Tim Elmore

Writer and speaker

"We have to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child".

How to build leadership skills through education.

When we say ‘leader’, we mean someone committed to solving problems and serving people. When I meet an educator in an elevator and we talk for five minutes, I tell them: “We just want them to graduate knowing how to solve problems and serve people”. And they all say: “Yes, that's what I want." Reading, writing and mathematics are necessary, but we need people with life skills, who are able to relate to people and lead teams, communicate well, transmit ideas, etc. We do a lot of work internationally, and once we were translating a book into another language, and the word "leader" was badly translated. They used the term "power”, they said it was “someone who has power”. We believe that power often arises from leadership, we gain influence. But it starts with the desire to serve people and solve problems. And when we do this, we normally earn the right to influence other people.

Leaders have a vision for the future. It’s a picture of a preferred future they hold in their mind today. And they have laid out the steps to follow to make this vision a reality. They can help others to understand that it can be done. Most people don't set out these steps. They say: “Yes, I like that vision. How can we make it a reality?”. And most people don't know how to do it. I believe that a naturally born leader must have good people's skills . Personally, I cannot separate leadership and vision. We have to create a generation that has good people's skills. That's very difficult to do if you've always got your cell phone in your hand. We've got to turn them off. We've got to turn them off in order to grow our emotional intelligence. And finally, I would say that leaders have to be courageous by nature. The difference between a leader and a director, and both are necessary, is that leaders do things that require courage. Leaders are in charge. Actually, when I describe a leader to students, I often say this: “If you are not prepared to do what you ask others to do, then don't even start. You have to do it yourself before you ask someone else to do it.” I know it sounds like a cliche and something obvious, but there are many leaders who just give orders, but who are not willing to do themselves what they are asking others to do.

Everybody needs training, even a natural born leader. Because if I am a natural born leader, I have a charged personality, I am motivated… Maybe I have an attention deficit, I don't know, but I have a lot of energy. But even so, I still need training, I need to learn patience when the team is working more slowly that I would like. So training is necessary for both, but I always say this: I believe that there are two kinds of leaders in the world, and everyone fits into one of these two kinds. We can be a habitual leader or a situational leader. Habitual leaders are the ones who lead out of habit. They are natural born leaders. They’re the kids who take over the kickball game at recess. I believe they represent about 10-15% of the population. The other eighty-five or ninety per cent of us are what I call “situational leaders”. These people would say: “I don't consider myself to be a great leader, but if I am in the right situation—one that matches my gifts, passions and strengths, then I know what to do”. We've all seen young people at school or university who are quiet and shy. But when you put them in front of a mixing table or somewhere else, you go: “Wow, they're so talented! What happened?” What's happened is that they have found their situation. I believe that one of our jobs as parents, educators and business people is to help this new generation to find their situation. And when we do, then I believe that we all have a leader inside us. Maybe not to manage a large company, or to be the president of a country, but there is a place where they are gifted to have influence.

In what we call “epic learning”, from “EPIC”: the letter “E” is for Experiential. They are not looking for a sage on the stage with a lecture. They’re looking for a guide on the side with an experience. If teachers are capable of creating an experience inside the classroom, or outside on the lawn, but an experience in which there is a dialogue, then we've got them. An experience that involves them, not a talking head. The letter “P” refers to “Participatory”. Think of the world in which children are growing up today. They’ve been conditioned to participate in the outcomes of almost everything in their life. What they eat, where the family goes on vacation, who stays on that reality TV show, you name it. So, what I say is that we, as educators, must let them have their say and let them vote on the direction of their program of studies. Students support what they help create. If we allow them to be creators, we've got them, they take ownership in the task. The letter “I” stands for “Image rich”. Young people today have grown up in a world filled with images: videos, DVDs... Now video streaming, with Netflix and other things. I would ask educators: How can we come up with a metaphor or a word picture that anchors the big idea we're attempting to communicate or train them in? They have to memorize many dates of battles and names of generals, but how can an image anchor the big idea? And we have to keep going back to this image. It's their native language. And the last letter. The letter “C” is “Connected”. They're connected socially as well as technologically. So, what if we've got a group of 25 or so students, and maybe we break them into three or four groups and we give them a couple of well-crafted questions? Open ended questions that can't be answered with a yes or no. And get them to connect, think out loud and discuss. It's not easy. They'll crack a few jokes to start with, but then I've realized that students come up with the best ideas if we hand the conversation over to them and we say: “Solve this yourselves”.

I'm not an expert in raising children. When I look at parents today, I see a generation of parents who are trying to do it right. For many, their children are their top priority. It happens a lot. So they become helicopter parents (who hover) and snowplow parents (who plow the way for their kids). The most harmful mistakes we make, by accident, are the following: We risk to little, we rescue to quickly, we rave too easily and we reward too much. I'll show you what I mean. We risk to little: I believe that this is a generation in which safety is so important that we don't want our children to be exposed to any type of risk. But, don't you think that we grow when we take risks? If I graze my knee, I get up and I try again. I get back on my bike and try again. These things are normal, but we worry too much over their safety. I sometimes feel that their biological age is normal, but their emotional age is younger, because they have never been allowed to fail, which is precisely what helps them grow. We rescue to quickly, which is very similar to the previous point. Parents are always rescuing their children, they negotiate their kids marks, they talk to the teacher, and they even try to negotiate with college lecturers. We have to stop rescuing them so much and let our children grow and work things out for themselves. Praise: we live at a time when we want our children to have good self-esteem. I am also a father and that's what I want, too. But we can't build their self-esteem just by praising them. They have to achieve something in return. We need praise and achievement. We have to leave them to do things on their own. And, instead of telling them that they are fantastic for putting a fork in the dishwasher, we have to thank them for doing it and save our praise for something that really deserves it. And reward. I don't know what you think, but in our country everyone gets a trophy, just for turning up. Again, I am in favor of rewarding, but for the right things. But kids think: “This doesn't mean anything if I get it just for showing up”. And then they think: “Going to work is enough, I don't have to work, my boss will reward me anyway". But it doesn't work like this. So I say to parents: “Collaborate with the school and with the teachers to ensure that you obtain good men and women at the end of the road”. My favorite sentence is this: “We have to prepare the child for the path, not the path for the child”.

More about Tim Elmore

Dr. Tim Elmore is a writer, trainer and an authority on the Millennial generation. He is also the founder of Growing Leaders, a nonprofit organization with headquarters in Atlanta, created to foster the growth of young leaders. He is the author of books such as “Generation Y: Secrets to Connecting With Today's Teens & Young Adults in the Digital Age”, "Huge Mistakes Parents Can Avoid” and “Nurturing the Leader within your Child”.
What idea or message would like to transmit?

Susan Peters once said: “Children have a much better chance of growing up if their parents have done so first”. This means that you can't expect them to mature if you are an immature mother. Many kids in our group say: “I never talk to my mother, she spends the day on Facebook or Instagram”. How can we expect to raise them well, if we do the same as what we are telling them off for? We have to be a role model. One of my favorite sentences on this subject is: “Do it yourself before asking others to do it”, from Mahatma Gandhi in the nineteen forties. He was in India leading the peaceful revolution, and a woman went to see him one day. She had a small child with her. And she said: “Gandhi, my daughter eats too many sweets, she eats too much sugar. Tell her to stop eating so much sugar”. Gandhi thought for a while and he said: “No, come back in two weeks”. “Why? Tell her now!”. “No, come back in two weeks”. “All right”, and she left. Two weeks later she returned with her daughter and said: “Will you tell her now?”. This time Gandhi bent down, looked her in the eye and said: “Stop eating so much sugar”. She said: “All right”, and left. Then the mother said: “Why didn't you say that two weeks ago?”. And, very wisely, Gandhi replied: “Because two weeks ago I had eaten too much sugar”. What I mean to say is: “I only want to share things I have found useful or have had experience with”. I believe that teachers, business people and parents should take note of this story. If we get mad with them, first look at ourselves in the mirror and say: “Am I setting a good example?”.

"One of the tasks of parents and educators is to help the next generation to navigate their leadership journey".

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