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"This book is a great read for student leaders! I highly recommend making it part of your leadership curriculum. I've spent 20 years traveling the world working with teens. In that time, I've crossed few people I would recommend working with youth. Mike is a welcome gust of wind that speaks truth to teens and the challenges they face every day. He speaks with passion, and from the heart. He is charismatic and real. More than anything, Mike is a person of character that you will be proud to have in your building working with your teens. I fully endorse Mike and the work he does with teenagers!" – Jeff Yalden, Youth Motivational Speaker and MTV MADE Teen Life Coach

"Stepping up to leadership isn't easy. Using engaging stories and anecdotes, 'The Only 2 Words...' presents an excellent guide for young people who are looking to stand out as leaders." – Ashley Sherman, Program Director, YES! Safe Choices for Kids

"Read this book--but only if you want to grow as a person. Mike Hall gives us a concise and insightful guide not just for leadership, but for life. Excellent." – Erik N. Hadden, M.A., Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Higher Colleges of Technology, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

The Only 2 Words Young Leaders

Must Know

BRING MIKE IN TO SPEAK In addition to writing future New York Times best sellers, Mike is a full time motivational speaker to students across the country. He is an ABSOLUTE EXPERT in:

Bullying | Leadership | Cyber-life skills Groups that Mike has keynoted for: Student organizations such as 4H and the YMCA Public and private schools Student events and retreats Parent and/or faculty workshops Visit MIKEISSPEAKING.COM today to get started. Or email


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Copyright Š 2012 by Mike B. Hall All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. Printed in the United States of America. First Printing, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-61704-137-2 Mike Hall Productions 9515 Stawell Dr Huntersville, NC 28078 www.mikeisspeaking.com Cover art by Matthew Pfahlert thesilentp.com Back photo by Carol Anne Hartman cahartman.com Edited by Carrie Hall Page formatting by Carolyn Sheltraw

My cat was panting again. It was beyond hot in the car, and she wisely crawled under the driver’s seat where it was cooler. My gaze shifted from the tip of her striped tail to the blur of passing trees outside the window. The back seat was my own this time. Well, mine and the cat’s. My brother and sister were now both in college, and I had just finished 10th grade in San Diego. The hardest thing about growing up with a dad in the military was moving so many times. Each time we’d move, my brother, sister, and I would cram our army men, skateboards, socks, and the rest of our earthly possessions into boxes. Close boxes. Tape boxes. Label boxes with marker. Repeat until house is empty. Repeat the entire process every few years. This was one of those years. San Diego faded into the distance behind us as thoughts of life in Virginia presented me with a bunch of question marks. It’s a long trip to take when you’re fifteen and riding in the back seat of a station wagon, luggage on the roof, Mom and Dad up front. Could we not have taken a plane? My head against the window, headphones on, fighting the tears that ambushed me. Not only did I just wave goodbye to nearly everything familiar to me, but I would now have to begin



again as the new kid in town. I wanted to squeeze under the seat with the cat and disappear into her dark cave. When I would start at a new school (which I did too often), I would catch myself trying to impress people. I remember doing this 4 years earlier when we moved from Hawaii to San Diego before my 7th grade year. New kids. New teachers. New town. New slang to learn. New mall. New house. New potential friends. At least I already knew how to surf. And at least I moved to S.D. from somewhere cool. Even with that going for me, I still found the need to try and fake my way into quick friendships. This kid started talking to me in English class one day after he heard I moved from Hawaii. He wanted to know if I knew any Hawaiian words, so I told him that I actually knew the Hawaiian language, not just words. He thought this was awesome and asked me to say something in Hawaiian. I think it was something like “That girl over there is super hot.” Stupidly, I rattled off a few actual Hawaiian words with a bunch of nonsensical, filler “fake” words. He cracked up with his eyes wide at my talent. Of course, he then wanted me to translate something else, like “The teacher is ugly.” I faked it again.


