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‘Tis the season again! The opening ceremonies for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi are upon us. If you’re like me, you’re always impressed by a story or two that surface during the games. Usually it’s about a young person who worked to qualify and then astounded the multitudes with her or his abilities.  It’s a battle of minds, bodies, wills, emotions, and even of the soul.

The Discipline Bridge

One of the images we include in Habitudes—Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes (Book One) is called “The Discipline Bridge.” It was inspired by a scene I witnessed as a kid, when workers created bridges to carry them to places that needed to be rebuilt after a tornado. They needed the bridge to carry them across water and rubble in order to restore what was broken.

Discipline Bridge

In the same way, discipline works like a bridge. It carries us from where we are to where we need to go, often restoring what’s broken. In fact, I believe no matter where we want to go in life, we’ll probably have to cross a bridge called Discipline.

I’d like to share the incredible story of speed skater Apolo Ohno as an example and give you some questions and exercises you can use with students. We have an opportunity this month to use Olympian stories to instill leadership skills in them, so let’s not waste it!

Apolo Ohno

Back in 1997, Apolo Ohno was beginning to make a name for himself. At the tender age of 14, Ohno had already won gold at the 1997 U.S. Senior Championships, the youngest person to ever do so. Being a young teen and living away from his parents, however, he decided not to listen to his trainer in the year that followed, choosing “to eat pizza instead of complete required runs.” His habits caught up with him, and in 1998, he failed to qualify for the Olympic team. It was a crippling defeat that led him to isolate himself in a cabin in Washington to contemplate his future.

photo credit: taminator via photopin cc

photo credit: taminator via photopin cc

During this week of solitude, Ohno concluded that his failures stemmed from a lack of proper focus and dedication. Moving forward, he recognized that he needed to become more self-disciplined and attentive to his trainers’ instruction if he was going to succeed in his sport.

The rest of his story is amazing. Ohno committed to an incredibly difficult training routine the next year, which led to wins in the 1999 Junior World Championship and the 2000-2001 World Cup. He then qualified for the 2002 Winter Olympics and won gold and silver in two events. Then, at the 2006 Winter Olympics, he won a gold medal in the 500-meter event and two bronze medals in other events.

None of Ohno’s success would have happened if he hadn’t made the difficult decision to commit to crossing The Discipline Bridge. The same is true for any Olympic athlete. Check out the common rigors they experience:

  • Train for 8 years before making an Olympic team
  • Train three times a day or more, six days a week or more. When they’re not training, they’re often resting and eating in preparation for the next session.
  • Set annual goals and may develop a schedule for the entire four years leading up to the Games.
  • Need up to 10 hours of sleep each night, as well as a half-hour to 90-minute nap in the afternoon.

Throughout life, I’ve found that disciplining yourself in only a few areas won’t help you in the end. Discipline needs to be a lifestyle, like an Olympian. They don’t just train physically for the Olympic games—they need to have the discipline to eat well, sleep well, and prepare mentally for the long haul. Hardest of all, this means foregoing activities or kicking habits that don’t contribute to the dream.

Whatever your dream may be—whether it’s to be a graduate, business person, parent, Olympian, you name it—you must build your own Discipline Bridge that will get you from desire to reality. It is a long bridge and won’t get you there overnight, but if you stay on it, you’ll be amazed at what you can achieve.

Reflect and Respond:

We used to use the word “virtue.” My parents challenged me to be a man of virtue. The word means excellence, something that functions well. It is implementing a decision to live better than you once did. It is developing from the inside out.

Here are some questions you can discuss with students:

  1. Why do you think virtue and discipline are rare today?
  2. An old proverb says, “He who hates discipline, despises himself.” In other words, an undisciplined person eventually has no self-respect and stops liking who he or she is. Have you ever felt this way?
  3. In which areas of your life do you lack discipline?

Self Assessment:

As you consider your life today, you probably see some areas that are disciplined and some that are not. We usually find it easier to be disciplined in the areas of our passion or interest. However, true discipline becomes a lifestyle that helps you in every area: what you eat, how you connect with people, your exercise and health, your thought patterns, and more. Choose two or three important areas of your life and evaluate your level of discipline based on key areas:

1. Delayed gratification

I can delay pleasures I want; I experience self-control; I can wait for rewards until the timing is right.

1      2      3      4      5      6      7      8      9      10

<immediate gratification                 delayed gratification>

2. Holistic approach

I’m not just disciplined in one area of my life, discipline is my lifestyle; it’s a rule, not an exception.

1      2      3      4      5      6      7      8      9      10

<compartmentalized                                         holistic>

3. Functional training

I experience discipline for a legitimate function; it’s about integrity, not image or appearance.

