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John Maxwell is a writer of over seventy leadership books (several of which were New York Times best sellers), the founder of four different leadership companies, a friend of Growing Leaders, and a personal mentor to me.

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Why did you choose to focus on leader development?

I’ve often said that if you want to add, develop yourself; if you want to multiply, develop others. When you pour yourself into a leader, it continues; they pour themselves into others. I committed myself many years ago because I want to add value to leaders who multiply back to others.

Your recent Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn is all about the value of loss and failure. What drove you to write the book? 

It’s when we lose that causes us to stop and reflect on what we need to change in our lives. I’ve come to believe that failure is my best friend. Therefore, it’s my failures that allow me to learn. If we lose correctly, we will really succeed. The key is losing correctly. The question is not if we’ll lose. We all fail. When I lose, the question is not “What did I lose?” The question is “What did I learn from my losses?”

What are some of the significant messages in this book?

Teachability is so essential to your losses. Teachability is wanting to learn, whether it’s good or whether it’s bad. I talk in the book about how experience isn’t the best teacher; evaluating experience is the best teacher.

I was talking to a soccer mom the other day who told me she always tells her son that games end in a tie because he gets so angry when he loses. What would you say to this parent?

We have some wins in life, and we have some losses. The losses help ground us into reality. I would tell that mother that the first responsibility of a mom is to define reality for your children. That little guy needs to know he’s not going to win all the time. Sheltering our children doesn’t prepare them. The point I want everyone to understand is that our children are going to lose. We have to teach them to win correctly at home.

Today’s students are loaded with potential, but they don’t bounce back. Failure is feared. Why is it important for us to turn this around?

I was at dinner recently, sitting with several highly, highly successful people, and I asked, “What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned?” Immediately, I started getting comments like “failure is the pathway to success,” “you’ve got to learn how to deal with failure,” and “you’ve got to understand that failure isn’t final.” These people were telling me you can’t have success without failure. There is no successful person who doesn’t face problems or difficulties. Not one.

Somehow we’ve got to find a way to enable our kids to go through struggles because they’re essential.

I’ve never met a person that has learned something from a loss regret that loss. Never. You know a coach once said to me, “Sometimes I walk off the court with a win, wishing we had lost. They didn’t deserve it, but they won.” He said, “John, you can’t go to the locker room and teach anything off a win. If they’d lost the game, I would have had their attention.”

The word that keeps coming back to me is resiliency and how you show so much of it in your life. Would you share a story of your resilience with us?

My brother and I always use to wrestle after supper. I was a scrawny kid. My brother was big. Much bigger than me. My brother always won. At the dinner table one night, my dad said to my brother “You’re not going to wrestle John this week. I am.” Much to my surprise, I pinned my father that night. I’ll never forget how I felt. The next week, I wrestled my brother. I didn’t pin my brother. What’s more significant was he didn’t pin me ever again. It was a phenomenal lesson my dad taught me. He didn’t take away my losses. He just recreated an environment where I could win.

How did you build resiliency?

Whatever bad has happened to you is not final. The moment that I have hope is the moment I have resiliency. The hope causes me to get back up and try again. Hope gets you back up, but it won’t keep you up. You’ve got to couple it with a strategy of what you’re going to learn. Winning is a process. It’s not “Have you won yet?” The question is “Are you on your way towards winning?”

 

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Yesterday, I began a two-part blog series in which I unpacked the six skills I believe students must master before they finish school. The first three are:

  1. Know Yourself.
  2. Develop Your Gift.
  3. Find Your Passion.

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Today, allow me to start a conversation on three others:

4. Value People

Along the way, you must discover that people aren’t a means to an end—they are the end. Adding value to people and valuing them over projects, promotions, and even products is a sign of maturity. As a teen, you valued popularity. In your twenties, the temptation was to value pleasure. In your thirties, it is often about production and success. Eventually, though, you must amend what you are targeting, from success to significance. Those who shoot for success add value to themselves, while those who desire significance add value to others.

“It is only in developing others that we truly succeed.”  (Harvey Firestone)

John Maxwell taught me my success in developing others will depend on my:

    • High Value of People  (Attitude)
    • High Commitment to People  (Time)
    • High Integrity with People  (Character)
    • High Standard for People  (Goals)
    • High Influence over People  (Leadership)

5. Learn Perseverance

Go deep into your study of people, and you’ll discover that ineffective ones suffer from a disease of the mind. Let’s call this disease “Excusitus.” Unfortunately, almost every failure has this disease in its advanced form, and most “average” persons have at least a mild case of it. You will discover that “Excusitus” explains the difference between the person who is going places and the one who is barely holding his own. You will find that the more successful the individual, the less inclined he or she is to make excuses. They are resilient and find the drive within themselves to forge ahead.

