wish to grow.

I have six people in my life right now who are mentors for me in specific areas I want to grow this year. I asked each person because they were a step or two ahead of me in a category — and I always grow when I meet with them individually.

  1. Invite at least one person you respect at work to hold you accountable.

I have one person I meet with monthly who’s my accountability partner. I chose him because I respect him and would not lie to him about even the darkest secrets of my life. We both offer unconditional support, guidance, connections, and tough love.

  1. Celebrate something and someone at least once a week.

I don’t do this enough, but I know it’s important. We need to stop and celebrate both those in our lives and achievements we’ve made. It reminds us that while we may walk faster when we walk alone, we walk farther when we walk together.

  1. Learn to ask questions that show interest and invite encouragement.

This is a learned art. I make it a point when I am with a group of people to enter the social gathering armed with 4-5 questions I want to ask them. These involve topics that will communicate my interest in them. It puts me in “host” mode, not “guest” mode.

  1. Initiate or join a small group community on a weekly or monthly basis.

This is purely about friendships. Malcolm Gladwell suggests that as we age, we require fewer people in our life; we don’t like working at social connection. My small group is made up of other couples my wife and I meet with on purpose for growth and fun.


When I was in middle school, our track team would run everyday while the cheerleaders practiced their routines. I noticed something hilarious as we rounded the track and found ourselves in front of those gorgeous girls: we all took on our best form. We sucked in our stomachs and flexed whatever muscles we had. We did it for the girls. While I smile at this now, it reminds me of a timeless truth: We all perform better when we know we’re being watched.

A great example of this comes from my son’s recent college experiences. Just this month, our family dropped him off at college. He texted me after one of their early meetings to tell me of an experience his university hosted for first year students. The staff asked all their new students to sit down on the big lawn in the quad area. Surrounding them were the current students (upper-classmen), standing in a circle. Then, the president spoke about the power of community, suggesting that was what they intended to build among the student body. One by one, a current student would walk into the seated group of young “rookies” and grab a hand, lifting them up and leading them out to join the circle.

It was a little emotional for me as I heard my son tell me this story. Why? Because I knew he was already experiencing the power of community.

Our newest book is out:

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – It outlines practical and effective leadership skills for both parents and educators on how to avoid common pitfalls including:

-making happiness a goal instead of a by-product
-not letting students fail or suffer consequences
-praising their beauty and intelligence

Take the FREE Quiz Here

Yesterday, I wrote that America continues to shift as a modern society. Americans now eat most of their meals alone, a new study found, as families finding it more difficult to find time to eat together. What’s more, there’s been a dramatic increase in the number of single-person households. Some predict the trend will continue and even increase.

photo credit: Jordon via photopin cc

Thanks to a variety of factors — including our high-tech, low-touch world — we find it easier to interact via a screen. Screens have made us lazy, where we opt for a text rather than a call, an email instead of a face-to-face conversation, and a Skype call over a road trip. When we travel, we wear a one-person shell (headphones or ear buds) so we don’t have to talk to the person sitting next to us on the airplane. Ugh. What a hassle.

As I speak with young adults, many say marriage sounds like too much work—and they haven’t seen a healthy one anyway. It’s just easier to be single and hook up; that way, you get the perks without the price tag. Relationships are emotionally expensive. What’s the easiest way to make a connection? Wifi is easier than a wife.

  • In 2003, single-person households became the most common living arrangement in the United States.
  • In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam’s acclaimed analysis of the social fabric of America demonstrates the decline of social capital.
  • In the 1970s, two-thirds of Americans belonged to organizations with regular meetings. By the 1990s, the number had dropped to one-third.

May I weigh in, with my thoughts?

I believe students desperately long for genuine community—an experience with people marked by depth, trust and transparency. But, alas, few ever experience this. And many have never seen adults model it either. Many students I meet want what they don’t have—but don’t know how to obtain it.

