Search the site

Growing Leaders Blog

on Leading the Next Generation


Making Decisions with the End in Mind


Whether you’re a parent, teacher, administrator, coach or youth pastor, if you are around kids, you’ve probably seen students experience emotional or mental illness. It may not be severe, but I bet you’ve seen kids plummet into some level of anger, depression or disillusionment over the last few years. Sometimes, this happens because a kid is simply experiencing a chemical imbalance.  Often, however, it’s due to the false world we adults have established in their lives.

May I illustrate with a news headline from this past week?

“School Principal Cancels Honors Night to Not Hurt Feelings”

A principal in Massachusetts recently canceled his school’s Honors Night, saying it could be “devastating” to the students who worked hard, but fell short of the grades they needed to be honored. The principal of Ipswich Middle School, David Fabrizio, notified parents last week of his plan to eliminate the event, which is a great source of pride for the recipients’ families. Unfortunately, the principal also feels it could hurt the feelings of those who don’t maintain a high grade point average. And it appears the goal today, in so many schools, is to make sure we don’t hurt anyone’s feelings. We want all kids to be happy and feel as though life is fair.

I get this. The only problem—it’s not a good long-term decision.

Think about the long-term consequences of this decision. First, these young teens now begin to expect life to be fair: If we all can’t get awards, then no one does. That’s just not how life works; it’s certainly not how employment works. Second, it removes their need to cope with loss: No one was recognized as excellent, so none learn to handle situations where they don’t get the spotlight. Sadly, this is not even remotely similar to the world they’re about to enter as adults.

Here are three fundamental problems I see in adults and awards nights:

1. We assume the students are doing it only for the award.

What about building an inward motivation built on the satisfaction of simply doing something with excellence? Instead of ribbons and trophies, it’s about fulfillment.

2. We assume they can’t navigate a loss.

What about cultivating a resilient spirit that makes kids who don’t get invited to Honors Night determined to make it next year? Ambition is essential in adulthood.

3. We assume we have no other way to reward their effort.

What about the need to affirm hard work in ways besides competing with and conquering peers? Parents don’t need a ceremony to encourage effort.

In my book, Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults, I share a principle I try to live by:

The further out I can see, the better the decision I make today.

In other words, when we decide to cancel an Honor’s Night, we need to consider how it impacts kids over time. For the short term, everyone feels better. In the long run, however, it fails to prepare kids to be good adults and leaders. In addition, we fail to groom good leadership qualities in ourselves, by removing the hardship of making tough decisions and debriefing a loss with a kid. We can do better.


  1. Nick on April 1, 2013 at 6:32 am

    He still hurt the honors kids and parents feelings by canceling it. This kind of action is why we see such so much entitlement in the schools and work place. This action is what can make “quitting” so easy. When there is difficult challenges in life or fail at something, the mentality isn’t “I am going to work my tail off to get better!”

    Congrats to those honors students, a reward is well deserved!

    • Tim Elmore on April 1, 2013 at 1:31 pm

      Great points, Nick. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Jackie Brewton on April 1, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Oh my goodness Tim, I wish you would SCREAM this from the top of EVERY mountain in America.

    I often tell students in the classroom that many of their parents are doing them the BIGGEST disservice by not allowing them to fail because THAT is not reality.

    And now schools are failing them by not allowing them to fail. There are schools that I visit where the teachers can’t fail a student. If the student doesn’t pass a test, the teachers have to let him/her continue taking the test until he/she passes. They also have to accept an assignment from a student whenever the student decides to turn it in, even if it is months after the assignment was due. That is ABSOLUTELY insane!

    Thank you for all that you do in sounding the alarm!
    Jackie Brewton

    • Tim Elmore on April 1, 2013 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks, Jackie. I, too, worry for students’ ability to lead themselves and manage their time as they mature in environments like the one you illustrate.

  3. Joseph Lalonde on April 1, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    Ouch, it seems like we keep thinking students are more and more thin skinned. Rather than letting them take the bumps and bruises and ego-hurt that comes along with growth, it’s all about sheltering. Where’s the incentive then?

    • Tim Elmore on April 3, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      I agree, Joe. Thanks for chiming into the conversation. Self-leadership is a journey, filled with both sacrifice and reward.

Leave a Comment

Making Decisions with the End in Mind