Archives For Parenting


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Recently, Stephen Kellogg did a talk at the annual TEDxConcordiaUPortland event. My friend Brett Wilkes turned me on to it in a recent post. Stephen made a number of memorable statements about the joy of work, something we all desire, but few realize.  From his youth, he always wanted to be a touring musician, with albums and merchandise, fans and concerts. He loves what he now gets to do and feels fortunate to have the chance to touch audiences with his music. One of his sticky statements in the TED talk was:

“It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb, than the top of a ladder you don’t.”

Like most artists, when Stephen first started, no one had heard of him and it took time to build a platform. It didn’t matter, however, that he didn’t have money or paying events. What mattered was he was working in the field he loved; he had the chance to do what he felt was important and was gifted to do.

I remember this same feeling when I first started my non-profit, “Growing Leaders.” No one was getting rich, and in the early days it was just me and one other team member, David Christie. We were cutting our teeth in the business of leader development and were climbing a steep learning curve. But we loved it. I’d wake up every morning and could hardly wait to get to work. At night, I found myself thinking about how we could do our work better. It wasn’t about the money; it was about doing something in our gift area and adding value to schools and students. We were at the bottom of a ladder…but we loved the ladder. I still do.

One of the great fears of graduates these days is that they’ll get stuck in a job they don’t like and they’ll feel claustrophobic.  It’s terrifying enough to start at the bottom and pay your dues in a cause you ultimately believe in. It’s still another to do it when your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. This is the key I’d like you to pass along to the students you teach or parent. Identify the mission you believe in, then don’t work for the cash, but for the cause. Even playing a small part can make a difference. Next, make sure the mission is solving a problem or meeting a need. Thomas Edison’s first patented invention was a machine that tabulated votes for bureaucrats in government. He soon discovered that no congressman wanted votes to be counted quickly as they all wanted time to lobby for more influence while the votes were being counted. He was rejected. From that point on, Edison determined he would still be an inventor, but always work in response to a need or demand.

How Do You Choose Your Ladder?

When passion, need, strength and opportunity all meet—you are on a good ladder:

  1. Passion – the work represents something you love doing.
  2. Need – the work you do answers a “cry” and solves a problem.
  3. Strength – the work you do involves you using your primary strength.
  4. Opportunity – the work you do isn’t forced but is a prospect in front of you.

May I encourage you to have this conversation with a young person you know. Ladders are everywhere, and we must help students find theirs.


You’ve read it before. Kids from Generation iY have grown up in a world where they seldom delay gratification and they’ve been given things that earlier generations had to work for. Why? I believe it’s the messages permeating our culture. Moms and dads hear: “The more you give your child the better parent you are.” Kids feel entitled to have what’s advertised on TV and movies hearing: “This is the new cool thing. Everybody is getting it. If you don’t have it, you’re not cool.” At school, home, and on sports teams, students are rewarded for mediocre effort or for simply showing up. When they make a mistake, an adult often steps in and resolves it for them. Consequently, their awareness of consequences is down and their sense of entitlement is up. Now the question is—how do we correct this predicament?

In this kind of world, creating a bunch of “rules” hasn’t worked well. First, most students push back on rules. For that matter, the moment any of us are told we cannot or should not do something—the rebel inside of us wants to do it. Second, rules haven’t worked because we frequently fail to enforce them. We don’t follow through. We threaten kids with a rule…then reduce the consequence. It’s no wonder kids possess a sense of entitlement. We gave it to them.

Equations are Better Than Rules

Instead of a long list of rules, what if you began to share “equations” with your students at the beginning of a semester. Rather than saying, “No running in the hallway!” or “No cheating in the classroom!” an equation would be:

“Anyone who chooses to do ABC, this is the benefit. And anyone who chooses XYZ, this is the consequence.”

It’s all about behaviors and outcomes. And by the way, it works even better when both students and adults adhere to the same equation. I realize this may simply sound like a semantics issue, but it’s far more than that. It’s a way of helping students associate conduct with consequences; behavior with benefits. When a kid experiences a negative outcome, it isn’t that the teacher doesn’t like him, or the dean has a vendetta against her. It’s that they chose a course of action and courses always have destinations. Actions always bring outcomes. That’s how life works. If I jump off a 50-foot cliff, I will fall and get hurt. Maybe die. It wasn’t that my teacher doesn’t like me, or that my parents want to make things hard for me. Gravity is at work. When I jump, gravity will pull me down. It is an equation of life. We call it the Law of Gravity. It represents the relationship between action and outcome. Remember what you learned in science class? For every action, there is an equal but opposite reaction. You are simply teaching the science of life.