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Why? What’s wrong with saying, “Um, no, I don’t know how to speak that language, but I know a few words”? The answer is simple. I wanted him to like me. I wanted everyone in class to like me. Deep inside was a desire to be a big deal, and when you can do things other people can’t, it’s a big deal. Being a big deal = mattering and belonging. Honestly, I would have even been excited about being a little deal. In the deepest places inside, I simply wanted these two things...I just didn’t know it. In hindsight, there have been leaders who cultivated these two things inside of me. Whether they did it on purpose or by accident, they are the leaders of whom I have the fondest memories. Once, back in San Diego, a guy named Ricky proved this to be true during gym class. I don’t think he even realized what he did for me. In gym class competitions, my skill level ranged from average to downright terrible. I was, for most of my life, among the last-picked students when selecting teams for any sport. Soccer, basketball, tennis, running, softball – ahhh, softball. This was MY sport on an unforgettable day in 9th grade.



For one spectacular thirty-minute class period, I somehow channeled Babe Ruth and destroyed every pitch that came my way. It was remarkable. I was remarkable. I mattered because I produced runs. My hits drove in runners, and we wrecked the other team. The pats on the back and free-flowing accolades were water to my thirsty soul. But the best was yet to come – the next day, when I was made to feel like I actually belonged to something. We lined up as usual in the grass beside the baseball diamond. Usually, I would hang in the back, trying not to care, but this time – I was picked... first. By Ricky. An upperclassman. He had seen my monstrous slugging percentage the day before. Two things were true at that moment in my life when I was fifteen years old. The reason I felt so great was that I brought value to the team and knew my leader wanted me on his team. I don’t share that story to point out Ricky’s leadership chops, but more to prove to you that what he did made me feel like I mattered and belonged. I still remember his name all these years later. Organizing a group of people to win a softball game or complete a task is not easy in and of itself. However, next-level leadership is when you not only succeed at the task, but build a bridge of respect between you and your followers. If you consistently lead


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

them into failing situations, they’ll stop following you. But If you consistently lead them without valuing and knowing them, they’ll stop respecting you. The best leaders know how to give those that follow them what they need. They know how to make them feel that they matter and belong. When leaders meet these two needs for people, those following will be faithful and dedicated. I don’t plan to spend a ton of time on how NOT to lead; that’s irrelevant. This book is about HOW to lead well. I will say this: the biggest hurdle for any leader is to realize one thing. It’s not about you as much as it’s about them. Sure, you can be a leader like George Patton, the war hero, and run roughshod over those that have been entrusted to you. You’ll accomplish some great things, but few people will like you and/or be inspired by you. They’ll follow out of fear instead of dedication to you or the task. They’ll do as they’re told, but rarely because they want to. You’ll lead like a lion, with a long list of people who view you as a bull in a china shop. You won’t bring out the best in them. My goal in these pages is to help you develop an understanding of how to accomplish



a goal with a group of people in a way that values them, not uses them. To accomplish this goal, you first need to be able to honestly assess your ability to lead, as well as look at your personality. Like growth in any area of your life, staring the truth right in the eyes is the place to start. That’s why this chapter is called “here.” We’re here on one side of a river with much to learn. Our main objective will be to understand what people actually want, which brings us to the idea of “matter and belong.” They are two words that carry very deep and profound meaning for every human being. If your team, class, or other group you are leading is feeling these two things, your leadership of them will be exponentially more effective and their dedication to you enduring. In the end of the day, your relationships with them are what matter equally, if not more, than simply winning or accomplishing goals with them. I’m not saying that a leader who really knows and values her followers, but consistently leads them to failure, is the point. That leader won’t last long. When I took over as the coach of a high school lacrosse team, they had never won a single game. In fact, in their debut season, they were outscored


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

240-6. The team was the laughingstock of the school. After games, other students would ask players how badly they lost, not even wondering if they had won. I did several things very right when I took over. First, I knew my assistant coach knew nothing about lacrosse. He was a longtime record-holding soccer coach. So I made him the “conditioning” coach. He was in charge of whipping the boys into shape daily at practice. He was in his element and was actually better at this role than I would have been; this also allowed me to be able to focus on teaching the actual game to the boys. Next, I invested in the overall morale of the team. I kept some on the team simply because of the passion they had for the game, even if they weren’t the best athletes. I moved players around until we found the best spot for them, one in which they could thrive. Hearing about the reputation of the team at school was painful. Something needed to be done to turn that around. Yes, we needed to win games. We were working on that, believe me, but I needed to do something right away that would improve morale. As silly as it may seem, I designed and printed black hoodies, tee shirts, and fitted ball caps for the team. They looked really tough.



At least they could LOOK like they were a part of something respectable. Many of the guys were so excited to wear their new team gear around school, and they got lots of compliments. Finally, I set four goals for the team. I was very vocal about these. Year one, we would win a game against a JV team. Year two, we would beat a Varsity team. Year three, we would have an even record. Year four, we’d make the playoffs. We accomplished every one of these goals. Now, not only did I set and attain goals that showed progress, I would tell the boys at every game and practice that the goal was to do your best and have fun. If they accomplished both of those, then we could say we were successful. The reality was that we were a really horrible lacrosse team. Every game was basically David vs. Goliath. If our goal every time was only to win, we would have walked around disappointed constantly. Don’t get me wrong – I never set out to lose a single game, and losing crushed me every time. Neither did I ever give the impression to the guys that I didn’t expect us to win. However, I knew that the odds were so stacked in the other team’s favor each game that


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

saying, “LET’S WIN TONIGHT!” was totally unrealistic. There had to be a voice of reason for the team – voice that sought progress, but did not expect magic, at least during the first season. My second season as coach we won our first game, and I got a cooler of water dumped on me like we had just won a world championship. It was one of the proudest moments of my life as I celebrated with the guys. I truly believe that their morale stayed high all along the journey to that first W as a result of my leadership – not because I am something special, but because I made them feel they were part of something special, and that they themselves were special, individually. More than anything, I’m proudest looking back on the way I knew each individual player and encouraged and pushed all of them as much as I could. That is not to say that I’m perfect, and that it was never tempting to use my role as leader of the team to hog the glory of our progress. We started winning games and developing standout players, and with that success came the tendency for my ego to grow. Like most people, I can get drunk on accolades and praise. It feeds into a turbine of selfish ambition that churns inside me. It was so cool, though, seeing those guys get their due praise



after working so hard. Their classmates stopped asking, “So how bad did you lose last night?”. An idea was growing stronger inside me. My leadership was more about their success and growth than my own. Then by default, when they succeeded, I succeeded. Remember that this success began with fostering “mattering” and “belonging” in each player on my team. What if you could lead people to victory and foster deep, respectful relationships between you and each of them, all at the same time? It’s possible to accomplish great things with them and yet not know them, or the other way around, but it’s not best. Too many people hear this kind of talk and dismiss it as weak, fluffy, or unnecessary. Those are the same people who I’d guess burn lots of bridges with their followers on their march to accomplish goals. I’ve been led by people like this, and I can say looking back that I don’t respect a single one of them. These leaders couldn’t have cared less about me as a person. I want you to be better than that. If you’re ready to embrace this “matter and belong” style of leadership, good for you. For me, I always learn the most through stories and experience. This book is filled with stories, but we need a way


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

to work these ideas out in a generic situation. As we explore these concepts, I am presenting a scenario for us to use as a backdrop. Bend down. Feel the grass and dirt on this side of the river. Let the pebbles run through your fingers and drop into the water. Skip a stone in the current and watch the circles spread wide. Lean forward and see yourself staring back at you. Say, “I’m not perfect. I don’t always know the right thing to say to those who follow me. My thoughts and actions have a habit of turning selfish. Yet, I commit to learning and growing and being open to new ideas and a fresh approach to leading people.” And now see face after face stand beside and behind you in the reflection. These are the reflections of your followers. See the hope in them. See the pain they may feel. See past their faults. See their dreams. See their gifts and talents. See into their hearts. Most importantly, see their potential. Welcome to the bridge.


I wrestled with the extent that I’d flesh this whole scene out for you. If I give you too much, you’ll just end up thinking like I do. That’s not the goal here. The goal is for you to cultivate inside of you your own unique leadership prowess in your own unique way. Our common denominator will be for you and I both to learn to lead by helping our followers know they matter and belong.

1. What You are standing at the edge of a river with ten people who have appointed you as their leader. The bridge is damaged. If five people cross over without it being repaired first, the bridge will collapse once they have crossed, leaving the rest of your group stranded. It is sunrise. At sunset, grizzly bears hunt in the very place you are gathered. If



you do not get everyone to the other side by then, they’ll be in great danger. You cannot afford to fail.

2. Who Your group is made up of: 1 in a wheelchair 1 who is blind 1 who is 8 months pregnant 1 who is an engineer 2 who are excellent swimmers 1 who is a comedian 1 girl who is very tall and strong 1 who is very young, small, and physically weak compared to the rest 1 with a terrible attitude Take out a pen and write next to each of the above: 1 advantage to having them in your group. 1 challenge they present. Leaders need discernment. They see the potential in their groups, but are also aware of potential challenges. The best leaders know how to turn the challenges into advantages. Here’s an example. Many years of my life have included involvement in Young Life, a faith-based mentoring organization.


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

At most Young Life week-long camps, the 300 or so students are taken on a hike. Usually it’s a daylong adventure that starts in the center of the camp and lasts 5 or 6 hours as the group is led up a considerably difficult trail to a scenic overlook. I’ve seen teenagers make it to the top that you’d never expect to see hiking. It’s pretty much magical at the top, with wide expanses of wilderness for miles in front of you. Seeing some of these students up there takes the moment itself and intensifies it. Sometimes, students with limited physical abilities attend camp, and since we wanted every kid to have the opportunity to experience the magic of the summit, no one was going to be left behind. One year a cabin full of teenage guys and their adult leader actually carried a girl that was normally confined to a wheelchair up the mountain in a makeshift stretcher. It took them much longer than the rest of the group. They were exhausted, but the cheer that arose from the crowd when they arrived at the top was enough to give anyone chills. They then carried her all the way down. I guarantee you that this experience likely had more impact on the guys than it did the girl. It was an opportunity to do something memorable. Something meaningful. Something life-changing. Something selfless. What seemed to be a disadvantage for the group



as a whole turned into a wonderful moment in these students’ lives. Their leader’s vision catalyzed mattering for his guys and belonging for this girl. Beautiful and powerful.

3. How Since this is a book on leadership, I want to give you a blueprint as to the steps you should take to accomplish anything with your followers. Many books have been written about achievement, but here we’ll see a plan that will encompass more than merely finishing a task. Throughout this section, I suggest many ways to make sure that all your followers know and feel that they matter and belong. Gather (facilitates belonging) As you consider the people that make up your group, what is your first move? The smartest thing to do from the outset is to gather them. Immediately join forces. Don’t let a single person feel left out. Bond them together with you and with each other. This gathered time should be both circular and classroom style. Circular: You need to create an opportunity for everyone to look at each other and be on the same level. Everyone should be validated and known, not just by you, but by everyone else. This could


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

be as simple as wearing name tags, or as involved as taking an overnight retreat with them. As you respect them by giving them a voice, they’ll respect you for your humility. Classroom style: There must also be time for you to talk and for them simply to listen and understand. Let them ask questions. Make them repeat important points back to you. Summarize the essentials at the end of this time. In our bridge scenario, time is very limited and failure is not an option. Get right to the point. Most times, though, you’ll have more of a cushion when it comes to the length of the gathering, but please, please don’t hold people hostage in meetings while you drone on and on about inconsequential details. At the bridge, you can’t sit around for hours on end. Time is of the essence. Get right down to business. As the leader, you must discern the right amount of time to invest into your gathering stage. Gathering is imperative. Your advantage as the leader during this time is that you’ll immediately gain insight into personalities and character traits. When you’re the leader, keep in mind that there are actually three types of dynamics within your group.



