Archives For Generation iY

As I travel and meet thousands of teachers, coaches, parents and youth workers each year, I find they usually fit into one of two camps:

  • The Owl
  • The Ostrich


These two birds have become symbols of two different approaches to life. The ostrich has come to represent folly. Even in the scriptures (Job 29:17), it is said of the ostrich that God “has deprived her of wisdom.” Over the years, people have believed that the ostrich buries its head in the sand when it’s afraid or wants to hide. While this is actually a myth, we’ve come to compare it to this tendency in humans. Woodrow Wilson compared American foreign policy to the bird: “America cannot be an ostrich with its head in the sand.” H. G. Wells wrote, “Every time Europe looks across the Atlantic to see the American eagle, it observes the rear end of an ostrich.”

In contrast, the owl symbolizes a completely different approach to life. The owl is most alert at night, when danger lurks. It can rotate its head 360 degrees to see any and all movement occurring. Because it’s always on watch, it has developed acute hearing and keen eyesight, even in the dark. Perhaps, especially in the dark. Owls are nocturnal and are known for their distinct calls to other birds and species. Most of all, owls have become symbols of wisdom and nobility.

Today—I’m merely posing a question. Which are you, an owl or ostrich?

Do you have a tendency to hide from bad news or dangerous trends, not wanting to face reality? Do you “bury your head in the sand,” wanting to escape the necessary changes we must make to prepare students for the future? Do you hide behind noise and clutter? Do you get lost in routines, hoping to merely survive each school year?

Or—do you do your best work in the dark? Can you observe what’s happening all around you in culture and among students today, and do you possess the wisdom to address dangerous patterns in kids, helping them to rise above addictive behavior, risk aversion, self-absorption and entitlement?

Do you run to the roar…or from the roar?

I’ve found, as leaders, we’re either an ostrich or an owl. We play defense or offense when it comes to preparing students for the world that awaits them. I am not a pessimist, but I do believe our culture has done a number on students today. We do live in dark times, where they finish school unprepared for life afterward.

As cliché as this may sound, we must be owls, standing watch on our campus:

  1. Stay alert in dark and dangerous times. Keep current on cultural stats.
  2. Observe patterns and diagnose trends in your students’ behavior.
  3. Respond wisely as you address negative patterns or shortcomings.
  4. Signal your colleagues, communicating what needs to be done.

Owls are widely believed to have the best night vision in the animal kingdom. May this be said of us as we lead our students into adulthood.


What’s Your End Game?

August 12, 2013 — 6 Comments

Here’s a question every teacher, coach and parent should ask themselves:

What’s the end game as I lead my students? My athletes? My kids?


end game

Seriously. How do you know if you’ve done your job well? What’s a “win” for you? If it’s simply teaching a subject, building an athletic skill or nurturing them, then we have done a stellar job. Kids today are well-educated, better at sports and believe they’re very special. We’ve definitely nurtured this generation of young people. Some say we’ve wrapped them in bubble wrap and put a helmet on them.

But if the end-game is preparing them to live without help—then we’ve failed. If our ultimate goal is self-regulation and independence, we’ve done a miserable job.

Young Adults Still Depending on Mom and Dad

New research is out—and the evidence is clear. In 2012, 36% of the nation’s young adults ages 18 to 31—the Millennial generation—were living in their parents’ home, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. This is the highest share in at least four decades and represents a slow but steady increase over the 32% of their same-aged counterparts who were living at home prior to the Great Recession in 2007 and the 34% doing so when it officially ended in 2009.

A record total of 21.6 million Millennials lived in their parents’ home in 2012, up from 18.5 million of their same aged counterparts in 2007.  The males of the Millennial generation are more likely than the women to be living with their parents—40% versus 32%—continuing a long-term gender gap in the share of young adults who do so.

Now I know what you’re thinking. The economy is bad. Jobs are scarce. Money is tight, and perhaps a twenty-something can save more when living in their parents’ basement. Perhaps—if that is, indeed, what they’re doing. But here’s what we’re finding. Both females and males seem to be moving back home after college—the latest number is 85% of last year’s senior class planned on moving back home when they finished school. The difference is, the females moved back home with an exit plan. The males moved back home…with no plan.

A New End Game

May I suggest a new objective for you? I believe our end game is to prepare these young people to live without us; to work, to play, to grow and to thrive on their own. So how do we do this? How do we prepare them for their future?

1. Establish an expectation – Let them know when they need to be on their own.

2. Identify a strength – Help them find their natural strengths and play to them.

3. Cultivate a skill – Enable them to turn their strength into a valuable skill.

4. Provide a network – Introduce them to key people you know who can help them.

5. Furnish a compass – Show them how to make good trade-offs and decisions.

6. Give them a deadline – Set a date that they must be ready to move on and out.

Ultimately, love doesn’t coddle, it cultivates. If we love our students, we will do everything in our power to equip them for the future. It has little to do with our need for love or our need to be needed. It has everything to do with their need to be self-reliant and on their own. This is our measuring stick.

Talk to me. Am I too tough on them? Am I being too tough on adults?


I am convinced we must enable students today to be self-motivated. To cultivate initiative and self-motivation as a skill set. To find a way to be internally provoked instead of depending on the external stimulation of a smart phone, a video game or a YouTube video. Why? Leadership really comes from within. It doesn’t start on the outside with a badge or a position. I believe it has less to do with a position and more to do with a disposition. It’s about the drive to right a wrong, or ease a pain or improve a desperate situation.

leadership is within

Let me illustrate. When Helen Keller was 19 months old, she got sick and lost her sight and hearing. But she believed that “true sight and hearing are within, not without.” With the help of her lifelong teacher and assistant, Anne Sullivan, Helen Keller learned to read, write, and speak. During her lifetime she graduated from college; became a best selling author; traveled around the world; met with Presidents, world leaders, celebrities, and ordinary people; and serve as an advocate for social justice and for people with disabilities. Her accomplishments as a deaf, dumb and blind person were an inspiration to millions.

If Helen Keller had been more like us, she would’ve given excuses for not achieving more in life…and we all would have felt it was natural. After all, she’s disabled. She’s disadvantaged. She could’ve lived her whole life on welfare, needing others to feed and clothe her, to provide for her and to stimulate her. After all, she didn’t possess the fundamental abilities to see, hear or think well.

But someone forgot to tell her that.

And Helen Keller led the way for an entire generation of disadvantaged people. How did she do this?  By believing that leadership begins within not without.


Turning 21 in America

August 8, 2013 — 8 Comments

Last week I shared with the Huffington Post community, “Turning 21 in America“. I’ve decided to make that article the blog post for today as well. Enjoy!

My son just turned 21. My wife, Pam, and some of his friends took him out for a nice dinner. We celebrated with him his cultural rite of passage. We joked about his legal right to drink… and about how most teens can hardly wait for that birthday.

His birthday, in fact, triggered a thought in me.

turning 21

In every culture, the people who live there create rites of passage. They are markers that distinguish childhood from adulthood. In many cultures, there are ceremonies for young boys to learn how to be a man. For instance, in many African cultures, boys leave their mothers and go into the village for several days, learning to thatch a roof, hunt an animal, interact with men and use tools and weapons. Even today, the Hebrew culture celebrates the Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah for boys and girls who become teens. Regardless of how sacred the ceremony is, it is a rite of passage for those young people. It’s about growing up.

But in America, our total focus at this stage and age is on rights. In fact, the first thing that pops into our minds when we think about turning “21” is drinking. It’s the rite of passage. Manhood is about what you have the license to do. You can drink now. You can smoke. Sex is legal without talking to parents, or checking into a hotel or renting a car. All kinds of privileges become their possession.

What’s Missing?

When I paused to think about it, it dawned on me… there’s nothing about personal responsibility, as in past cultures. It’s about alcohol or sex, but never coupled with the counterpart of the responsibilities that arrive with our coming of age. While I believe alcohol and sex are to be enjoyed in the proper context, you rarely hear positive stories about young people — who’ve just turned 21 — that involve sex and alcohol. Why? Because rights without responsibility are rarely redemptive. In fact, much of the time, rights minus responsibilities simply create selfish brats. Privileges without price tags don’t really help us grow up.

While I love the 21-year-olds I know… I dislike our emphasis on turning 21.

What If…

What if we pondered this issue, and came up with an incredible responsibility that became part of the 21st birthday in America? It would have to be a responsibility that challenged the guy or girl at the heart level; it must engage their passions. It must harness their creativity and gifts. It must be something they’ve wanted for a while, but only becomes theirs as they come of age. I know some parents who:

• Planned international trips for their kids when they turned a certain age. These were service trips, where they helped people in developing nations.

• Talked about projects in the community to help neighbors, but they reserved them for their kids to engage in when they came of age.

• Purchased power tools for their sons, but only allowed them to use them on a project they wanted to build when they came of age.

You’ll have to figure out what works with your young people, but if we want our kids to become healthy adults — responsibilities and rights must always go together.


Case & Point

August 7, 2013 — Leave a comment

case and point

I just completed a new study, among students in higher education institutions. I asked the students what elements they appreciated most when learning something new in an academic or non-academic environment. They were given plenty of options, as well as free space to write in their own answer to the question. Their top four responses were enlightening, but not surprising to me. They preferred:

  1. Story vs. Didactic
  2. Conversation vs. Monologue
  3. Visual vs. Verbal
  4. Simple vs. Complex

Did you catch that? They love narratives. They love interaction. They love pictures. They want us to make the complex simple. They’re asking for stories from real life that they can talk about and make sense of; they want to attach a metaphor to help them remember what they learned and they want a single take-away…not so many they can’t retain them all. My question is: just like great cross-cultural missionaries, shouldn’t we find ways to connect with the people we’re attempting to reach? Wouldn’t it make sense to use the vehicles of communication they prefer?

Based upon our research, we’ve just released a new resource for you to use as you equip young leaders on your campus. We call it:

Case and Point.”

It is a series of case studies, containing relevant stories (item one above), about students who faced a dilemma as a young leader. Questions come next, as your students unpack the story and make sense of what they would do in a similar situation. (Item two above). Then, we share a Habitude that teaches a principle students can practice or apply in that situation (item three above). Finally, we help the students summarize their take-away (item four above).

The case studies include scenarios with Resident Advisors, Student Government Officers, Peer Leaders, Mentors and other leadership roles. The discussions revolve around issues like conflict resolution, morals and ethics, relationship skills, integrity, communication, justice, discipline, collaboration and more.

Neil Best, Director of Residence Life at Geneva College, wrote up the case studies, and we’ve connected a Habitude image to the conversations. This tool could be ideal for starting conversations in your meetings with student leaders.

Interested?  CLICK HERE.


case and point



We are excited to be launching our new resource today,   Case & Point. For an inside look at one of the case study chapters, click here!