How To Start

Equations put the ball in their court: If anyone does this, then that will happen. It’s up to you. It’s your choice. So, in our home, my wife and I led things this way:

  1. We had very few rules. We cultivated a relationship with our kids that reduced the need for them. We had about three to four rules.
  2. We had very many equations we communicated to our kids. Scenarios that led them to always know what destination each course led to.
  3. When either of my two kids faced some options, we’d sit down and talk about the outcomes, teaching them to think about benefits and consequences.
  4.  When either of my two kids chose a behavior, we would sit down and debrief the action and the outcome.

For example, when my son Jonathan turned sixteen, he wanted to move out to Hollywood to pursue an agent and some television work, as an actor. I sat down with him and praised him for his ambition. Then, we had a sobering conversation about the price of such an endeavor. (There was a social, emotional, educational and financial price tag). Economically, I decided I would split the cost with him. He would either get work out there, or he would work when he returned home and pay for half the bills. He is twenty years old now, and just finishing his last payment. He is not angry with me about the payments; he is excited about what came of that venture. He got clear direction for his future. His sense of entitlement is low, his ambition is growing and he is happy with his life. Why? He understood the equation going into it. This is the only way to set kids up for the world they’ll enter as adults.

How about you? What rules could be transformed into equations for your students?


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Nine Questions to Ask Prospective Athletes Before You Bring Them on Your Team

After years of helping athletic directors and coaches better connect with young athletes, we surveyed them to see what they’ve concluded about “Generation iY” players. Both NCAA and high school coaches noted they’ve seen a measurable drop in their youngest athlete’s life skills and virtues. The top seven diminishing ones are:

1. Resilience – Practice goes well, but even minor adversity defeats them.

2. Empathy – Parent’s often push them into individualism and self-expansion.

3. Ambition – Their internal drive to succeed has been replaced by external ones.

4. Work ethic – Because of short attention spans, the daily grind is a turn off.

5. Patience – Due to texts, microwaves and Google, its hard to delay gratification.

6. Academic Stamina – Their ability to stick with studies when the novelty is gone.

7. Self-awareness – Often no one has been honest with them about their blind spots.

I believe the kids born since 1990 are different than previous kids. I call them Generation iY because they’ve grown up on-line in an “i” world. Technology, culture, parenting styles and medications have harmed them. And now, you must coach them.

In a recent coaches training event, I was asked a great question: What should we ask a young “iY” athlete to signal a potential problem? Below are questions I recommend you ask to tip you off about recruits, ward off trouble with potential players, and help you when screening your recruits for character.

Questions to Ask a Potential Athlete:

1. Tell me about a difficult experience you’ve had with authority.

An honest answer to this one will reveal their attitude and respect for leaders, and how they tend to deal with submission to authority. A “rebel spirit” can be contagious.

2.  What’s your biggest frustration about being an athlete? What really gets you down?

Their answer may furnish insight into their resilience level—how much does it take to discourage them or cause them to give up. Can they handle adversity and obstacles?

3. What’s the longest amount of time you’ve gone without your cell phone?

Generation iY is aptly named because many are addicted to technology. Their answer to this one will signal how much they depend on screens to motivate them.

4. What has been your greatest challenge with teammates?

This will reveal their emotional intelligence and specifically how much empathy they possess for teammates. Their answer will tell you how well they see the big picture.

5. Talk about your three biggest habits that you’d like to break.

This answer could be huge. Are they in bondage to bad habits they cannot break? Can they delay gratification? Do they lead themselves well or are they a slave to addictions?

6. On a scale of 1-10, how much does criticism bother you from a teammate? A coach?

Many in this generation have never really been chastised or criticized, so their tolerance for it is low. Ask them to be candid, but listen to how they handle confrontation.

7. How much are you willing to compromise your personal standards?

Even if they try to give you answers you want, they may not know how to reply to this one. Do they possess strong personal values they won’t compromise? Are they ethical?

8. What word would your teammates use most to describe you? Your past coaches?

This question allows you to hear how others view the recruit. If you can get an honest answer, listen for key words that reveal what kind of teammate and leader they are.

9. Should fans leave you alone off the field and let you live however you see fit?

Some athletes don’t feel they must be a role-model, and do whatever they want off the field. The recruit’s answer to this one will let you peek into how self-absorbed they are.

Remember, the better your questions in the recruiting process, the better you can screen your players and get the right ones. You know the issues you need to cover to gain the right athletic abilities. Through the questions above, I’ve simply tried to help you get acquainted with a recruit…as a person.