I’m convinced humans are social creatures, even more so than other primates. Daniel Goleman, author of both Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence, reiterates this truth. While all species communicate in some way, people are different than animals in the way we interact and communicate. In short, we were made for community. (By the term “community,” I mean a cluster of people in close relationship who offer support, accountability and who foster growth.) The paradox is that it seems most people both hunger for this… and run from this.

I believe the biggest reason why families are being redefined today is not because of liberal vs. conservative ideology. It’s because we had to embrace a new “community” when the nuclear family exploded. Traditional families have been broken, yet people still want to be in a “family,” even if it’s temporary. Sadly, this family thing often fails. Whether in a home, a team, a dorm, a company, a gym or a church, we tend to walk away rather than work at difficult relationships. We’re like porcupines—we tend to hurt each other when we get close. This happens first with those closest to us.

In Part One of this blog series, I mentioned the slow disappearance of family mealtimes means that parents and children are also spending less time together. Indeed, teenagers who have dinner with their parents fewer than three times a week are four times as likely to use tobacco, twice as likely to use alcohol, and one-and-a-half times more likely to use marijuana, according to a 2012 study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.

Unfortunately, when we don’t experience healthy community at home, we have a difficult time replicating it somewhere else.

Instead of believing the best about others, we assume the worst and file lawsuits quickly. Instead of fighting for our most important relationships, we fight against them. Three times in less than two weeks, a commercial flight had to be grounded because passengers—adult passengers—were fighting over a reclined seat. Wow. Do you think maybe we need to grow up? I understand how frustrating it is to try to work on a tray table when the seat in front of me is reclined (I fly over 200 times a year). But grounding a flight because we couldn’t resolve our conflict over a seat? This should be embarrassing to modern civilization.

What Can We Do on the Job?

We are designed to live interdependently with one another. As a whole, males need females and vice versa, even though we work to do it all ourselves. I believe we need different ethnic groups to help us develop empathy and understanding. I think we need people who just think differently—with good reason—to keep us on our toes and push us to think deeply about why we do and think the way we do.

Let me offer a little encouragement as you reflect on how this affects your team. In our office, we take steps to foster community. We stock our kitchen with food and allow our team members to eat for free—as long as they eat with someone else. They don’t’ have to talk about work, but we want to cultivate “community” among our people. We’ve found that when we lubricate relationships, the team runs more smoothly.

In addition, we host a weekly Lunch and Learn on Mondays. During this time, our entire team eats together and we share what’s happening in both our personal lives and our professional lives. Then, we spend time on personal growth, discussing a significant leadership principle and applying it to our careers and families.

We also hold a weekly “Stand Up” meeting, where we stand in a circle and preview the major priorities each team member has that week. We write the objectives down on a large white wall and remain standing to keep the meeting short and sweet. It keeps us accountable and supportive of each other. It also insures communication and understanding… and yes, even empathy.

Tomorrow, I will post PART THREE of this series.

Our newest book is out:

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – It outlines practical and effective leadership skills for both parents and educators on how to avoid common pitfalls including:

-making happiness a goal instead of a by-product
-not letting students fail or suffer consequences
-praising their beauty and intelligence

Take the FREE Quiz Here

The numbers are in, and they reveal that America continues to shift as a modern society. Americans now eat most of their meals alone, a new study finds, with families finding it more difficult to find time to eat together and a dramatic increase in the number of single-person households.

The NPD Group, a market research firm, reveals that a majority of meals (57%) are eaten by solo diners. Snacks have the highest percentage of lone diners (72%), followed by breakfast (61%) and lunch (55%). (Solo lunches include workers eating at their desk.) Although many families make an effort to eat dinner together, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so in light of busy soccer schedules or karate practices among kids and working late or workouts among adults. Hmmm. Would this make Ward Cleaver proud—or not? “A generation ago, the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ television family ate dinner together,” says Warren Solochek, vice-president of client development for NPD’s food service practice. “Today, that traditional eating arrangement is much harder to achieve.”

