Category Archives: Youth



In my last of three posts about Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, I finish examining the tagline: “Empower. Lead. Excel.” This amazing program touched the lives of over 9,500 young people last year across the world.

What does it take to EXCEL? Apparently, I’m really into acrostics right now. I’ve found that, no matter what the age level, some common ingredients go into excellence.

Photo Courtesy Mark Zimmerman, CC

Of course, the definition of excellence isn’t some static group of words; excellence lives inside of each of us. Our own expectations and experiences shape what it means to “excel”. As we achieve standards of excellence we’ve set, the bar moves and our expectations evolve.

At each level, though, we must strive to EXCEL through:


Passion is a required ingredient. Competitive nature will only get you so far! If you’re engaged in a work that makes you feel alive, you’re on the right track to excel.

Xtra Effort

If you’re not willing to give it all you’ve got, how likely is it that you’ll stand out or distinguish yourself? Imagine swimming against a gentle current; it doesn’t take a lot to maintain your position. But to get upstream you’ve gotta kick it up a notch!


Sometimes you’ve just got to step out there! It takes courage to propose or pursue something new. Sometimes it means going it alone or respectfully disagreeing with over-cautious advisors and peers.


Empowerment can be offered externally by a superior at work or an administrator at school or grow organically as you gather momentum. Either way, empowerment is crucial to a person’s ability to excel!


OK, it’s a catch-all! But leadership means making more leaders. In order to excel, you’ve got to think beyond yourself and your tenure wherever you’re excelling. To truly excel means leaving a legacy of leadership where you are.

Think through these things as you are striving to excel at your job or in your calling– not just for yourself but for those you lead! They need some Encouragement, Xtra Effort, Compassion, Empowerment, and Leadership from you, too.

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Lead Like a Sherpa


In my second of three posts about Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership, I examine the organization’s central tag: “Lead”. This amazing program touched the lives of over 9,500 young people last year across the world.

At this year’s Training Institute, I heard an approach to leadership that I hadn’t before. It came during a sort of train-the-trainer session on how to prepare adults to facilitate groups of young people. Don’t stop reading! You’d be surprised how applicable it is to the professional world.

Lead Like a Sherpa
Image courtesy Frank Kovalchek, CC

“When you’re leading these groups, you’ve got to be part chaperone and part Sherpa.” Sherpa? What in the world is a Sherpa? That comes later, she says.

The first part I understand: whether you’ve got a group of 8-10 teenagers or 100 employees, a leader has to keep an eye on his or her charges. After all, someone has to enforce the rules and answer the policy questions. Somebody’s got to be the chaperone.

When it comes to being a good chaperone, you’ve got to LEAD: Listen to your team, Empathize to build relationships, Activate their strengths and passions, and Direct them toward proper and powerful outlets for their talents or frustrations.

But what was that other word? Sherpas are Himalayans renowned for their mountaineering. Often, these skillful locals will guide expeditions of even the most experienced climbers. They carry packs and equipment and know the safest paths to the summit.

Leaders act as chaperones, that’s true. But their most important title is Sherpa. It’s our job to guide these emerging leaders through the safe passages, warning them where the footing is unsure, and guiding them safely to the summit.

We can’t climb the mountain passes for these emerging leaders. We can only show them the way, making sure they take advantage of the lessons of the past and catch a vision for the future.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn!


Last weekend, I attended the Training Institute for Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership. This amazing program touched the lives of over 9,500 young people last year across the world. These next three weeks will focus on HOBY’s tagline and insights from the Training Institute.

It’s the job of leaders to raise up more leaders. But we can’t do that without stepping out of the way and empowering others.

Photo courtesy  Frederic Bisson , CC
Photo courtesy Frederic Bisson , CC

When we empower, we give power.

You can’t empower someone by patronizing them. It takes giving real, tangible power to others! This can be difficult if you started or built a company or program. But truly empowering others means endorsing them– and then letting them take the reins.

When we empower, we make powerful.

