Archives For Habitudes

photo credit: The City Project via photo pin cc

In 2006, the action movie Miami Vice was released around the world. It’s the story of two rugged cops who use unconventional methods to get their job done. The movie was actually a re-make of a 1980s television show, which starred Don Johnson. Don Johnson was “the man” back in his day. He was cool. He was tough. He shot straight, which may explain his behavior one day, off camera. Don Johnson had just left a store, after shopping a bit. He was enjoying some down time, away from his hard work as an actor. Suddenly, a thief bolted out the door. The man had just robbed the place and was determined to get away with his loot. Sadly for him, he had no clue who was nearby. When Don Johnson saw what was happening he didn’t have to think twice. He took off after the crook, wrestled him to the ground, retrieved the stolen money and held the thief until police came to arrest him. One bystander commented, “It was an amazing thing to watch, just like the show!”

You can only imagine what the thief felt when he looked up at his captor—only to see the face of Mr. Miami Vice, himself. When newspapers reported the story the next day, one question surfaced over and over: “Does life imitate TV or does TV imitate life?”

The fact is, both are true. Don Johnson had so embraced the character he played over and over; it was intuitive for him to pursue the criminal that day. It was second nature. He probably did it without thinking. He had “acted” his way into a character, full-time.

This little incident illustrates an important truth for us as leaders. It’s the power of acting, from the inside out. A Russian theater director named Konstantin Stanislavski captured the idea more than a hundred years ago. Konstantin came up with a system for training actors, which included two major ideas: “Active Memory” and “The Method of Physical Action.” The first theory helped actors to step into a character by utilizing their memories of past similar emotions. In other words, become the character from the inside out. The second theory, called The Method of Physical Action (MPA), is simple to explain but its implications are profound. It’s based on the idea that our emotional life is a two-way street. The one item an actor has complete control of is his body. Therefore, an actor must use his body as the primary tool of creation. Acting on an emotion gives it life. Actors must figure out what an emotion would cause them to do if they experienced it—and do it. Action brings out the heart and soul of that emotion. To put it in common language, you are more likely to act your way into a feeling than to feel your way into an action. There’s power in raw action.

So, what’s our application as leaders? As we set out to transform our organizational culture, we must remember that all cultures act on values they embrace. Kenya or Uganda, for instance, are countries whose citizens act a certain way because they’ve been raised with certain customs from childhood. They pick it up by watching the actions of those around them. In the same way, all organizations act a certain way because certain values have been embraced over time, either by default or design. They can be healthy or unhealthy, based on the conduct of those who have influence. Soon, the actions permeate the entire staff.

Research Says…

Research done by Dean Meyer and Associates helps us understand this principle. Dean and his team discovered that when a company determines to change their culture, they often make a list of the new values, then verbally communicate them to their teams. This isn’t bad, but their research shows that by approaching change this way, it will take between ten to fifteen years for the organization to actually embrace those values. However, if the top leaders create a set of new values, then attach actions to each of those values and incorporate them into the leadership behavior, it requires just three years to bring about a culture change. Once again, it’s the power of action. I call it The Hollywood Effect. Although it feels like you’re “pretending” in the beginning, action translates faster than great speeches. Action produces emotion. And emotions multiply. They change organizations from the inside out.

As we lead students, may I remind you of the most important principle of leadership: modeling. Your actions scream; your words whisper. Nothing is more powerful than a leader’s example. Don’t preach what you don’t practice. In fact, failing to practice what we preach has caused countless parents to fail, managers to fail, educators to fail, even youth pastors to fail. We must become the change we desire. We can’t afford to wait until we “feel” like it. Remember, we’re more likely to act our way into a feeling than to feel our way into an action. Along the way, it’ll become second nature, just like Don Johnson stopping a thief on the street. It’s The Hollywood Effect.

Where have you seen this principle in action or, where have you seen leaders fail to practice it?


(By the way—if you enjoyed this blog, it’s an excerpt from Habitudes, Book Four.)

The Gardner’s Job

February 25, 2011 — 3 Comments

One of the Habitudes in our series is called, “The Gardener’s Job.”

It simply reminds leaders that in the same way a gardener understands her primary job is to cultivate the soil and grow the plants in her garden, leaders must see their primary job as growing the people under their care. It isn’t just about doing a program or distributing a product, but developing a person.

Gardeners know that growing plants involves soil, rain, sunshine, fertilizer, and pulling the weeds around those plants. How are you doing with these activities as a leader:

Soil – How is the culture and environment of your workplace or campus? Is it healthy?
Rain – Do you allow for rainstorms to strengthen your team?
Sunshine – Do you provide encouragement and motivation for them?
Fertilizer – Do you equip and feed your team members to do their work?
Pulling weeds – Do you remove toxic elements (people or events) that would harm them?

Your top job is growing people.

This June, we are committing two days to this theme. Our National Leadership Forum’s theme: “Develop—Cultivating Growth, Engagement and Success in Students.”  We aren’t just hosting an event. We are inciting a conversation that is long overdue. It will be extremely interactive. We will load up participants with ideas from the best schools, organizations and churches in America.

Check it out at:


Yesterday, I started a list of ideas adults can use to help teens and young adults grow up. Our society, which used to be part of the solution — is now part of the problem in why these kids stall and fail to mature until their late twenties.

These twenty-somethings have gone through our school systems and come out ill-equipped. Somehow, each level of education merely prepared them for more education — but not for the real world, where you begin at the bottom of the ladder and work hard for little pay or recognition. According to research done by Time magazine, most colleges are seriously out of step with the real world in getting students ready to become workers in the post-college world. Vocational schools like Devry and Strayer, focus on technical skills where they are seeing a boom in enrollment, growing 48% from 1996 to 2000. Unfortunately, most don’t get those practical skills in traditional colleges, and experience a huge gulf between school and career. More than 33% of twenty-somethings don’t consider themselves “adults” or “grown up.” Why? They’re still depending on mom and dad for room and board.

I offered 3 simple, practical ideas yesterday to address this challenge:

1. Help them identify their strengths and match their gifts with real-life work.
2. Arrange interviews with CEOs who can field their questions and talk “turkey.”
3. Encourage time limits on leisure activities.

Let me offer Part II of this list of ideas on how we can help our young mature:

4.  Talk about the future on a regular basis.
The majority of the Millennial generation thinks about the future every week. I believe we need to help them talk about the future, and think out loud about their calling. Even if they change their mind 500 times in school, help them to move in some direction.

5. Help them develop coping strategies.
They need to know how to deal with setbacks, stresses and feelings of inadequacy. They must learn how to resolve conflict and solve problems. These are normal. But just watch American Idol, and you see how so many young adults struggle with reality. Most “singers” auditioning aren’t singers.

6. Make sure that childhood is not an impossible act to follow.
If you get them young — help insert responsibility right away. Make it appropriate, but give it to them. Don’t overindulge them. Avoid hyper-inflated egos and over-protection. We are doing a disservice to young people if we remove their chance to fail.

7. Nurture leadership qualities and skills in them.
Research from Helen and Alexander Astin, out of UCLA, reports that in today’s world — every young person will need leadership skills. Leadership is not just for the elite, but for everyone who wants to get somewhere in their life.

This is why I’m so passionate about helping you lead well and to equip your students in leadership. On our Growing Leaders store, we offer ideas and projects you can do with students to teach them leadership. Your first step can be as simple as discussing one Habitude® a week with your young people, and applying it to their life. Habitudes® are images that form leadership habits and attitudes. (They are small books to be used in mentoring relationships.) You can find both the ideas and the books at: Let’s prepare this generation to lead the way.


Victims Don’t Share

January 14, 2011 — 2 Comments

Do you mind if I vent a little, as long as I offer some value by the time I’m through?

Last week, I walked into the Dekalb County Courthouse to pay a traffic citation. I had been driving 68 in a 55 mph freeway. I don’t fancy visiting courthouses, but I tried to pay my fine on their website and it was broken; by phone and I couldn’t get through; and by email, but never got a response from them. Obviously, their system is broken.

When I stepped inside, the scene was exactly as I suspected. People were either angry or apathetic. Then, I began to see adults act like children. I got in line and stood for a moment. Suddenly, a man said he needed to get in front of me. I allowed him to do so but asked why. He said, “Because I walked into the building before you did.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I felt like I was on the playground again in second grade. I had clearly stepped into the line first, while he wandered around, but he wanted to go first.

When I finally got up to the window to pay my ticket, the lady was not at all interested in hearing about their broken payment system. She said I had to pay $100 more on top of the original fee. Forget the fact that I wasn’t able to pay before my court date. The clerk griped about the rules, but in the end she wanted my money. Period. Dekalb County is in trouble financially, and everyone knows it — including their monotone employees. I paid my fine just to get out of the building.

I came to a conclusion that day. When people (on either side of the clerks’ window) feel like they are the victims of the system — they don’t share and they don’t care. It’s all about getting what they deserve. All they can see is what they deserve; all they feel is their own needs. Life is scarce, not abundant. People become the worst version of themselves.

Today — I refuse to be a victim. To use one of our Habitudes®, I will be “a driver, not a passenger” in my life. I’ll take responsibility for my life and “steer.” I won’t blame someone else if I don’t reach the destination I wished for. I’ll look into the rearview mirror to count my past blessings, and my windshield to see exactly where I need to go. I will enter my weekend prepared to see the big picture; to look out for the needs of others; to fill someone else’s cup. The Dekalb County Courthouse was a great reminder of the destination I don’t want to reach.

How about you? Where have you allowed yourself to gripe and be a victim?


From time-to-time, I reflect in my blog posts about leadership and parenting styles I see today. At times, the styles we choose (by default or design) are damaging. One kind I’ve seen recently is a style I’d call: “Commando Parent.” Have you seen them?

Commando Parents

They have been around for centuries and often are called “military parents.” Sometimes they attract that name because mom or dad did actually serve in the military. This style is almost always well intentioned, but causes damage when it offers more rules than relationship. In this style, one or more parent adopts the role of a drill sergeant, who expects perfection from both parent and child. Professor Allen Verhey worries that society is beginning to see “the duties of parenting as making perfect children, and making children perfect rather than in terms of nurture.” Instead of flexing with the messes that come with raising kids, these parents demand perfectly clean rooms, perfectly diligent study habits, perfect performances at sports, even perfect behavior at playtime.

The discipline imposed by commando parents is not bad in itself. In fact, it can be a breath of fresh air in light of other parenting styles. What’s wrong is that it typically offers law without grace. It’s about rules and routines, and it can produce a child who’s afraid of anything short of straight A’s on a report card. The child lives in anxiety, frustration or exhaustion just trying to meet expectations.

The problem: These parents often push for perfection out of their own insecurity, their own struggle for perfection, their own urge to control their lives. Their lives are focused on attaining perfection instead of growth and improvement.

The issue: Commando parents have their own issues. Perhaps they never felt loved or approval while growing up. Maybe the only model for parenting they know is a drill sergeant who pushes and pushes the child to perform. The commando parents I know also feel their own reputations depend on their children’s performance. They cannot stand a poor showing on the little league field or in the classroom, because they feel it makes them look bad. They need to mature past this rigid scope, and see that life is about love and empowerment, not command and control.

What kids need is a leader who is both responsive and demanding. In my language — a velvet-covered brick. A leader who supports and sets standards. Let’s shoot for that goal.

If you’d like to read more about parenting styles or take a parent style quiz, go to: