Archives For Parenting

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.

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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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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.


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!


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.


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!