1      2      3      4      5      6      7      8      9      10

<I’m motivated by image               i’m motivated by integrity>

Exercise

Think about an area of your life that you consider undisciplined. Write it down. Next, write down one tangible step you could take to build discipline in that area. Next, find someone to hold you accountable to do that one step for fourteen days. Invite them to ask you about it daily. Finally, evaluate if this step helps you to discipline other areas of your life as well. Think of other areas you could build discipline. Begin a habit of discipline—you can usually create new habits in two weeks time. Discipline will be the bridge to get you where you want to go.

 

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Results are in from a new study by Jive/Harris on the most annoying smart phone behaviors at work. You may not be surprised by what they discovered. The most annoying habits in order are:

  • Having loud private conversations: 65 percent
  • Not silencing the phone: 59 percent
  • Checking the phone during a conversation: 52 percent
  • Checking the phone in a meeting: 38 percent

Full length of young men and women holding cellphone

Why do those surveyed say these activities are annoying? All of them signal disrespect.

For over a decade now, social media — and technology in general — has redefined the way we interact with people. And we haven’t yet had a chance to establish common courtesies to accompany it in the workplace. So, for both the old and new generations of workers, let me offer a starting point for common guidelines to follow in a social work setting.

Etiquette Rules to Follow:

1. Unless you’re expecting a vital message, conversations in person always trump virtual conversations. It’s disrespectful to the person standing in front of you to be set aside because of a text or a call from someone who isn’t. This is why we are annoyed at sales clerks who take a call when we are standing right in front of them with money to buy a product. As a rule, prioritize in-person interaction.

2. Emails or texts are only for messages containing information, not emotion.
Digital interactions have made us relationally lazy. It’s easier to communicate a message via email, text or Facebook. Because written words do not communicate non-verbal tone or meaning, however, emotional messages can be misunderstood and do more damage than good (i.e. breaking up through a text).

3. While in a meeting or conversation, do not check your phone. In fact, it’s often better to leave it somewhere else so you can focus on those in front of you. Unless the people you are with have all agreed otherwise, avoiding your phone signals you are focused on the meeting at hand.

4. If you must bring your laptop, tablet or smart phone into a meeting, always acknowledge it and even ask if it would bother anyone if you used it. This is common courtesy and it communicates (even if no one in the room is your “boss”) that they are important and you don’t want to signal disrespect.

5. When on your phone, keep the calls short and quiet. If you cannot, move to an area away from others. This communicates you are self-aware and mindful that the world does not revolve around you. This actually cultivates a culture of caring and perspective that others can emulate.

6. Social media use during work hours should be within the boundaries of your employer or supervisor. Ask them. They have exchanged money for your time, so it belongs to them. The vast majority of Generation Y believes it’s their right to be on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram during work hours. I would just add — it’s also the right of your employer to let you go. It’s your call.

What else would you add to this list?

 

Habitudes Book 2-VBHelp students learn the art of connecting with others with Habitudes Book #2.

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I spoke to an audience of university students recently about balancing the art of staying focused and the art of leading change. Afterwards, several students talked about how difficult that is. The topic quickly swerved to New Year’s Resolutions—which incidentally are all about both focus and change. In essence, we ask ourselves:

* “What changes must I make in my life to improve it?” Then,

* “How can I sustain my focus until the resolution becomes a habit?”

Almost every student present admitted what most Americans concede by late January: they have given up on their resolutions. The reason, however, was what intrigued me. They all agreed it wasn’t a lack of resolve, but a lack of focus. Focus—especially long-term focus—is very difficult for Generation iY. They had all moved on to new interests.

icon_focus

In Daniel Goleman’s latest book, Focus, he explains the research. When technology increases, there is always a trade off: life becomes streamlined and convenient. At the same time, however, users experience a reduction in the ability to remain motivated for long periods of time. As I’ve written before, inward motivation has been replaced by outward stimulation. The smart phone, the tablet, the device, the gadget…is at our fingertips. We now have a Google-reflex.

What Cultural Realities Hinder Motivation in Students?

1. Too many choices.

Although we all love the cafeteria lifestyle, having so many options can not only paralyze an adolescent, it can reduce their motivation. Why stay committed to something when we know something else, probably something better, will come along soon?

2. A fast-paced lifestyle.

We live in a world of speed, and it’s evident in every area of our lives: Instagram, Snapchat, high-speed internet access, fast-food, and microwave ovens. Unfortunately, when we have to wait on very little, we never learn to delay gratification.  As a result, students will naturally experience diminished motivation.

3. The credit bubble.

I am not a financial advisor, but students who’ve grown up in a world where they and their parents have purchased “wants” on credit will find it difficult to wait or remain motivated. Credit is a leading cause of our inability to cultivate motivation.

4. Celebrity Culture.

Consider the fact that millions of people follow the lives of a small group of celebrities. These stars are often portrayed as ignorant, while reality TV shows portray dysfunctional people getting rich because of it. We seem to worship bad behavior, not self-discipline.

5. Social Media.

Social media has altered reality, enhanced self-promotion, and offered people a “fake” sense of who we really are, as opposed to who we appear to be. Technology is not bad, but it’s like fire: it serves a great purpose, but when used imprudently, it can get out of control and dangerous.

6. Self-Esteem Movement.

Our tendency to praise our kids so often actually reduces their motivation. Think about it: if I’m told I’m awesome just for playing soccer, how motivated will I be to improve? The movement has actually fostered entitlement and narcissism.

How Do We Counter the De-Motivation Trend?

I believe we can begin to undo what culture has done to kids by creating a counter-culture within our environment—our class, our team, our home or youth group. As you review the list above, what if you met with your students and discussed this trend? Then, together, what if you developed the opposite reality for the expressed purpose of deepening personal and inward motivation? Here are some places to start:

1. Get them used to one choice, not many options.

Once in a while, agree on a decision and don’t offer a myriad of options. Help them to learn to live with what’s in front of them—a meal, a task, a project, etc.

2. Slow down the pace and help them soak it in.

Agree that your group of students will actually “stop and smell the roses.” Make a conscious effort to ease up on the superficial pace and go deep as you converse.

3. Set goals and make them wait to reach them.

Post photos or images of their goals, and talk about those targets often. But be careful not to circumvent the process by offering a prize before they’ve worked and waited.

4. Discuss and celebrate people who model discipline and motivation.

Instead of Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian, why not discuss the stories and virtues of those who labor to add value to others and serve those in need? Find “true” celebrities.

5. Agree on a technology fast.

This won’t work unless you agree on it, but decide on a period of time where you will turn off the “ping” of that cell phone text or tweet and the endorphins it creates.

6. Determine to match your praise with actual achievement.

Once your students understand your love and belief in them, choose to only affirm achievement, and match your words with it. If it isn’t awesome…don’t call it that.

 

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Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes

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You probably heard about entertainer Miley Cyrus’ latest escapade in Las Vegas. Just prior to the holidays, she got up on stage with Brittney Spears’ dancers and began passionately kissing one of them, then grinding against another. The act had network news commentators asking what would drive her to do this, noting what a change it was from the Miley Cyrus we knew less than ten years ago when she played Hannah Montana on the Disney channel. Everyone but the kids seemed to be scratching their heads.

Miley Cyrus Wonder World concert at Auburn Hills

So, someone asked Miley herself—why did you do it?

“I am only playing a character,” she replied. “It’s all an act. It’s all for fun.”

Whatever the reason, the deed has been done. And while grown ups debate the issue, excusing it or explaining it, young girls who follow her aren’t asking these questions. They just watch and want to emulate.

Miley is garnering followers among pre-teens like crazy, with millions of them visiting her website, wearing clothes like hers, and mimicking her phrases. It’s exactly what her image agents want. Provocative behavior gets attention.

The fact is, whether entertainers admit it or not, they are models for those who watch them. Whether good or bad, they set the tone for culture (especially the young). Unlike philosophers and poets of ancient times like Socrates or Augustine, who were prepared to help followers forge an intelligent worldview, people like Miley Cyrus are our modern day poets, whether we’re ready or not.

And scads of kids are watching her every move.

Educated adults today continue to downplay the power of example, but I disagree. Example has always been the most convincing influencer and motivator. Consider everyday life: regardless of the lectures mom or dad may give on a topic, kids watch what they do. James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

If seeing an example truly held no sway in the minds of people, television commercials and other forms of advertising would’ve been eliminated a long time ago. But that isn’t the case. Decades ago, Coca Cola removed a billboard along a major freeway for one month, and it took the company several months to recover the loss in sales. One simple billboard.

The fact is, people remember twice as much of what they see as what they hear. Research done at Indiana University reveals that despite what anyone says, we tend to copy the input we’ve stored in our minds. Garbage in, garbage out. Kids are more likely to act violently after playing violent video games, and they are more apt to be sexually active after watching explicit sexual scenes on television or in movies. When it comes to what influences behavior, seeing is believing.

Famed endocrinologist Dr. Hans Selye revealed that each of us has a small membrane behind our brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS). The primary function of the RAS is to nudge us in the direction of the dominant thought of the moment. Albert Schweitzer said it best: “Example isn’t the main thing…it’s the only thing.”

Consequently, example actually permits people to do good or bad; right or wrong; something destructive or something redemptive. For example, forty-five years ago, divorce was far less common than it is today. But as we all began to hear about couples getting a divorce, the model was present. While most of us still dislike the idea, half of us have experienced it. It has become a norm. Why? The example was set, and the uncommon became common.

I got a reminder of this recently watching my son talk with his friends. His demeanor and his words were almost carbon copies of mine. It was sobering to me. Some of what I saw was good; some not so much. I felt I was looking into a mirror.

This article is not meant to be a guilt-inducer. I’m simply saying that people like Miley Cyrus either know exactly what they’re doing—and should feel embarrassed by the model they’re setting for kids—or don’t realize the power and permission their example gives to young people who watch.

I understand why Miley Cyrus might want to part with the Disney image she was strapped with for over a decade ago, but I’ve got to think there’s a better way to re-invent oneself. It doesn’t require a wrecking ball swing to the other extreme, where young girls now want to emulate the grinding and the passionate kissing their idol has shown them.

Thanks, Miley, for the reminder. Now… please set a good example for us.

Growing Leaders has 3 new resources to help you prepare tomorrow’s leaders! Click the image below to learn more.

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My Favorite Books of 2013

January 20, 2014 — 4 Comments

Each year, I post a list of the best books I read the past year. Here’s my list from 2013:

Favorite Books Pic

Focus, Daniel Goleman

The author who put “emotional intelligence” on the map for every one of us has written a book on the profound impact focus has on a leader’s success. The ability to focus one’s attention for extended periods of time is a great differentiator today. In this book Goleman talks about three areas of focus and how each is necessary for leaders to embrace. Very practical; very researched based; good stories.

David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell

I read everything that Malcolm Gladwell writes. In a conversation with him, he told me this book is his favorite of all the books he’s written. It’s about how we perceive advantages and disadvantages. Gladwell demonstrates through case studies that our disadvantages may be the very “gifts” that carry us to success. I love the book; it’s full of new angles on old stories (including David & Goliath) and great case studies.

The Price of Privilege, by Madeline Levine

In this book, Dr. Levine reaveals that America’s new “at risk” teen is an upper-middle class adolescent who has the latest smart phone and the coolest clothes, but has not learned how to navigate an identity apart from image and possessions. This book is loaded with research and was helpful for me to understand why so many affluent kids are struggling with angst and depression. Well worth the read.

To Sell is Human, by Daniel Pink

Dan Pink is another author I read regularly. This book is a follow up to Drive, and covers how every one of us is selling ideas, products, services, and even ourselves. Through documented research, he lays out how effective people approach the art of selling themselves and their ideas and the counter-intuitive means that make some people effective. I like this book almost as much as I did his others.

How College Affects Students, Ernest Pascarella and Patrick Terenzini

This book is not for the faint-of-heart. It is long and full of academic research and interpretation. However, it is a reference book on the state of college students in the U.S. It is a follow-up to the authors’ earlier volume on the same subject and I believe should be a “must read” if you’re involved in higher education. It covers the long and short- term effects of college life on students. Long but good read.

Boundaries for Leaders, by Henry Cloud

This is the third book by Henry Cloud I have read. They are all insightful. Cloud is a licensed psychologist and understands the challenges of leadership extremely well. The book is a sequel to his original best-seller on boundaries but focuses on the necessary three boundaries leaders must establish. He talks about how leaders can be “ridiculously in charge” by establishing proactive guidelines for themselves and everyone around them. Helpful read for personal growth.

Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn, by John Maxwell

This book is classic, vintage John Maxwell. As the title indicates, it’s all about appreciating the importance and value of losing. Yep, you read that right. But it’s not just about keeping good attitudes. He walks the reader through how to make the very most of a failure or loss, be it financial, relational, vocational, you name it. The book is practical in nature and, as always, full of stories. A motivational and simple read.

Generation on a Tightrope, by Art Levine and Diane Dean

While full of research on student-affairs on university campuses in America, this book is easy to read and full of helpful findings. Much of the data is predictable but Levine and Dean still provide practical conclusions on how faculty and staff must view and approach their students’ needs. I found myself coming up with all kinds of ideas on what could be done to better lead students as I read the book.

Decisive, by Chip and Dan Heath

Once again, Chip and Dan Heath are authors I’ve chosen to read everything they write. Following their books, Made to Stick and Switch, this book addresses the issue of how to be a more decisive person (whether or not you are a leader) and how to create a system for making decisions that prevent you from being haphazard. The book is researched based and loaded with anecdotes and ideas. I loved it.

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