Seven Secrets to Leading the Next Generation

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We must not give up on this generation of young people. Regardless of our experiences, we must embrace our role as mentors and prepare them to move from backpack to briefcase.

I just got off the phone with a business friend. He and I chuckled over an interview he’d just conducted with a recent college graduate. The candidate was a bright and overconfident female who told him in the midst of their conversation: “I’m going to have your job in 18 months.”

Needless to say, my friend passed on hiring her. What she lacked in self-awareness she made up for in a sense of entitlement. Sadly, my friend concluded, “I’m giving up on these kids. I’m gonna just wait for the next generation to come through in 20 years.”

While I understand his sentiment, I cannot agree with his conclusion. We must not give up on this generation of young people. Regardless of our experiences, we must embrace our role as mentors and prepare them to move from backpack to briefcase.

So, how should we lead these young people? May I talk straight?

We must master the art of mentoring them and leading them. Let me suggest seven shifts we must make:

1. Don’t think CONTROL, think CONNECT.

Often our ambition as a parent or leader is to seize control. Studies show that parents who over-program their child’s schedule often breed kids who rebel as teens. Instead, wise leaders work to connect with them. Why? Because once we connect, we build a bridge of relationship that can bear the weight of truth. We earn our right to influence them.

2. Don’t think INFORM, think INTERPRET.

This is the first generation of kids that don’t need adults to get information. It’s coming at them 24/7. What they need from us is interpretation. Their knowledge has no context. We must help them make sense of all they know as they build a wise and healthy worldview.

3. Don’t think ENTERTAIN, think EQUIP.

I’ve seen parents who are consumed with entertaining their child. I know teachers who approach their classrooms the same way. A better perspective may be: how can I equip these young people for the future? If I give them relevant tools to succeed, they’ll stay engaged. Happiness is a byproduct. True satisfaction comes from growth.

4. Don’t think “DO IT FOR THEM” think “HELP THEM DO IT.”

Adults have been committed to giving kids a strong self-esteem for 30 years now. According to the American Psychological Association, healthy and robust self-esteem actually comes from achievement, not merely affirmation. We lead for the long term, not the short term. Sure, it’s quicker to do it yourself—but it’s better to transfer a skill.

5. Don’t think IMPOSE, think EXPOSE.

When adults become scared a kid is falling behind, they tend to impose a rule or a behavior on them. While mandatory conduct is part of life, if kids feel forced to do it, they usually don’t take ownership of it. It becomes someone else’s idea, not theirs. Why not think “expose”instead of “impose.” Show them something. Give them an opportunity they can’t pass up.

6. Don’t think PROTECT, think PREPARE.

We are paranoid about the safety of our kids. Sadly, in our obsession over safety, we’ve failed to prepare them for adulthood. Instead of fearing for them, it’s better to recall our entrance into adulthood and discuss what we learned that helped us succeed. The greatest gift we can give our children is the ability to get along without us.

7. Don’t think LECTURE, think LAB.

When young people do wrong, we’re predisposed to lecture them. While it’s a quick way to transmit an idea, it’s not the best way to transform a life. We must create experiences from which they can process truths—like science class—a lab with a lecture. They’re not looking for a sage on the stage with a lecture, but a guide on the side with an experience.


Written by Tim Elmore

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