Remember that feeling you got the first time someone really believed in you. It happens every time you truly empower another individual. When we raise up leaders, we give them practical experience handling power in the appropriate fashion. In so doing, we’re creating powerful influencers unafraid to empower others. We’re lending them our influence and what power we wield– and it will be returned with interest.

When we empower, then, we multiply power.

Hogging all the power, making all the decisions, and running the show means your influence will only go to the end of your reach. By raising up new leaders, we extend the reach of our influence and magnify the message we’re spreading. By empowering young leaders to take the reins and, in turn, empower others, we’re multiplying power.

It’s difficult, but I’m learning to turn over the reins and share influence. As I do, I’m beginning to truly realize that leadership is a two-way street. We have so much to learn from those we lead! We benefit so greatly from those we empower.

You can connect with me on TwitterGoogle+, and LinkedIn!

My 4-Year-Old’s Get-it-Done Advice

“Daddy” is a word I hear approximately 73 times per day. I’m amazed sometimes at the pearls of wisdom that follow.

Photo Courtesy Nicki Dugan, CC
Photo Courtesy Nicki Dugan, CC


“Can you count to a thousand?” He’s so fascinated right now about how high numbers go. He can only count with any reliability to “thirty ten”.

“I can’t right now, buddy, it would take too long.”

“Well,” he responded. “Can you count to ten?”

Can you hear him? If you don’t have time or talent or motivation to count to 1,000, start by counting to 10! This seems a little too simplistic for us. I mean we’re adults, right?

Examine your behavior. Are you:

  • Starting (Too) Big?: It would take more than a ride to church to count to 1,000. It would take over 11 days to count, non-stop, to 1 million! By breaking difficult tasks or life goals into actionable and achievable segments, we can conquer even the most daunting of these.
  • Jumping Ahead?: Don’t cheat! We learn valuable lessons on each step of the journey. The temptation for my generation is to take our tech-savvy, outside-the-box thinking and “revolutionize” everything we come into contact with. But there is often more value in the climb than in the helicopter ride. Sweat equity buys much more than cash ever could.
  • Expecting Too Much?: My son does not yet know all the numbers on the way to 1,000. But he can learn them. Don’t expect too much of yourself right away. There will be things you don’t know on the way to pursuing your passions; you will need help. Media and cultural hoopla about a single person changing the world is bogus. It takes people to make a difference; build a community and watch how much better it affects change.
  • Doubting Yourself?: So you’re in high school. So you’re a college kid. So you’re a retiree on a fixed income. You’ve got this. You’re never to young or too old to start pursuing a passion. If you can count to 10, you can count to 1,000. Don’t let a big task get the best of you or make you want to quit. Break it down to its key elements and see if you can knock them out. If you can’t hack one of them, find someone who can.

You might need to slow down pursuing your passion. You could be building up to your dream without even realizing you’re leaving out components crucial for its success. What good is all that time and effort to build something that crumbles at the first sign of trouble?

You might need to pick up the pace! Has it been a while since you worked on that passion project? If you get to 990 and stop or get hung up on 500, “it’s been a good run” will not get you to 1,000. If you’ve broken down your dream into actionable segments, attack them! This is your dream we’re talking about.

You might need to get started pursuing your passion. There is the risk of failure. There’s also the risk of success. I highly recommend Jon Acuff’s book “Start: Punch Fear in the Face, Escape Average, and Do Work That Matters”. That’s not an affiliate link or paid placement (this blog is way too small for that), it’s just a stupendous book!

Let me ask you something, then: Can YOU count to ten?

In the Comments: What have you been mulling over for years? What are you afraid to do but know you’re called to do?

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

One Direction (Not the Band)

Remember January? When I promised to post each week? It’s May, it’s not happening, and I need to come clean on some things.

Photo Courtesy toffehoff, CC
Photo Courtesy toffehoff, CC

Over the last almost-two-years, I’ve been Director of Family Service at my wife’s family funeral firm. It’s been incredibly rewarding work; being on call all hours of the night and occasionally finding myself in really unpleasant situations could not rob me of the fulfillment that came with guiding families through a healthy grieving process.

Over that time, I’ve also enjoyed serving in a leadership capacity. I’ve trained new staff, diversified our memorial product offerings, written an operations manual, and sought to serve my coworkers. This time has given me the opportunity to learn and grow.

None of that has meant that I feel called to be there.

I don’t regret it a minute, but it’s time to move on. My calling is to create better communities and greater opportunities for young people. To that end, I volunteer with several youth organizations and work in the community to connect young people with service opportunities. Starting two weeks ago, I’m uniting my calling with my what-I’m-actually-doing.

It’s been really difficult because:

  • Success is Seductive. With each success we celebrate, we feel more and more “called” to do what we do. People even say so! If we’re so good at something, it must be what we’re called to do.
  • Expectations are Dangerous.  When the pressure is on, we surely don’t want to disappoint those who we think are counting on us. In fact, it’s easy to want to fit into their expectations of who we should be and what we should be doing. Especially when they’re paying us and/or we’re related.
  • Fear is Powerful. All of these self-help gurus that want you to believe that fear is powerless are living in dreamland. Fear can grip you– and even be legitimate! Let’s say you’ve got two kids, a mortgage, and other responsibilities. Will stepping out be worth it? What is the value of becoming who you want to be versus being what you need to be?
  • We Can Only Control So Much. My biggest fear, honestly, is being realized in my old workplace. I’m afraid that my legacy there is being torn down, old practices are creeping back in. Mostly, I’m afraid I’ve become the cause of every problem or the butt of every joke. It’s probably happening, but I’m not in control of it. The flip-side of this hold-me-up is what I can control– what I will do and who I will be.

A measure of hope can be found in what I can control, what expect and believe of myself, the peace I gain through prayer and faith in my next step, and the promise of a future about which can be passionate. I’m moving in one direction, aligning my passions and my calling into an actionable and intentional existence.

Would you pray for me? This week I’m studying for and taking the GRE. Hopefully, this Fall will see me start a Master of Arts program in College Student Affairs. I belong on a campus somewhere, connecting young people with their passions and with a promising future. Now that I know it (and believe it), the easy part is getting there.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!

The Power of Youth

Is being young an obstacle or an opportunity?

I asked a room full of ninth-grade students this question and was surprised that any of them at all viewed youth as an opportunity. Even into my twenties, my relative youth often seems like the biggest obstacle to success.

"Baby Boy Typing," Paul Inkles, CC
“Baby Boy Typing,” Paul Inkles, CC

When I was a manager in fast-food and active in business leadership roles, my youth often disqualified or discredited me in the eyes of my coworkers and the team members I led. Spectacular ideas that might require significant change were suddenly naive pipe dreams. Buy-in was hard to come by.

When you’re having to really grind it out against such tremendous resistance, it can be tempting to throw in the towel. But with persistence, effort and enthusiasm are recognized and rewarded.

From ninth-grade into your twenties (and perhaps beyond), some people will try to make your youth (or even youthful qualities like “enthusiasm”, “energy”, “excitement”, and “not being a jaded *bleep*-hole”) an obstacle.

Don’t let it happen.

The fact is that successful leaders will empower you to utilize the gift of youth to your (and your team’s) advantage. Older leaders will appreciate your drive and seek to develop you.

Your youth is an opportunity. People want to see you succeed.

Get excited. Don’t be afraid to take the reins when you can. Infect others with your enthusiasm.

You may be too young to drive or vote or run for a particular office or join a certain social club. But you’re never too young to make a difference. You’re never too young to lead.

For the aforementioned jaded *bleep*-holes, I acknowledge the importance of experience. But the most experienced leader in the world without the courage to take action will fail to lead every time. Put aside your sour disposition long enough to develop the young people in your organization.

Here’s a sobering thought: older people generally die before younger people. One day you’re going to need the young people you’re growing up. Are you empowering young leaders to be the bold standard-bearers of tomorrow or are you hammering out beat-down cowards to do what you’ve always done?

There is power in youth. Harness it for yourself and for your community.

You can connect with me on Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn!