I recently had lunch with my friend Lara Juras, who serves as Vice President of Human Resources for the Atlanta Braves. In our conversation, Lara reminded me of a great truth she keeps in mind as she practices the art of motivating people.

She’s learned to keep in mind the two greatest motivators for behavior whenever she has to inspire improvement among team members:

  1. Pain (Very unpleasant circumstances)
  1. Gain (Very pleasant circumstances)

Pause and reflect for a moment. Pain is a motivator for people to change because adrenaline is released in moments of tension or fear. In fact, many people never change until they feel a little pain. Something in their life must be uncomfortable or unacceptable before they’ll consider doing something new or unfamiliar. In our bodies, adrenaline is released in such contexts and operates as fuel for engagement. Without pain, they may not experience the “juice” they need to improve.

On the other hand, “gain” is also a great motivator. When people see some benefit up ahead or know something pleasant is coming their way, endorphins are released that operate as fuel for positive change. Endorphins cause us to feel good and move people to act. Very often, people are quite satisfied to “veg” or continue in a routine until some tangible reward or advantage is introduced, until there’s something they’re willing to exchange some energy to obtain.

Putting This to Work with Students

Now think about the young people you lead. How do we utilize this reality?


In a world that’s saturated with stimulants—video, music, chemicals, images, social media, meds and digital content—it’s increasingly difficult to motivate or inspire students. I talk to coaches, teachers, parents and youth workers who tell me: “It’s just hard to ‘wow’ these kids today.” Of course it is—they get exposed to more and more stimulants at younger ages than ever before. At the risk of over-speaking, millions of young adults are content to “veg” and “watch” instead of stretch and grow. And it isn’t necessarily their fault. We’ve over-stimulated them. That’s why the smartest leaders introduce a little “pain” or “gain” into the lives of their students. It’s the only way to fuel change and growth—the growth they desperately need.

We must remember this is more than “carrots and sticks.” It isn’t just about offering rewards and punishments. Instead, it’s about finding out what your students value or avoid most and creating environments where pain or gain play a role in their achieving what they want… or avoiding what they abhor.

I will never forget talking to Julie years ago. She was a college student who was “stuck.” She couldn’t get motivated to go to class; she was confused about what to major in; and she told me she might just drop out of school and become a barista at Starbucks. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being a barista if that’s your goal, but I felt there was more going on beneath the surface for Julie. So I decided to question her to find out what her greatest hopes and fears were, those things that represented gain and pain in her life. I quickly discovered her passion for children in Mexico. She’d visited once on spring break and was moved by kids in an orphanage whose plight was hopeless and whose future prospects were dim. As we talked, their pain became Julie’s pain, and the idea of serving children in Mexico became the very idea that released endorphins in Julie. This conversation changed the trajectory of her life, and it was all about pain and gain. The juices were flowing, enabling Julie to finish her degree in Spanish and International Studies (a double major) and pursue something she loves. She now has a fulfilling career, serving in Mexico.

Let me ask you a question: What pain must you introduce to your students to help them become motivated? What’s the gain you need to help your students discover in their life? The juices won’t flow until we do something different.

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Several weeks ago, I found myself up late, watching the Jimmy Fallon Show. On this night, a young girl named Makosinski drew applause when she appeared on the program. The young girl was showing off her invention—a flashlight powered by the heat of a human hand—on a segment with two other young inventors. It wasn’t just her clever adaptation of technology that wowed the crowd, it was her inspiration: the plight of a friend in the Philippines who’d failed a grade at school because she lacked electricity to study at night. Her empathy-driven ingenuity won her the top prize for 15- to 16-year-olds at the Google Science Fair, a place on Time’s “Top 30 under 30” list, as well as massive media coverage. As she exited the stage, Fallon shook his head in awe. “I’m going to work for her one day, I can feel it.”

Fallon’s line may sound like a pithy cliché, but it echoes a growing sentiment as the spotlight is thrust on Generation Z, the unimaginative term for the cohort following Gen Y and iY. These younger kids, born primarily after the turn of the 21st century, are different than their earlier counterparts. I am committed to keeping you informed about this demographic of global citizens as they grow up. They already number about two billion worldwide and about a quarter of the U.S. population. They are young teens who have grown up with terrorism, a sour economy, a fear of global warming, and other resources running out.

What We Must Watch Out For…



Every generation has its upsides and downsides. The concerns we must address with Generation Z (The Homelanders) are things you hear about often:

  1. Physically Obese – They are growing up overweight and often sendentary due to video games, tablets, television and computers.
  1. Emotionally Behind – Technology is leaving children with low EQ. One-third of kindergartners enter school developmentally behind.
  1. Socially Challenged – Games they play breed low patience levels, low tolerance for adversity, and expectations of rewards for small effort.

What We Must Capitalize On…

In the same way, these kids demonstrate they are different than their narcissistic (and often over-confident) older siblings, aunts and uncles. We must capitalize on:

  1. Empathy – We are finding that the message on empathy for different people is taking root. Makosinski’s invention was driven by empathy for a friend.
  1. Innovation – Once again, the flashlight powered by human heat is a picture of the out-of-the-box thinking these young children are capable of offering.
  1. Ambitious – These kids have been described as smarter than Boomers and far more ambitious than Millennials (or Generation Y).

They will be moved by causes like a “green planet” and a “safe world.” So far, it appears they will want to get along with different ethnic groups and are far more tolerant of racial, sexual, and generational diversity. They are more likely to save their money than spend it. (They didn’t learn that from Generation iY). “Overall, young people have more healthy behaviours than they did 20 years ago,” reported study coordinator Dr. Stephanie Zaza, who noted that use of drugs, weapons, and risky sex have declined since the study began in 1991.

Consultant Don Tapscott is a Gen Z optimist. His 2008 book, Grown Up Digital, features a study of 11,000 kids who were asked whether they’d rather be smarter or better looking: 69% chose “smarter.” Social researcher Mark McCrindle of Sydney-based McCrindle Research, is also an optimist. He’s been looking at Gen Z for seven years. “They are the most connected, educated, and sophisticated generation in history,” he says. “They don’t just represent the future, they are creating it.”

So whatever age you work with today, let me suggest you let these younger kids be who they are. Let them be different. In fact, encourage them to be different. Perhaps we will see a generation grow up to solve problems and serve people, just like the young female inventor on the Jimmy Fallon Show.

We could use some more innovators driven by empathy, don’t you think?

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Every coach has experienced the frustration that comes from having a gifted athlete who neglects to realize his or her potential. Those players have generally excelled above their peers with ease. Some have never really had to push themselves to be the best. Later, as they compete at the Division 1 level, they can’t seem to find it within themselves to work as hard as they must to excel.


Because coaches are competitive like their players, the easiest reaction is to yell louder at them. We think if we just push them harder, they’ll get it… and some do. But today’s player, from Generation iY, generally doesn’t connect with angry, screaming coaches. In our polls nationwide, student athletes continue to prefer relationship-based coaching styles. This should not surprise anyone.

So how does a relationship-based coach pull out the best in players?

The answer might surprise you. The solution lies in an often-neglected quality few coaches exhibit to their players. It’s one we often misinterpret for wimpy leadership or even cowardice. Leaders who show it are presumed to lack backbone, but in the ones who master it, this could not be further from the truth.

The quality is empathy.

Empathy is like a tool in the hands of a carpenter, a weapon in the hands of a soldier, or a key that unlocks the door to a room you want to enter. Consider this: Young athletes today consistently feel that coaches, faculty, trainers and, sometimes, even parents don’t really understand them. So when a coach screams at them to “do better” or “work harder,” their immediate but silent reaction is: You don’t really understand what I am going through right now. You don’t get me. The fact is, we may not. Often, student athletes shut down, but coaches who can communicate empathy for what their student athlete is facing—and relay they both feel with them and care for them—quickly earn the right to say hard things. In fact, a coach who sits down and displays empathy towards a player who’s performing poorly will usually gain incredible results. One coach recently reported: “When I met with Justin, I was ticked off at his lazy butt. Instead of yelling at him, though, I started by saying, “Hey Justin. I recognize you’re going through some pretty tough stuff right now, both at home and in class. I know you feel like you don’t have any more to give on the field right now. But I happen to know you more than you think I do. After looking at your past numbers and watching you this season, I believe you’re loaded with untapped potential. And I want to work with you to make sure you get through your studies while at the same time realize that potential on the field.”

Coach Gardner did this for me, when I played high school basketball. He was a tough, very demanding coach who led our team to a championship. Whenever he had to confront one of us, however, he’d always begin with a display of compassion, and only then move on to challenge us. He never failed to pull out a good response from me. I would have climbed a wall for that man. He believed in me. In the words of John Maxwell, he would touch a heart before he’d ask for a hand.

Stethoscopes, Telescopes and Microscopes

I know this must sound like pop psychology to some coaches, but when a leader demonstrates empathy first, they can get by with saying almost anything and expect to receive buy in. It’s sandwiching the hard feedback they need with belief and understanding. This is what kids feel they don’t get from us.

Let me put this in memorable terms for you as a coach. The equation is simple, yet profound. In many ways, you are like a doctor, diagnosing where they need to improve, then prescribing what they must do to get there. Let’s use scientific terms to describe the process:

Stethoscope: This is what a doctor uses to listen to the heart of their patient. This is the empathy step where you pause, listen and feel with them.

Telescope: This is what scientists use to look into a distant space. Likewise, step two is for you to look at their future potential, spot bright spots and tell them.

Microscope: This is what doctors and scientists use to see details. At this point, they need you to see and describe in detail what they need to do to reach that potential.

Stethoscope: Empathy (I understand what you’re going through)


Telescope: Belief (I expect much from you because I believe in you)


Microscope: Critical Feedback (This is what I am challenging you to change)


Positive Change in Their Performance and Effort

Its’ that simple: Empathy + Belief + Critical Feedback = Positive Improvement.

So, here’s my question for you: How well do you communicate empathy for your players? When you’re frustrated at their performance and want to tell them, can you start with words of compassion and understanding? Step into their shoes for just a moment. Once you do this, you gain “heart” access to proceed into the reason for your high expectations and the belief that they are capable of more.

What are your thoughts?

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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

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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