3 Ways To Not Be A Leader

In the battlefield drama, We Were Soldiers there is a mountain training scene a little more than fifteen minutes into the movie where Lt. Col. Hal Moore (Mel Gibson) looks to Sgt. Maj. Plumley (Sam Elliot) and says:

Moore: Now that young man is a leader. (referring to Lt. Geoghegan, played by Chris Klein)

Plumley: Yes sir. (looking through binoculars in a different direction)

Plumley: But that other fella. That big strong one there.  He wants to win medals.

Moore: (Picks up the binoculars and looks at Sgt. Savage, played by Ryan Hurst)

Moore: He’s eager.

Later in the movie, the men get dropped off behind enemy lines by helicopters. As they set up an initial field base, the battlefield is eerily still, the enemy attacks from what seems like every direction.

Lt. Col. Moore, in the thick of the fire fight tells his radio operators: “Hey! Hey! Calm down! Understand the situation and communicate clearly!”

I believe that is a message that any leader, whether in the military, the schools, corporate world, or church need to take to heart.

Calm down. Understand the situation. Communicate Clearly.

Let me suggest three ways to not be a leader…

1. If you want to not be a leader, sabotage your credibility with social media posts

In some ways I am sure that every modern President is jealous of Franklin Roosevelt.  The reality of his life bound to a wheelchair hidden from public knowledge.  That’s just not true today.  We know when the President makes a run to Starbucks or to grab a hot dog.  We know how many rounds of golf he has played and how many vacation days he has taken.

The technological revolution coupled with the explosion of social networking has had an unavoidable impact on the platform of our public leaders.  Political, athletic, entertainment, or religious leaders all feel its impact.  Think about some leaders who have fallen due to social networks.  Anthony Weiner, Ray Rice, David Petraeus, and more come to mind.

Might I offer three suggestions?

  • Ask yourself: “Am I saying something publicly that has the potential to affect my personal influence?”
  • Recognize that the things you say have the ability to alienate someone from your church/ministry.
  • Remember to check who/what you follow…because it is a reflection upon yourself.

2. If you want to not be a leader, act like Chicken Little

Do you remember the story of Chicken Little from elementary school or bedtime stories with your kids?  An acorn falls from a tree hitting Chicken Little on the head.  He surmises that the sky is falling and sets off to warn the king.  On the journey to the king, he warns everyone he comes into contact with.  In the more popular renderings of the story, a fox lures the group journeying to the king into his lair and eaten.  Because Chicken Little panicked and no one stepped up to lead, people died–ok, that may be a tad on the dramatic side.

Here’s the thing, even if the building is on fire, leaders don’t panic.  When leaders panic people get hurt; people get lost; people get left behind.  Solomon reminds us that “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (KJV).

One final note, in the book Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley notes that leaders need: Competence, COURAGE, Clarity, Coaching, and Character.  Courage is not the absence of fear, it is moving forward in the face of fear.  Courage is not panicking.  Even if you have to manufacture courage, do it: fake it, ’til you make it.

3. If you want to not be a leader, always never be grateful 

I should begin by acknowledging this is perhaps the area where I need to grow the most.  I need to thank my volunteers more…we all do.  Think about it: when someone thanks you for doing something, how does it feel?  Why would it feel any different for the people you lead?

I don’t have the research to back this up.  But I think it’s safe to assume that there is a direct correlation between the gratitude you show towards the people you lead and the rate of retention you experience.

I believe that these two words will transform your leadership platform more than any others: Thank You.

Say it often. Say it sincerely. Say it publicly

Let’s wrap it up this way:

  • Leaders have integrity
  • Leaders have courage
  • Leaders have gratitude

IT’S LIKE TNT

What is the most volatile substance in the world today? TNT (Trinitrotoluene)? Plutonium? North Korea? A teenage girl? The answer is none of these. In fact the answer might surprise you.

brain

Think about it: a raging torrent of hormones and abstract thinking are bombarding a physiologically changing brain like a blitzkrieg. It’s no wonder that the teenage brain is unstable, unpredictable, and volatile.

One of the many reasons I enjoy working with students is that they are always changing. And the most significant change going on in their rapidly growing bodies are not zits, or arm pit hair, or voice changes, or even those pleasant odors that accompany teenage boys going through puberty. The most significant change a student experiences is the one we cannot see: the brain.

If you have ever taken an intro psych class or ad psych class or watched an episode of Criminal Minds then you’ve probably heard of these two guys: Piaget and Erikson.

Piaget is known for defining Concrete vs. Abstract Thinking. Piaget claims that at the onset of puberty students shift from understanding the world in a concrete reality to that of an abstract understanding. Essentially, students begin to think about thinking.

  • They start asking what if and why might that be questions.
  • They begin the process of speculation and utilizing a third person perspective.
  • They ask questions like, “What is the meaning of life?” And the question every adult who works with students dreads: “How can I trust that God is real or that the bible is accurate?” Essentially everything about faith is abstract.

Approaching the same issue from a different angle (See the use of abstract thinking there?). Erikson claims that students are in the life-span stage of Identity vs. Identity Confusion. Beginning around the onset of puberty and lasting until the early twenties students are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit. This is a journey that they must initiate and discover at their own pace. Otherwise they will not feel like they know who they are. The hard part for parenting is not forcing the identity we desire for them on them. You know this kid. In fact, she was probably in some of your college classes. This is the girl who wanted to be an art major or teacher but caved into the pressure to be a pre-med major to take over the family practice some ambiguous day in the future. All the while never liking medicine.

Take for example a former student of mine. One year he wore a Texas A&M t-shirt and hat with Wrangler jeans and ropers (boots). After summer break he comes back dressing like a trendy/goth kid wearing dark clothing, vests, fedora style hats, and a chain wallet. That look lasted a semester and after Christmas break he was dressing differently again. Do you see what he was doing? He was trying to figure out who he was and where he belonged.

This is why so many of my current students play four or more sports per year. They fancy themselves athletes, they’re just trying to figure out are they a football, soccer, or baseball player. What are they the best at?

As if this wasn’t enough we’ve found out exponentially more about the teenage brain in the last 10-12 years than we thought we knew for the last 100 years or more. Let’s take a look at some of the new findings.

Temporal Lobe
The temporal lobe serves as the center for emotional response and interpretation. The temporal lobe is underdeveloped in teens, and significantly underdeveloped in guys. This is why when a teenage couple that is dating get into a fight the girl turns into a sobbing puddle of emotions while the guy gets on Xbox live and plays Call of Duty like nothing happened. It’s not because the guy doesn’t care, in fact he probably does; his ability to interpret and express emotions is not fully developed yet.

Frontal Lobe
Do you want to know why your student frustrates you to no end and leaves you scratching your head? Do you want to know why they do such stupid stuff? Meet the reason for your frustration: the Frontal Lobe, more specifically the Prefrontal Cortex.
The Prefrontal Cortex is responsible for:

  • Decision making
  • Organization
  • Prioritization
  • Focusing
  • Planning
  • Impulse control

Do you feel like your student is deficient in these areas? This could explain several of the stupid things I did in college (ok, so stupid is an understatement).

In relation to this, CNN published an article in October 2012 entitled: Why The Teen Brain Is Drawn To Risk. They concluded:

  • If the risk is unknown teens are more likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • If the risk is known teens are less likely to engage in risky behavior.
  • Teens seem to love the unknown.
  • It’s the opposite of what adults do: if the risks are known teens engage in risk taking less than adults; but if they are unknown teens engage in risk taking more than adults.
  • The more vague the consequence the more likely teens are to engage in risk taking.

Oh, did I mention that we now know the brain is not fully formed at age 6 like previously thought; it actually isn’t fully developed until the age of 25. And yes, this includes the Frontal and Temporal Lobes.

Neural Pathways
Neural pathways are groupings of neurons (brain cells). Now, get this: research has shown that in the 2 years or so leading up to puberty the brain goes into warp speed producing millions of new neurons. Then, when puberty goes into full swing the brain starts to kill off neurons. Weird huh? Here’s why: the brain has a use it or lose process for neurons. The neurons from the parts of the brain that are stimulated or used are kept, while the neurons from the parts of the brain that are not used or stimulated are killed off. This tells us that during the teenage years the brain is crafted and molded for how it will function in adulthood.

I want to leave you with two questions to chew on from Inside the Teenage Brain by Mark Oestreicher:

  • How can I best steward the opportunity I have to permanently shape my teenagers’ brains?
  • And more specifically, how can I best steward the opportunity I have to shape their brains for a lifetime of robust faith?