Archives For Generation iY

Last week, our team at Growing Leaders enjoyed a stimulating day brainstorming with some key staff members from the Nebraska Department of Education. Rich Katt who directs the effort to prepare graduates for life and career, has led a mission to discover what employers most want and need in employees, and is now creating tools and strategies to meet those needs.


I was impressed during our day to review the eleven “Career Ready” Benchmarks they have created from discussions with leaders in the workplace.  I was impressed by the individuals Rich has surrounded himself with who deeply care for students, for the economy and for the communities they live in. I was impressed with how clearly they have defined both the needs and the strategy necessary to connect with students who may have little knowledge or readiness to enter the marketplace.

Two thoughts emerged in our planning day that struck me.

First, so many good kids are getting stuck with what they should do after graduation. They have been pushed to “find their purpose in life” (which is good) but many become paralyzed at the options in front of them. They say they like “so many things” they don’t’ know where to start. The problem is, asking them what they want to do is only half of the equation. In addition to encouraging a student to ask this question, they must also ask: “What does my world need and how can I serve that need?” It’s wrong to stop at a “me” centered view of the world. It must be a bigger picture view that asks: “What cry must I answer? What problem am I suited to solve? What need can I meet?” Nothing engages students like solving a problem.

Second, students aren’t the only ones who’ve gotten stuck. Often, educators forget why they “got into this gig” in the first place, and drift from the real target they must hit. The “report card” for educators must not merely be test scores and graduation rates, it must be building employable graduates who understand the real world. Teachers and administrators must ask themselves what’s the real outcome they’re shooting for? What should a student look like when we’re finished with them? What proves that we have been successful in our investment in them? Nothing engages teachers and leaders like seeing a ROI, or “return on investment.”

I believe many kids drop out of school—not because they are unintelligent or unable to meet the standards—but because they’re bored and disengaged. Students today are conditioned to be very pragmatic. They find it difficult to continue in a direction that doesn’t seem relevant to their future. Perhaps if we connected the dots between what we teach and why, they will find purpose in the classroom, or the youth group or the athletic team. Asking the right questions will lead us to the right solutions.

Thanks Nebraska for reminding us all of these issues.


hbjFor additional ideas on preparing “career ready students,” pick up a copy of Habitudes for the Journey.

Click here to order today.


In the last episode of the Growing Leaders Podcast, we interviewed Dan Pink, author of A Whole New MindDrive, and To Sell is Human. In today’s episode, we discuss the benefits of taking a gap year.


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Episode Summary

Gap Year – A year of time between high school and college where exploration, experimentation and work experience is gained.


Three Biggest Things that Happened for Tim’s Kids Working at Growing Leaders

1. They traveled

  • They went on trips.
  • Travel is an education in itself.

2. They did lots of assessing of themselves

  • Some were literal assessments.
  • They were able to evaluate and reflect as they worked.

3. They got good old-fashioned work experience

  • They worked and realized it’s not easy.

Six Benefits of a Gap Year

1. Gives them time to clarify their identity.

  • Often students move from one pressurized environment (high-school) to another (college) and don’t have time to think or reflect.
  • They are often consumed with “What’s my major?”, “How many credit hours?” and forgot to cement their identity.
  • 40% of college students today end up changing their major multiple times because they are wandering and searching for their identity.
  • A gap year allows them time to become.

2. Enables them to develop their emotional intelligence.

  • Success in college is 25% EQ and 75% IQ.
  • Success in the real world is 75% EQ and 25% IQ.
  • EQ is rarely taught or developed by sitting in a classroom.
  • This gap year allows them to develop EQ before entering into the classroom.

3. Helps them choose a college that actually fits.

  • It is better to choose a college that fits each student rather than choosing based on peers.
  • This time allows for assessment (pro/con list) to choose a college wisely.
  • A gap year helps each student identify their next step (college, work, etc)

4. Equips them to find and stick to their strength zone.

  • In this working gap year, they are not just taking literal assessments, but assessing themselves through a job (hands-on projects, phone calls, co-worker interactions, etc).
  • These day-to-day assessments allow them to identify certain strengths.

5. Teaches them to find mentors.

  • Many of the people they meet during a gap year will become their mentors.
  • These meetings and conversations with mentors furnish insights to the career and the life that they desire.

6. Gives them a place to mature.

  • Today, kids take longer to grow up because they are over-exposed to information and under-exposed to real life experiences.
  • Many university deans are now saying that “26 is the new 18”
  • A gap-year gives them the real life experience they need to mature.

Practical Application to Institute a Gap Year

  • If you have a business/organization where you can employ kids in a gap year, try it out with 1 student.
  • If you are a parent, help your kid find these gap years.
  • If you are a student, apply for internships and apprenticeships.


1. Growing Leaders Internship – We are currently accepting applications for our internship. Click here to find out more information.

2. National Leadership Forum – Sign up today at This year’s theme is Marching Off the Map: Charting the Course for the Next Decade of Student Development.

3. Check out Growing Leaders. If you’re new to the podcast or blog, visit our website to learn more about the resources Growing Leaders offers to equip those who lead the next generation.

What topic would you like for us to address on the next episode of the Growing Leaders Podcast? Leave a comment below. 

hbjFor additional ideas on leading students through life’s transitions, pick up a copy of Habitudes for the Journey.

Click here to order today.


Yesterday, I blogged about the drop in empathy among students today. Quite frankly, bullying is up because empathy is down. My research tells me that heavy screen time—technology—is playing a role. As screen time goes up, empathy goes down. Too much information leads to too little emotion. We have a perfect storm of elements that’s hindering this virtue.

Today—I want to share an encouraging story of a high school student who is actually using the very technology that diminishes empathy to cultivate it. This student uses the technology that cyber-bullies use to victimize kids—to do just the opposite. It’s simple. Anyone can do it.

Jeremiah Anthony, a high school student in Iowa City, and his friends are crushing cyber-bullies with kindness. And their classmates are reaping the benefits. Anthony created a Twitter account to encourage and compliment his fellow West High School students after hearing about how cyber-bullies were hiding behind social media to do their dirty deeds. I love this paradox. He said, “You shouldn’t be such a coward you have to hide behind a screen to say bad things to people.”

Catch just a few of his tweets:

@zacknullmeyer You are the man, one of the best runners West has right now. You have more work ethic that just about anyone.

@alexandra_dobre Very creative and wise. You’re an outstanding musician, with your guitar and your voice. Keep being lovely and caring for all.

@evpurk  Your encouraging personality and generosity towards others makes you very likeable. You’re quite the intelligent kid, keep it up.

At first, the idea seems a little cheesy. But tell me what kid wouldn’t want to get a tweet directed to him or her—and broadcast to all who might be following? Jeremiah and his buddies use the handle @WestHighBros. They have sent out more than 3,000 tweets…and it seems to be catching on.

What I love about this simple idea is that it takes the very tool that often reduces empathy and compassion for others—and actually builds it. Remember, anything can be viral, good or bad. Destructive or constructive.

Are there any other examples you’ve seen of this phenomenon? Leave a comment.




For specific solutions to build empathy in students, pick up a copy of Generation iY.

Click here to order today.


As we keep our ear to the ground, we continue to hear reports that emotional intelligence—and specifically empathy—is spiraling downward among kids. The sociology department at the University of Michigan, led by Dr. William Axinn at the Population Studies Center, tells us that college students today are approximately 40% less empathetic than they were just ten years ago. That’s quite a drop. I find it quite strange that in a generation more connected to each other than ever, young adults find it increasingly difficult to feel compassion toward each other.

Why is that?


photo credit: danielfoster437 via photopin cc

Let me remind you of the realities in their world.

1. Screen time

As screen time goes up, empathy goes down. Follow it. You will find that the more a student is in front of a video, computer or phone screen their level of empathy for people drops. Cognitive understanding is at an all-time high, but to feel the pain of others emotionally may just be at an all-time low.

You’re response: Balance screen time with face-to-face time and explain it. For every hour your kids spend watching a screen, they should spend equal time with people.

2. Information Overload

Between commercial messages, texts, emails, Facebook posts, Instagrams, YouTube videos, etc, a student today receives about 1,000 messages every day. It’s too much information; students are forced to develop filters in their brains to screen out data. Sadly, content that is emotionally expensive often doesn’t make the cut.

You’re response: Talk about this reality with your students and let them “own” how they must filter out unnecessary information so they can digest what really matters.

3. Consequential Behavior

Kids have grown up in a world where mistakes or tragedy they witness often doesn’t carry consequences. They see a friend commit a crime, or cheat on a test, but get off easy. They see people get shot on TV or on a violent video game but it doesn’t mean anything. This desensitizes kids and makes them emotionally uninvolved.

Your response: The next time a student fails, be sure they feel the consequences. It’s a reality check. Talk over the long-term unintended price tag of failure.

4. Virtual Reality.

I’ve said this for years. Students have lots of experiences, but many are virtual. To witness something on a YouTube video that lasts two minutes and can be shut off just doesn’t enlist the emotions of a viewer. It’s a squirt of data. Herbert Simon said, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

You’re response: Take your students to experience poverty or disease in a homeless shelter or a cancer ward. Nothing like “touching the real thing” to cultivate empathy.

5. Role Models.

Sometimes, students fail to develop empathy because they see a generation of adults lead with a jaded, cynical attitude. We are all wary of being taken advantage of or being conned, so we keep our guard up. Because we don’t want to be “victims” we prevent ourselves from feeling what true victims feel.

Your response: Be intentional to talking over current events, like school shootings or victims of natural disasters and share your feelings about them. Model empathy.

I am just getting this conversation started. What would you add to this list? Leave a comment.


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When it comes to leadership qualities, I’ve met loads of staff, who work with students, who’ve groaned about specific characteristics in kids that masquerade as maturity. Last year, I released a book called, Artificial Maturity. It’s about helping kids meet the challenge of becoming authentic adults. In other words, we can mistake a young person for being mature, when in reality, they’re not. It’s not always their fault either. Check this out.


Six Leadership Qualities that Masquerade as Maturity

1.    We often mistake intelligence for maturity.

How often does a mother observe how smart her kid is, and assumed he must be mature for his age and ready for experiences or freedom—and it backfires on her. Scientists have proven that the reward centers of the brain are not fully developed until our mid-twenties. Many kids are emotionally immature but so knowledgeable they can look mature and do terribly “dumb” things.

2.    We mistake giftedness for maturity.

Frequently, we observe a kid on a stage singing or on a field performing, and they’re so good—we unwittingly assume that talent must pervade all areas of their life. We know better, but we mistake that huge talent for seasoned experience.  It’s been said many times—there is no correlation between giftedness and maturity. Just ask Lindsay Lohan or Macaulay Culkin.

3.    We mistake confidence for maturity.

This one happens a lot. Students today are frequently confident. Very confident. They’ve watched hundreds of YouTube videos, visited hundreds of websites, sent and received messages via text and Facebook. They’ve been exposed to lots of content, but it’s information without experience. It’s often content without context—and it is context that leads to authentic maturity.

4.    We mistake savvy-ness for maturity.

Have you ever had a conversation with a teen or twenty-something and been amazed at their savvy style of relating? They’re quick with sarcasm or a pun; we hear them tell of how they manipulated a teacher to do something and we assume they are mature beyond their years. These are posers for what matters—holistic maturity that includes EQ not just IQ.

5.    We mistake ambition or passion for maturity.

Because it’s rare in so many young people, we assume a young person who displays a little passion for a “cause” or ambition about starting a business must be mature. Passion looks like conviction and ambition looks like persistence. While we should celebrate both in our students, they can be fleeting qualities that have little to do with genuine maturity.

6.    We mistake influence for maturity.

This one is sinister. We often say that leadership is influence, nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps it is, but I think young people (or seasoned veterans for that matter) can persuade others to do what they want, and lead people astray. Leaders can be terribly immature, but persuasive enough to push others toward a goal. It becomes the blind leading the blind.

This article may sound horribly negative. I don’t mean for it to. I’m simply sounding a warning to parents (or coaches, teachers) who get duped into a wrong impression, and assume a student or athlete has the “goods,” is completely objective, and is in control of their emotions. Speaking from a purely neurological standpoint, it just isn’t so. There are rare young people who display leadership qualities from an early age, but most need a caring adult to mentor them and see through their maturity masquerade.

My advice? Look closely. See what’s really happening. Love and believe in students, but be honest with them. Help them diagnose their own growth. Expose them to real experiences. Equip them to grow up authentically.

Have you seen any other leadership qualities you see that masquerade as maturity? Join the conversation.



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Let’s help kids become authentic adults.

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