Any other questions you would ask when screening your recruits for character? Leave a comment.


May I let you in on a little secret? Those of us who lead, teach, mentor, manage, parent and employ students have gotten sidetracked. I’m not exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s the hype of media or social media; maybe it’s the fact we’re busy spinning so many plates or maybe, it’s just that we feel the pressure of catching and holding kids’ attention. Whatever it is, many of us have drifted from the number one most powerful weapon in influencing the next generation.

I was reminded of this secret as Pope Francis experienced his first day as Pontiff, the leader of the Catholic Church. On that first day, he didn’t sleep in, when the entire world would have forgiven him for doing so. After all, he just got the biggest job of his life. Nope, he got up early to pray for 30 minutes. He knew he needed it. Then, as he led mass that day for the Cardinals, instead of a formal sermon full of rhetoric, he gave an off-the-cuff homily on the need to walk with God, build up the people in the church and confess. While in the chapel, Francis was to sit down in the Papal chair, a sort of throne for the one who holds that office. He declined, wanting to stand instead. In fact, before greeting anyone else he walked to the back of the room to greet a Cardinal who was confined to a wheelchair. He wanted to meet everyone on their level. After appearing on the balcony to hundreds below, he declined to use the private Vatican car, (a luxury car with the license plate Vatican City 1), to return to the dormitory where he stayed before being elected Pope. He simply said, “I’ll take the bus since that’s the way I came here.”

He retrieved his belongings in his dorm, then stopped by the front desk to pay his own bill. (Yep, you read that right). Upon climbing into the bus, he asked to stop several times along the drive to greet well-wishers and to encourage them.

What a humble, authentic and fresh way of being the Pope. And do you know why he did this? When asked, he said simply, “I want to be sure to set a positive example.”

That’s it. That’s the secret we’ve forgotten.

The leader of 1.2 billion people—the one who doesn’t need to pay his own bill at the dorm or take a bus anymore—has not forgotten the power of being a role model. Somehow, in our pursuit of attempting to be a riveting speaker, becoming savvy on Facebook, trying to gain followers on social media, hoping to get noticed by doing something really creative in front of our students—we’ve forgotten what impresses them most. Quietly setting an example. Doing it before we expect anyone else to do it. I’ve found that when I’m intentional about modeling the way, my credibility rises with kids. It’s more powerful than a great speech. Our personal stock goes up faster this way than when we try to be “cool” or “funny” or “unique.”

The truth is, the number one management principle in the world is: People do what people see.  Period. They’d rather see a sermon than hear one.

So, when you’re tempted to spend extra time on your speech, or lesson plan; when you are trying to figure out how to get more followers on Twitter, remember that true followers aren’t found on social media. They’re found watching which leader walks the walk. That’s what I believe Pope Francis I is trying to do. I am not trying to get you to become a Catholic. I’m trying to get you to become the most effective leader you can be. Do it before you say it.

Hidden Treasure

March 20, 2013 — 4 Comments


This month, a story made headlines that I believe contains an important reminder for those of us who lead students.

Thomas Schultz bought a house in New York, and noticed it had a stack of paintings in the garage. They were paintings by a little known artist Aurthur Pinajian. The previous owner suggested Tom should just “throw them out.” He assumed they were worthless. Instead, Mr. Schultz and a friend asked if they could purchase the artwork, and did so for $2,500. As the Huffington Post reported, “Well, it turns out their decision to buy Mr. Pinajian’s art stash along with the house was a good one, as the collection has now been valued at a remarkable $30 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Individual works have already sold for a whopping $500,000, and now the abstract impressionist artist’s works are on view at a gallery opened by Schultz, as well as in Manhattan’s Fuller Building.”

Mr. Schultz is now rich. Great investment.

But that’s not the only lesson we learn from this episode. I believe those of us who stand in front of young people every day or every week have the same experience. At least we should.  Just as Thomas Schultz somehow saw something in those masterpieces that the former homeowner didn’t see—we must see the potential and the value in every student we meet. They are, if you will, masterpieces.

I love the fact that Schultz saw something valuable that others did not see. He rejected their suggestion that the masterpieces should be tossed aside. He invested in them, knowing he had no guaranteed return. He treasured the art, framing it nicely and displaying it for others to enjoy. And in the end…he was right. There was incredible value in that art.

I don’t know your story, but I personally have had the undeserved privilege of investing in thousands of students over the last thirty years. They’re masterpieces.

And I am now richer for it.