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on Leading the Next Generation


Two Ways Students Earn the Right to Influence

I just read a story about a young student who decided to stop complaining about problems and start solving them. It all began when 11-year old Peyton Robertson watched Superstorm Sandy wreak havoc across the U.S. coastline. He was intrigued at how the sandbags weren’t efficient to stop the flooding. The sand couldn’t stop the water from penetrating. So what did he do? He invented a sandbag with no sand.

Really? A sandbag without sand?


Peyton is from Ft. Lauderdale, FL, so he’s seen a few storms and floods even as a kid. He designed his new kind of protection against floods hurricanes, and other disasters. He calls it the Sandless Operational Sandbag (SOS). It earned him the title of “America’s Top Young Scientist.”

Here is the basis of his thinking:

  • Conventional sandbags are heavy to transport and leave gaps.
  • We need to create a lighter sandbag that could expand to fill the crevice.
  • What if we made a bag with a combination of salt and polymer inside?
  • The bag would be doused with water before so the polymer expands.
  • The mixture makes the bag lightweight, easy to store and much effective at keeping water out.

This makes sense, doesn’t it?  And guess what?  It works.

Sometimes it takes a kid to see what adults cannot see. Often we are bound by the way we’ve always done things. How many years have we been using sandbags?

When he was interviewed, young Peyton simply concluded, “My hope is that this system will reduce flood damage in the future.”

Peyton’s influence, as you can imagine, has grown for two reasons:

  1. He’s solving problems.
  2. He’s serving people.

How amazing that an 11-year old student is now seeing that this is the key to gaining influence. Without even trying, Peyton became a leader.


Because leadership has less to do with a position and more to do with a disposition. Peyton didn’t wait for someone to ask him to solve a problem. He didn’t wait for an adult to give him a title and job description. He just began thinking about how he could help other people, by resolving a dilemma they were facing. Pure leadership simply begins with solving problems and serving people. It is about influencing people in a positive way, not the pursuit of power.

Thanks Peyton. This is the spirit we need to cultivate in students of all ages.

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photo credit: Potyike via photopin cc


  1. Joe on November 25, 2013 at 9:16 am

    Tim, I would ask you to dive into this story a little deeper and it may surprise you. Sandless flood bags have been around for many years along with various patents. A quick investigation may also reveal that his father works for a company that actually makes/distributes sandless floodbags. Interesting side notes to this whole story after it was aired on TV.

    • Tim Elmore on November 27, 2013 at 7:39 am

      Thanks for sharing. Absolutely there have been other kinds of sand bags developed over the years. I’m hopeful you and others don’t miss the point of how this kid saw a conventional bag being used and improved upon it. In doing so he served people by addressing a problem they had.

    • Daniel Marshall on January 3, 2014 at 4:20 pm

      Joe–Neither the father nor anyone in this young man’s family works in any field even remotely related to sandbags. This young man has made his invention an open patent so anyone can use and build upon the innovation. The salt and polymer combination he uses and the interlocking external method is clearly novel and technically different from other existing sandless bag solutions.

      Tim–Great article on leadership.

  2. Amy on December 1, 2013 at 10:49 pm

    Good article on leadership. You carried across your point well that leadership stems from someone who steps up without being asked. An even greater leader is one who steps up, serve others, and acts in situations but never really does it for the recognition or the title. The question now would be what or how do teachers and adults motivate children to aspire such humble leadership.

    • Tim Elmore on December 5, 2013 at 6:40 am

      Thank you for commenting, Amy. That is the next big question :). I believe one of the first steps is for us as adults or teachers to model this leadership. Students need a visual of this humble leadership model.

  3. Jehú Barranco on December 1, 2013 at 11:31 pm

    How do you think it came to be that we complain about the circumstance rather than fix it ourselves? It seems like it would be obvious that we could fix most circumstances on our own if we see there is a problem, but, most of the time, we just complain and blame instead. We, as teachers, can help to instill as sense of self-efficiency in fixing life’s problems. But is it our place, or is it the place of the parents? Or both?

    • Tim Elmore on December 5, 2013 at 6:42 am

      Great question, Jehu. Thank you for asking. In many parts of the world, I see this as a community effort that involves both the teachers and parents. It always helps when the teachers and parents are on the same page.

  4. Elizabeth on December 2, 2013 at 12:58 am

    I really liked this article and the story of this boy. So many things could be solved in life if people stopped complaining about everything that bugs them and started searching for solutions to them. It obviously doesn’t take a bachelor’s degree to find answers to questions. It just takes effort.

  5. Melody on December 2, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Tim, you have a superb way of putting to words succinctly main points. I loved what you said about how leadership comes by solving problems and serving others. I have seen that play out in my life and in others around me and it is beautiful. Indeed, in order to be great, serve!

    • Tim Elmore on December 5, 2013 at 6:46 am

      Thank you Melody for commenting. It truly is a beautiful sight when we see the people around us solving problems and serving each other.

  6. Blane on December 3, 2013 at 12:58 am

    So basically, we should be teaching our kids to serve others by solving problems, right?

    • richard on December 3, 2013 at 7:57 am

      I think it is more accurate to say we should teach our children to serve others. Period. Whether they serve others by solving problems, or by implementing solutions other people have invented, they need to learn the value of service to others. I believe that is what leadership is about.

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Two Ways Students Earn the Right to Influence