Two Ways Students Earn the Right to Influence


Dr. Tim Elmore tells a story of a young scientist who took matters into his own hands to help solve a problem and without even trying, became a leader.

I 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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