Although this was the first time NPD carried out the survey, experts say the trend of people cooking for just themselves or requesting tables for one will continue. Single-person households jumped from 17% in 2008 to 27% in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “People are marrying later in life and starting families later in life,” says Andy Brennan, a lead analyst at research firm IBISWorld. “A lot of restaurants are accommodating single diners with more bar space. There isn’t the stigma there once was to dining alone.”


The Factors

As I reflected on these trends, I asked myself what factors could be contributing to these changes. In a matter of moments, I came up with a list:

  1. A rise in technology has fostered a social corrosion. We do life on a screen.
  2. More people live alone, making social contact more work after a busy day.
  3. An increase in activities has meant diminished family meals together.
  4. Social media on a screen is less taxing than face-to-face interaction.
  5. Crowded calendars and bigger goals create a decline in human contact.
  6. The expansion of media has left us lethargic, seeking entertainment over engagement.

Oh, we may not feel alone. We have our portable device in our hands as we sip our soup—surfing, texting, scrolling our contacts. It masquerades as a social device, and in a sense, it is. However, screens cannot replace what happens when we are face to face with individuals, reading facial and body language, listening as we observe, mirroring emotional tone and empathizing with the person in front of us.

No doubt, it’s important to distinguish between happily alone and lonely, says Susan Cain, co-founder of Quiet Revolution (a mission-based company to celebrate introverts) and author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts. She says a lot of people look forward to time alone. “There’s a new trend of restaurants, particularly in Europe, that are designed for dining alone,” she says. While some hosts still greet solo diners with the question, “Just one?” there’s been some progress: BBC online recently featured a restaurant in Amsterdam, Eenmaal, which only has tables for one. Cain says that’s why there’s more solo than family dining restaurants. The Le Pain Quotidien restaurant chain has large tables aimed at solo diners. “One of the much unheralded pleasures of café life is the ability to be alone together,” she says.

Different Relationships in a Digital World

In light of these thoughts, however, my concern is that many of us don’t even realize we are, indeed, lonely. Our social world today enables us to be with people and still be lonely. We may not even know how to be authentic, vulnerable, and empathetic, so we opt for the less stressful route of no companionship. It’s less work. Further, even when interacting with people, it’s different now. Our culture pushes for relationships to be:

  1. Superficial

We don’t go deep, in our reading or relationships, like people once did. Too much is going on, too much information is being transmitted. We stick to the surface.

  1. Virtual

As I mentioned, we prefer screens to genuine, face-to-face conversations. Yet the interaction is artificial — we talk to real people via pixels and flat surfaces.

  1. Temporary

We’re so mobile that life-long friendships only last on Facebook or Instagram. Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate. We get bored too quickly.

  1. Lazy

This sounds judgmental, but it seems we don’t want to work at relationships like we did before. As we realized texting was available, we made less phone calls.

Because our lives are crowded, we often have time for people who can do something for us. Connections are transactional: to buy, sell or exchange.

  1. Disposable

We now understand how to “unfriend” in social media; delete, stop following and log off. We quit relationships much faster than earlier generations.


I don’t believe this is how humans are wired to live. There’s great evidence for the fact that we are social creatures, hardwired to be close to one another, to work at the connections we have with those closest to us and not walk away. Tomorrow, I will demonstrate this in Part Two of this series.

Our newest book is out:

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – It outlines practical and effective leadership skills for both parents and educators on how to avoid common pitfalls including:

-making happiness a goal instead of a by-product
-not letting students fail or suffer consequences
-praising their beauty and intelligence

Take the FREE Quiz Here

photo credit: Sara. Nel via photopin cc

photo credit: Sara. Nel via photopin cc

Know why so many kids are stressed out and “failing to launch” into adulthood? It’s because of the unrealistic expectations and mental health of their parents.

Now before you react, let me show you the results from a recent study.

Carrie Wendel-Hummell, a researcher at the University of Kansas, concluded that postpartum depression in mothers and fathers doesn’t just stem from stretch marks or the emotional burden of caring for a new baby. She suggests the pressures to be a perfect parent are affecting the mental health of parents.

Consider the pressures today’s parents face to be perfect:

  1. We see Facebook pictures of seemingly perfect families who just returned from a perfect vacation. Everyone’s smiling.
  1. We compare our lives more than ever to the “Jones’” next door who just bought their kids the latest iPhone, PS4, or tablet.
  1. Mommy bloggers are ubiquitous, consistently pushing readers to perfect their parenting skills and give their kids an advantage in life.
  1. We hold “Disney-like” ideals of how a family is supposed to operate, where mom is always beautiful, dad is Prince Charming, etc.
  1. We believe that our kids are the “report card” others examine to measure the kind of parents we are.

Wendel-Hummell studied the health disorders that come with the prenatal phase of a mother’s life. During this time, parents must pay particular attention to their mental health. In Wendel-Hummell’s study, she conducted interviews with new mothers and fathers, most of them from Kansas and Missouri. Their incomes varied from low to middle class, and each candidate reported having issues with a variety of the following symptoms: postpartum depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosis, and bi-polar disorder.

Interestingly, middle-class parents were more likely to put huge quantities of pressure on themselves to attain a level of “perfect” parenthood. “Middle-class mothers often try to do everything to balance work and home life, and fathers are increasingly attempting to do the same,” Wendel-Hummell said. “This pressure can exacerbate mental health conditions. If everything is not perfect, they feel like failures — and mothers tend to internalize that guilt.” The pressure from society on middle-class parents seems to be too much for some parents’ mental health.

As I’ve addressed tens of thousands of parents and teachers each year, it seems that many feel this way. In fact, some just feel like plain failures if they see their children falter.

Why We Can’t Face Failure

I just released a book entitled Twelve Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid. My goal was not to take moms and dads further on their guilt trip. In fact, it was quite the opposite — the book is about removing the barriers to healthy family experiences. In it, I promote high (but healthy) expectations for both parents and kids.

Each of the twelve mistakes tends to fall into one of four categories:

  • We risk too little.
  • We rescue too quickly.
  • We rave too easily.
  • We reward too frequently.

If you stop to think about it, we parents make these mistakes because we don’t want to fail, nor do we want our kids to fail. So we refuse to let it happen. When our kids perform poorly, we praise them anyway. When they forget something, we rescue them. When they finish an average assignment, we rave like they’ve just won a gold medal, assuming it will build self-esteem. This does not produce a healthy adult.

Why are we so afraid of failure?

If I may be blunt, I believe we, as parents and teachers, allow our emotional baggage to get in the way of helping them transition into healthy adulthood. They’re unready because we actually failed to get them ready. We are fragile adults, getting offended if anyone (including their teacher) criticizes them. In reality, they likely need some constructive criticism. We interpret our child’s poor grade as our own failure to parent well, when in reality, they likely failed because they were lazy and didn’t fully apply themselves. We’re enraged when our kids lose on the playing field because we project our own lives and losses on them, when in reality, a kid just wants a Slurpee when the game’s over. He doesn’t care nearly as much as you do about who wins.

I’m a Baby Boomer, and I believe that many from our generation (certainly not all) have failed to grow up well. Could it be that we wanted to be called by our first name at work, even when we became boss, because we were clinging to our youth? Could it be we refused to let our hair become gray because we want to stay Forever 21? Could it be we wear skinny jeans or get tattoos, not because we look good with them, but because we hope to stay “cool” like our kids? Could it be we faced a mid-life crisis because we realized we weren’t as awesome as we thought we’d be at forty years old… and now, we’re committed to make sure our kid is awesome, even if we have to pretend? I’m just asking.

I see far too many ill-prepared young adults each year. The fact is, most of them are loaded with potential. Gifts. Smarts. Creativity. But the truth is, we didn’t give them a good model to follow into adulthood.

Let’s work on our own mental and emotional health so our kids know what happy, passionate, satisfied grown-ups look like. Let’s drop the perfect expectations. Let’s embrace the fact that failure happens to all of us. (In fact, it has to happen in order for us to fully mature.) Let’s embrace risk — and the consequences of bad decisions — so we know how to handle the tough times ahead. And let’s embrace all our warts and wrinkles while staying passionate about life. The next generation deserves a healthy leader.

What do you think?


Our newest book is out:

12 Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid – It outlines practical and effective leadership skills for both parents and educators on how to avoid common pitfalls including:

-making happiness a goal instead of a by-product
-not letting students fail or suffer consequences
-praising their beauty and intelligence

Learn more here and download a free chapter.


Year’s ago, I heard my boss John C. Maxwell say, “All’s well that begins well.” What he meant was the way we start a project often determines its outcome. I think he’s right. I also think it’s true with the school year. Students often judge how well a new semester is going to go within the first month (or even the first week).

students in classroom

Some years ago, Nalini Ambady, an experimental psychologist at Harvard University, wanted to examine the nonverbal aspects of good teaching. To do this, she wanted to film clips of various professors teaching for a minute each, play the clips with no sound for outside observers, then have those observers rate the effectiveness of the faculty by their expressions and physical cues.

Unfortunately, she could only get about 10 seconds worth of tape for each professor and thought she would have to abandon the project. But her adviser encouraged her to try anyway, and with only 10 seconds of tape each, the observers rated the teachers on a 15-item checklist of personality traits. Interestingly, when Ambady cut the clips back to five seconds and showed them to other raters, the ratings came out the same. In fact, they were even the same when she showed just two seconds of videotape. Anything beyond the first moment was superfluous.

Speech Coach Sims Wyeth reports that Ambady’s next step led to an even more remarkable conclusion:

She compared those snap judgments about teacher effectiveness with evaluations made after a full semester of classes, by students of the same teachers. The correlation between the two was astoundingly high. A person watching a two-second silent video clip of a teacher he’s never met will reach conclusions about how good that teacher is that are very similar to those of a student who sits in the teacher’s class for an entire semester.

Similar experiments have been conducted on other campuses over the years with the same results. The fact is, first impressions are potent — they work for us and against us. In other words, the way things start very frequently determine how well they go.

Seven Habits That Help Students Begin Their Year Well

So how can we equip our students to lay the groundwork for a great school year? As young adults, kids can become victims of their emotions or the whims and opinions of others. They are at the mercy of outside forces… unless they choose otherwise.

  1. Make up your mind before you make up your bed.

You have to choose the right attitude. Fighting a victim mindset means we have to be intentional about our outlook. We must make up our minds to make it a great day before the day gets away from us.

  1. Choose to give.

This will sound cheesy to students, but challenge them to give something away anonymously to another student weekly. Get in the habit of generosity. Studies show that the happiest people are the ones focused on others.

  1. Determine your River.

Rivers and Floods is one of our HabitudesÒ for students. Most students are a “Flood” — they move in multiple directions without focus. Successful students must be “Rivers” — they find a single direction and flow toward a specific goal.

  1. Decide on outcomes, then work backward.

Stephen Covey used to say, “Begin with the end in mind.” Help students determine where they want to end up, what their target is at year’s end. Then, help them ask themselves, “What steps do I need to take to get there?” Finally, encourage them to take the steps.

  1. Schedule your priorities.

Successful leaders know: The issue is not prioritizing your schedule, but rather scheduling your priorities. The time to decide how the day or week will go is when calendars are still blank. Put your most important activities in first.

  1. Treat deadlines like accountability partners.

One of the chief reasons we disappoint ourselves is because we fail to meet deadlines we agreed to meet. I have found deadlines are lifelines — I treat them like a friend who’s asking if I will finish in time. Write them down and take them seriously.

  1. Choose who you lose.

Be intentional about your friends. Choose them wisely, knowing you can’t be close with everyone. You will choose who you “lose” as a friend by where you invest time. Keep the ones who make you better close to you.

What do you think?



Looking to develop leadership skills in students this school year? Check out

Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes