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Six Questions That Help Students Exceed Expectations

We’ve developed terms in our English language to describe certain mindsets. I decided to create one of our Habitudes® from two of them: Shortcuts and Second Miles.

The Short Cut. This is a term we use to describe the act of getting around the system. When we find a way to shorten the process or reduce the labor—we say we found a “shortcut.” It’s often wise to do this, when our goal is to be efficient. It’s also true, however, that shortcuts can represent a “do the bare minimum” attitude.

The Second Mile. This is a term from ancient Rome. Centuries ago, Roman soldiers could oblige a citizen of any territory they had conquered to carry their equipment for them for a mile. The “second mile” represented the act of carrying the load further than the obligation demanded of them. It was more than what was expected.


Now that most of the Millennial generation has entered adulthood, I’ve noticed a predisposition we, the adults, have cultivated in them. The pattern is to always look for a “shortcut.” Find out what’s essential and don’t do an ounce more. Whether on purpose or on accident, we condition our kids (who we feel work so hard) to:

  • Do the bare minimum amount of homework to get by.
  • Do only what the coach demands on the field, not any more.
  • Clock in and out, and give only the time your supervisor requests.

While I understand this shortcut approach is efficient, it does not represent the kind of mindset most employers, most coaches, most friends and most spouses find endearing. The act of getting out of hard work or quitting instead of being patient as we struggle through a difficult task may be natural but it’s not attractive. Doing more than what’s required is what makes us great. It differentiates us and makes us magnetic.

A Case Study

I will never forget the new intern who, a week into his work with our team, stopped me in the hallway and said, “I know this is going to sound strange since I am so new here, but would you mind if I got an office key?”

I smiled at his apparent presumption and asked, “What for?”

“Well,” the intern continued, “I’m already loving my work at Growing Leaders. And I can tell I’m going to want to come in early or maybe stay late to finish my projects. I felt if I had a key to the office, I wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else to come in early or stay late.”

I gave him a key right away.

I bet you can guess why. His “second mile” attitude made me want to do anything to put wind in his sails. Somehow, in a world of people seeking shortcuts, I found a college student who was about excelling and finishing the job, not just doing time.

May I Offer a Challenge?

This article is a challenge to stop teaching our kids to look for shortcuts when they need to learn how to walk the second mile—to do more than what’s requested of them in a job description. Let’s encourage them to look for ways to help or serve others. Or be the first one to applaud their efforts when they take initiative and spot what needs to be done, not merely to fulfill their “duties.”

Last year, author Seth Godin, did a blog about justifiable actions at work. He addressed how often we excuse bare minimum attitudes and actions on a team by saying they were “justifiable.” He wrote:

“Of course your behavior is justifiable.

That’s not the question.

The question is, ‘is it helping?’

It’s easy to justify our mood or our actions based on how we’ve been treated by the outside world. Justification isn’t the goal, though. It’s effectiveness that matters.

We get to pick how we act, and it seems as though choosing what works, choosing what makes us happy, choosing what makes the world the place we want to make it–these choices are more useful than any justification we can dream up.”

Questions to Stop and Start Asking

In order to move from one mindset to the other, let me suggest these shifts:

Stop Asking Shortcut Questions Start Asking Second Mile Questions
1. What can I get by with? 1. What would surprise my supervisor?
2. What meets “expectations?” 2. What would “excellent” look like?
3. How little can I study and still pass? 3. How much can I study to improve?
4. What can I get out of this job? 4. What can I give to this job?
5. Is my behavior justifiable? 5. Is my behavior helpful to others?
6. Is there an easier way to do this? 6. Is there a better way to reach the goal?

Here’s to preparing a generation of students to go the second mile.


New Book: Marching Off the Map

Our new book is now available for preorder! Leading today’s students often feels like being in a new country with old maps that don’t work. Understanding and connecting with the generation in this land is often times frustrating and draining. We need new strategies on how to march off our old maps and create new ones.

This new resource collates decades of research and experiences into one practical guide that helps adults:

  • Inspire students to own their education and their future
  • Lead students from an attitude of apathy to one of passion through metacognition
  • Enable students to push back from the constant digital distractions and practice mindfulness
  • Raise kids who make healthy progress, both emotionally and intellectually, through their teenage years
  • Give students the tools to handle the complexities of an ever-changing world
  • Understand and practically apply the latest research on Generation Z

Pre-Order Here

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Six Questions That Help Students Exceed Expectations