But the ones who’ve gone nowhere are generally marked differently: they can’t delay gratification; they have short attention spans; they compare themselves with others too much; and they quit when things get tough. These people become satisfied with mediocre and are quick to explain why they can’t, why they don’t, and why they aren’t. Study the lives of effective people and you’ll discover this: all the excuses made by the mediocre person could be but aren’t made by the successful one.

My observations about what persevering people do:

  1. They find the benefit and the lesson from every failure.
  2. They don’t confuse failure in a project with failure in life.
  3. They recognize that failure is a natural part of a successful life.
  4. They get over themselves. They know everyone else has.
  5. They know that growth is not an event—it is a process.

6. Pursue Excellence

Excellence is what good leaders introduce to others. Most people don’t perform with excellence on their own. In fact, the average employee often does just enough to get by on the job. They require someone else to “raise the standard” for them.

Ironically, it takes so little to rise above mediocrity and be excellent. In baseball, for instance, a player who gets up to bat 600 times a season and gets 200 hits will be an all-star. A player who comes to bat 600 times a season and gets 165 hits is mediocre. The difference in salary may be in the millions! The mediocre player just needed 35 more hits to excel!  An Olympic runner can finish one-half second behind the winner and received no medal at all. Excellence is about giving a little extra. The difference excellence makes is stunning. Think about it. If 99.9% were good enough, then…

    • 2 million documents would be lost by the IRS this year
    • 22,000 checks would be deducted from the wrong bank accounts in the next hour.
    • 880,000 credit cards would have wrong information on them.
    • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions would go out in the next year.
    • 12 babies would be given to the wrong parents each day.

So, are you settling for “good enough” or excellence? We use a phrase at our Growing Leaders office: Shoot for perfection. Settle for excellence.

So, when you consider your leadership…

Which of these skills do you embody most naturally? Where do you struggle?

Which of these six skills are you building in your students?

Join the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes!

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I spoke to a faculty member recently about last year’s graduating class. We focused on two students in particular because they represented such a contrast. While both graduated with honors, only one was ready for the career that awaited her. The other…not so much. Although he carried a 3.7 GPA, he was ill-prepared for life after school. In fact, he is living at home, still looking for work.

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When kids learn to play basketball, their coach always tells them to learn the fundamentals first: pass, dribble and shoot. Students need someone to help them in the same way, as they play the game of life. What are the fundamental skills we should master to be effective? I began asking myself this question years ago as I raised my own children. Over time, I began to focus on six.

1. Know Yourself.

Identity is a fluid issue, but I believe students can and should have a strong sense of who they are by the time they graduate. In contrast, there is nothing more pitiful than a sixty-year old man or woman still trying to figure out who they are. Do I wear pucca shells around my neck?  Do I dress cool?  What should I do with my career? Where are my strengths?  What are my weaknesses?  Where do I make the greatest contribution? When we are still fuzzy on this issue, we can slip into survival mode, rather than live on mission. Dr. Joyce Someone once said,You cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.” In fact, I believe the phrase, “Our worst sins arise out of our innate fear that we are nobody” is more accurate than we may realize.

Ingredients in Discovering Who You Are…

What are your major life themes?

1. Burdens
What are you compelled to do?
6. Weaknesses
What should you avoid?
2. Strengths
What are your primary abilities?
7. Results
What are your most fruitful tasks?
3. Personality
What is your temperament?
8. Fulfillment
What is most satisfying to you?
4. Hallmarks
What are your past milestones?
9. Themes
What are your major life themes?
5. Affirmation
What do others affirm in you?
10. Dreams
What’s your vision for the future?

2. Develop Your Gift

Each of us has a primary “motivational gift.” It is the “hub” gift around which all of our other gifts revolve. It is the ability that we do better than most people. If we get to use it on a given day, it often wakes us up in the morning. Do you know yours?

Most people spend the majority of their time working on their weaknesses and little time sharpening their strengths. Inherently, it seems logical, but the problem is that you’ll never get a weakness beyond average. And people don’t pay for “average.” Marcus Buckingham defines a “strength” as consistent, near-perfect performance in an activity. So, here’s my question: What are your strengths, motivational gifts, natural talents, and acquired skills? If you are someone who is still looking to define these things, it’s good to know that in your gift area, you are usually at your most:

  • Intuitive
  • Productive
  • Comfortable
  • Satisfied
  • Influential

3. Find Your Passion

By this, I mean we must identify the issue that fires us up on the inside, the one that motivates us more than anything else. I believe everyone is hard-wired with at least one passion; some have more than one. Most develop and change over time. Sadly, many people never discover any passions. Their life proceeds without zest or zeal, and they live a life of maintenance rather than adventure. I have found:

  • Passion is that little extra that divides ordinary people from extraordinary ones.
  • Passion becomes a motivator and accountability partner for your highest goals.
  • Passion prevents you from getting comfortable and settling for average results.
  • Passion will make up for what you lack in resources.
  • Passion Often Emerges in this sequence of steps…
    • An interest in your life as a hobby
    • A major theme in your conversations
    • A preoccupation in your thoughts and plans
    • A major consumer of your time, talent and money
    • An issue for which you become known and  make sacrifices for

“If you don’t get what you want in life, it is either a sign you didn’t want it bad enough, or that you tried to bargain over a price.”  (Rudyard Kipling)

Tomorrow, I will share the other three skills I believe students should master before they graduate. Talk to you then.

Join the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes!

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Have you evaluated your parenting skills lately?  I believe our report card has changed during our lifetime. While we pride ourselves in giving our children more advantages than ever before, the numbers tells us it may not be helping.

What’s happened to us?

Let’s take a walk down memory lane. A century ago, parenting looked different. On average, families were much larger, so parents had less time to spend on each child. They were unable to prevent many natural difficulties and accidents. Kids learned from experience. Parents weren’t consumed with their child becoming self-actualized—they wanted to raise good citizens who fit into their community.

big family

Today, parents have fewer children, and much more time and attention is spent on them. We’re able to protect and prevent most accidents and failures. We put helmets and safety pads on them, assuming that preventing hurt or difficulty is the sign of a good parent. Our goal is to produce a self-actualized individual, who can get the most out of life. Our nurturing tendencies often eliminate hard experiences.

We want to give our kids a decided advantage—an edge on their peers—since ours are so special. While I agree with the sentiments of self-esteem, safety, applauding participation and head-starts, I believe we’ve given them a false sense of reality. It sets them up for a painful wake-up call, as they grow older. Social scientists agree that our emphasis on “winning” has produced highly confident kids. Sadly, they also agree that this ill-prepares them for the world that awaits them. Research shows that safety and self-esteem are not something we can “give” to our kids. They are something kids must learn—through challenging experiences. Preventing all things bad may actually hinder preparing them for the world that awaits them.

Let me illustrate. Over the last two decades, playground equipment has been removed from public parks across the country and around the world. We worried about children falling down and getting hurt, so we demanded the monkey bars or jungle gyms be taken down. This makes sense if all that matters is today. Sadly, we’ve begun to see the unintended by-product of this safety measure. Researchers now question the value of safety-first playgrounds. New York Times reporter John Tierny writes, “Even if children do suffer fewer physical injuries—and the evidence for that is debatable—critics say these playgrounds may stunt emotional development, leaving children with anxieties and fears that are ultimately worse than a broken bone.”

photo credit: plasticrevolver via photopin cc

photo credit: plasticrevolver via photopin cc

When adults, however, allow children to gradually become exposed to more dangers on a playground, kids use the same habituation techniques developed by therapists to help adults conquer phobias, according to Dr. Sandseter and fellow psychologist Leif Kennair. “Our fear of children being harmed by mostly harmless injuries may result in more fearful children and increased levels of psychopathology.”

Schools have been guilty of preventing bad things too. In a recent Undergraduate Survey, Dr. Art Levine reports that grade inflation has skyrocketed. In 1969, only 7% of students had a grade point average that was an A- or higher. In 2009, it was 41%. In that same time period, students having a C average dropped from 25% to 5%. One has to wonder—are kids that much smarter than forty years ago, or do we just give them higher grades to keep customers happy? Sadly, it appears this may hinder their readiness to enter the real world. In 2012, 80 percent of students said they planned on moving back home after college. They don’t feel prepared.

Money is part of the problem. All of us would agree that poverty makes it hard to raise good kids. Parents slip into survival mode and are thinking more about getting through the week than preparing kids for adulthood. However, we’d also agree that wealth makes it hard too. Millionaires often comment that the work ethic they developed to earn their riches is rarely passed on to their children. Malcolm Gladwell says that studies show an income of about $70,000 is the median amount that enables parents to both avoid spoiling their kids and provide for their needs. Kids need the basics, but they also need to learn to wait, to listen, to struggle, to save, to serve, to fall, and to fail in order to be ready for life. Preventing these things is a disservice to our children.

I met Liz Murray in 2009. She’s the famous “Homeless to Harvard” girl who grew up on the streets of New York, with drug-addicted parents, and was homeless during her teen years. Through a series of miracles, she got accepted into Harvard University. She told me how she stood in the dorm next to another freshman student, looking at the washing machines—both girls weeping. She, of course, was crying because she finally had a washing machine to use. The other coed was crying because she was finally going to have to use one and had no idea what to do.

Dr. Michael Unger, a child therapist, writes: “We seem these days to have a magical notion that children can learn commonsense by just watching and listening to others talk about it. That just isn’t the way our brains develop. We are experiential beings. Lev Vygotsky, a famous child psychologist from Russia, demonstrated very well what he calls ‘zones of proximal development.’ We need to be pushed, not too far, but just enough to learn something new. Good development occurs when we are invited to accept challenges that are just big enough to demand we work at solving them, but that they don’t completely defeat us.”

Our kids need:

  • Experiences not just explanations.
  • Nature not just nurture to mature them.
  • Problems not just praise to develop them.
  • Adults who preview obstacles with them, not prevent them.

All parents must remember this critical point. If we don’t spend time preparing, we will most assuredly spend time repairing. We will be forced to engage in fixing the problem we created when our kids become unready adults.

It’s time our leadership catches up with their needs.

 

Join the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes!

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Some journalists are using a term when speaking about parents and the problems they have raising their kids today. It’s called “affluenza.” At the court hearing for a tragic auto accident in Texas, where teenager Eric Couch hit and killed four people with his truck, the defense attorneys cited “affluenza” (when one is raised with wealth and never given limits) as the cause for his crime. He’s been sentenced to ten years of probation. The term “affluenza” was popularized in the late 1990s by Jessie O’Neill, in her book “The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence.” It has since been used to describe a condition in which children—generally from rich families— have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, make excuses for poor behavior, and sometimes dabble in drugs and alcohol.

car accident

Like a disease, affluence, or living as if you have it, can harm a child as they’re growing up. Today, moms are sending birthday invitations out, with a gift registry inside the card, letting guests know where and what gifts to buy their child. Many parents assume they are “poor parents” if they don’t provide their children everything they want.

Obviously, when the bar is set this high, a child’s sense of entitlement increases. They start believing they deserve all the latest gadgets, tablets, smart phones, name brand clothes, expensive tutors and coaches, and costly vacations that are always better than last year’s.

What we’re finding is—this “afflluenza” begins translating into the notion that students deserve good grades just because they showed up, especially if mom and dad paid for this expensive school. Some college students have even sued their alma mater for not guaranteeing a job when they graduated.

I do not claim to be a parenting expert. I develop students and student leaders. But allow me to comment and offer some common sense.

We live in a day of “encore problems.” We expose our kids to so much so early in their life that it becomes difficult to engage them as they move into adolescence. They have been on trips and vacations; they’ve attended amazing ballgames, and they own incredible technology by middle school. What more is there to experience when they grow up?  The problem is, the “more” they want is probably unhealthy.

Parents and teachers must navigate this “affluenza.” We must figure out how to pace our students, exposing them to measured amounts of possessions, and appropriate experiences as they mature. Often, they get exposed to things today before they’re emotionally ready for them. Most elementary kids have watched a sex scene on TV, on a computer, or at the movies. Most have watched violent acts and murders, and seen people do illegal drugs. It’s tantalizing.

What To Do

In his latest book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell discusses how difficult it is to lead kids today, when there is too little or too much money. Obviously, a family living below the poverty line finds it difficult to raise kids well, because their focus is mere survival. They are living paycheck to paycheck. On the other hand, upper middle class and wealthy families find parenting hard because they cannot honestly say to their children who beg them for a new iPhone: “We can’t afford that.”  That moment requires an emotional conversation, where the parent explains to the child why it’s helpful to learn to delay gratification.

Yeah. Good luck with that conversation.

The research tells us that an income of about $70,000 is the median income, to make parenting neither too hard because of poverty or too hard due to wealth. Outside of those lines, we will have to learn to pace our kids. This means our job may change:

  1. Pace the sequence of possessions and experiences, allowing for a bigger and better one, as they mature. For instance, you might plan a trip across the state for them in elementary school, a trip across the U.S. when they’re in middle school, and a trip overseas when they’re in high school.
  2. Don’t fall into the trap of comparisons. Other parents may win brownie points with their kids because they give them too much, too soon. Those kids are “wowed” in the moment, but are over-exposed and may have difficulty managing expectations as young adults. Do what’s right, not what’s popular.
  3. Always have a reason for every “gift” (possession, experience, trip, etc.) that you give your child. Have a plan, to progress into bigger and better “gifts” in the future. I even explained my plan to my kids by the time they reached fifth grade. They realized there was a method to my madness and they “got it.”
  4. Prepare to have meaningful conversations with your young people. Get ready for emotional exchanges as they learn to wait, to listen, to handle envy of their friends, and to save up their own money, perhaps, before getting what they want. This is what maturity is all about.

Just remember, leading students is a marathon not a sprint. In fact, it’s a pace, not a race. Pace yourself. Pace your kids.

 

Join the celebration for the 10th Anniversary of Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits & Attitudes!

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