You and the group as a whole You and the individual members Individual members and each other You are responsible for all three, all the time. If one member has an issue with another member, it’s your responsibility to manage it. If two members are making another feel horrible, it’s your responsibility to handle it. That’s what a leader does. I’m not saying you need to have your nose in everyone’s tiniest issue, but you must be aware of and foster synergy within your group. Decide You basically have three options for how to accomplish this goal today: Repair the bridge Build a new bridge Find another way across If you were in this situation, put those in order by which seems the best choice. Put a 1, 2, or 3 beside each solution. This is where decisions must fall to the leader. Do you lead the group to vote and have a democratic outcome? Do you pull aside the brightest members


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

and ask their opinions? Do you simply decide for the group with no one else’s input? None of those answers is wrong if you have the group’s best interest in mind. Keep in mind that you’re the leader for a reason. The group needs you to lead. There is in fact a real problem that must be solved, and you don’t have a lot of time. Define (facilitates mattering) A great leader knows how to define the goal. I’ve heard this step as “defining the win.” How does everyone know if progress is being made? How do they know when it’s over and if you were successful? In some situations, like in a soccer game, it’s obvious. Whoever has more points when time runs out wins. Great leaders know how to define goals when they might be hard to pinpoint. Delegate (facilitates mattering) You can’t do it all on your own, and as a leader, you shouldn’t. Your group needs you to lead them. Give the tasks away. Give the responsibilities away. Then, you make your way around the group, checking in as the tasks are being completed. You can even get your hands dirty with them. It’s important to pinpoint other members with leadership skills or influential personalities. You should hand off supervisor-type responsibilities to them and trust them



to be wise with their duties. Let them oversee sections of the group. Here’s my mantra for you when it comes to this: Either stop doing everything yourself, or accept that you are merely a hard worker, not a leader. Leaders delegate. Deploy (facilitates mattering) Tasks now need to be completed in order to accomplish your goal. Send everyone out with passion and purpose in your voice. Give them a strong reason to believe that they matter and belong to the group. Applebee’s was a great place to work. The managers were always easy for me to get along with. One thing I appreciated about them was their mobility throughout their shift. When one person gets behind in their duties at a restaurant, it’s called being “in the weeds.” Each time staff members were “weeded,” a manager would jump in with them at their station. Cooking fries, making salads, washing dishes, busing tables. The way they knew when someone was weeded was from constantly making their way from place to place around the restaurant, checking in. Sometimes they’d merely


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

observe without engaging in any conversation. If a person at a particular station was getting behind, the manager would roll up his or her sleeves and carry some of the load for a few minutes. After you deploy your members, you need to stay connected to them and help when you can. Just do NOT get stuck for an extended period of time with one or two members. Two things will happen. First, the members that you’re not with may (and sometimes rightly so!) feel that you don’t like them as much. This could be hazardous to your leadership. People that feel neglected and out of the loop will start talking to each other...about you. Always. And it’s rarely positive talking. Second, another member may get “in the weeds,” and you’d have no idea. If one person gets behind, it will eventually affect the whole group’s progress. Debrief (facilitates belonging) When the day is done, when the work is done, whether you accomplished your goal or not, you must bring the group together to discuss what happened. Remember this imperative point, though: Praise individuals PUBLICLY and criticize individuals PRIVATELY.



Shaming someone in public almost never has the effect you think it will have. In fact, it usually backfires.

Let’s press pause. You’re going to get the chance to personally work out this bridge crossing exercise in part 4. There is still much to learn before we tackle our dilemma of getting everyone across the river.


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Welcome to the main course. It was necessary to build a foundation before serving you this sizzling dish of knowledge (looks like I’m still thinking about Applebee’s). Think of this section like surf and turf. Two entrees. Equally delicious and nutritious. Vegetarians, just imagine that they are made of tofu. We’re going to put followers under a microscope to see how they tick. We will, of course, see their commonality. Aside from their desire to matter and belong, though, there are also some important areas of variance that I want you to see first.

How followers are different: 1. Desire for personal interaction with the leader Some members won’t need personal interaction at all. Others will seek you out every time you turn the corner. It is the job of the leader to know and manage this. Remember, you only have about 10 hours to cross the river. You cannot simply sit in the shade and share jokes and childhood stories with the needier members just because they crave it. You should not ignore this reality, though. If some



need to talk a lot, consider teaming them up with others who like to talk. This then frees you up to bounce around from member to member throughout the day or length of the task to provide direction and encouragement. 2. Ability to positively or negatively influence the group When you say “jump,” some say... How high? (clear submission and respect) Why? I only will if I see others jumping first. No. Make me. (open defiance) These attitudes must be managed. The “how high” people will be huge assets, providing you with instant assistance, while the “make me” folks will require a very short leash so they do not poison the entire group. It is also quite possible that those with such a defiant attitude are actually involved in the wrong group and should spend their time somewhere that is a better fit for them. Sometimes it’s necessary to send them packing to another group, but I’m a fan of seeing things through with the whole group intact whenever possible.


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Fresh out of college, I was offered a unique opportunity to lead. A friend invited me to a Young Life summer camp for a month to provide leadership for 30 high school students who were there to work as volunteers – doing laundry, washing dishes, serving tables, etc. Several times during the month, a student would threaten to go home due to some sort of tension with another worker. I have rarely been so proud as when I stood up on the final day and said, “We did it. We’re all still here. We finished together.” It was physically, mentally, and emotionally draining to have conversation after conversation with several students and occasionally the whole group about teamwork, but the life lessons learned in this area, for all of us, were well worth the exhaustion. 3. Work ethic We’re all raised differently. While some of us grow up on farms, waking early, driving tractors, and caring for animals, others of us grow up in posh gated communities, only concerned with making it to practice on time, leaving our dirty dishes on the table for someone else to wash. Neither is better in and of itself, but just know as a leader that your members have been raised in differing situations and with differing expectations for work.



Once when I was moving, we were packing the truck, and a friend came over to help. Only he barely helped. He carried a few boxes here and there and mostly wanted to stand around and talk to me about stuff. It was annoying to me because there was a lot of work to do. I wanted to hurry up and finish so that we could then chill and talk. Some members will be in absolute beast mode; some will want to take a break every four minutes. It’s imperative to realize that the harder workers will get VERY frustrated by those that seem lazier. You must keep the beast mode members working like horses if you want to make the best progress. Few things are as disheartening to a hard worker than seeing lazy workers enabled by the leader. Maybe they just have a sucky attitude and need some tough love. Maybe you haven’t put them in a role they can flourish in. Maybe you haven’t spent enough time with them. As the one in charge, it’s your responsibility to discover how each member is motivated and then motivate them. 4. Motivation sources People are motivated by different things. Some are motivated by prizes and incentives. Some are motivated by accolades and pats on the back. Being around positive and hard working members could


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

motivate some people. While a few could be motivated by a quick, relaxing break, others won’t want to stop at all. Still others are motivated by simply knowing they completed a task using hard work and ingenuity. You have to know what motivates people to spur them to action. In our bridge scenario, the desire not to be “bear dinner” should be motivation enough. In normal, day-to-day life, though, your followers will need unique encouragements to keep them spurred into action. Do you know your followers? Have you taken the time to listen and understand them? If you have, then seeing their individual motivations should be easy. 5. Dedication to the task FACT: there is a task that must be completed; therefore, you must manage personalities. While some members go with the flow, some push against it. If you have been clear with defining the win, then most will be dedicated to seeing the process through. Be aware, though, that not everyone in your group will see the same value in completing the current task at hand. They may be looking forward to what’s next on the agenda or still lingering in what happened yesterday. Knowing that their dedication levels will vary helps you keep the less focused members focused.



How followers are the same: (or, the only 2 words young leaders must know) 1. Desire to matter In my third season playing lacrosse, I was issued equipment and a jersey with the number 22. The bench was a good friend of mine that year. Every once in a while, I’d get in the game for a minute or two, but I didn’t really contribute to our success. I belonged, but didn’t seem to matter. Later as a lacrosse coach, I remembered how I felt as a young player and did my best to convince each guy that he mattered to the team. I’ll be honest – one player never felt like he mattered. He was a state champion wrestler that wanted to play lacrosse, but he wasn’t very good at it. I knew he was a stud athlete with a great work ethic, so I gave him a shot to be the second-string goalie. At practice and in games, he’d always have some kind of role to play, but not enough of a role to keep him happy. He stayed around for one season and moved on. I should have seen this coming, but I didn’t, and I can’t blame him for quitting. His prowess on the wrestling team gave him a huge dose of mattering that the backup lacrosse goalie job didn’t. I’m not saying I should have given him a starting role; he really wasn’t good. What I could


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

have done was talk to him honestly about how he was feeling. An attempt could have been made to give him perspective. I could have done this, but I didn’t. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes someone is honestly not a good fit for your team/ group/class. In the end of the day, if you have done the hard work of getting to know them and have talked through their unique gifts, motivations and passions, but they just aren’t a good fit, then by all means, cut them loose to pursue opportunities that are better-suited to them. Just never let them leave as a result of you not leading them. How can you cultivate “mattering” for your group members? See them. Listen to them. responsibility.

Give them real

At one New Jersey high school where I was involved with Young Life, there was a senior who was around 6 ft 7in. He, of course, played center for the basketball team. The only thing was, he wasn’t very good. He could easily dunk, but rarely did so in a game. He was a quiet, skinny kid who was not at all a showboat, but everyone else wanted him to be because they wanted their team to be exciting, and they wanted their team to win. I can imagine



him growing up as a tall kid and everyone shoving a basketball in his hands every time he turned around, never even wondering if it’s what he really wanted or even enjoyed. They assumed. Maybe they were right, but maybe they weren’t. Everyone can be involved, and it’s the leader’s job to assure that it happens. Everyone has a role they can play. What I want you to be aware of is the tendency to do two things. Don’t assume too much about your followers’ talents, gifts, and desires. Picture working on the bridge and needing a heavy object moved. Go back to the list of your group member’s descriptors. Remember the tall, strong girl? Would you ask her to do it? Would you ask the 2 tiny members? Now, you only have 10 hours to achieve your goal this time. Relying on limited knowledge is understandable when facing crucial time constraints. Let’s assume you had more time, though. You might be totally surprised to find out the stronger-looking member is actually extremely uncoordinated and has a terrible work ethic. The two little members, it turns out, are total work horses. Well, that makes a big difference, doesn’t it? However, you couldn’t be expected to know this


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

about all of them so quickly. It takes time to learn personalities. Here’s a helpful picture of this.

An area that I’ve always struggled in as a leader is the tendency to do things myself. There’s an awkwardness that comes with delegation for me. The eyes of my followers looking back at me seem to say, “and why aren’t YOU doing this? Are you lazy or incompetent?” Maybe that’s just my perception. Regardless, whenever possible: Don’t do it yourself, let them. That’s your job, to let them do what you probably could do. Unfortunately, most leaders end up



doing things themselves because it’s easier and sometimes more efficient. That’s not leadership, though. It’s simply showing yourself to be a hard worker. That’s all. Plus, you are obviously limiting the progress you could make if you and your entire team were working together. No matter how talented you are, you cannot accomplish as much as an entire group. I was recently in the Miami airport with my 8 and 10 year old kids. At the check-in kiosk, I handed my son my credit card and had him carry out the entire process as I looked on. Then my daughter collected the boarding passes as they printed. They were responsible for the passes until we got to security. I didn’t give them a fake responsibility. It was very real. A true leader gives away real responsibility to the group members. I was able to see this principle firsthand when I worked as a substitute teacher. I would always look for an “influencer” in my classes and use them to help guide the group. It’s always annoying when a student says, “our teacher always lets us work in pairs” or “we’re allowed to go use the restroom whenever we want to” or “she doesn’t care if we make out in the back of the room during class.” To avoid having to deal with this when I worked as a


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

substitute, I would find an influencer in the classroom. Usually this is the same as “popular,” but not always. It was not always obvious on my first day at a school, but sometimes you can just tell by looking at someone. I’d have that student come up to the front and sit in a chair next to the teacher’s desk. If I ever had a question about what to trust or who to trust, I’d simply whisper to my assistant, and they’d always give me the truth. Without fail. The reason this system worked was that the assistant felt empowered, like he or she mattered to the situation and was in control of something. I also had the genius idea of having a student take roll, which everyone always loved. This also saved me from the embarrassment and respect deductions that come from mispronouncing names or having the students answer as the wrong person, which they think is hysterical. As you create opportunities for your followers, consider how you might nudge them forward in their own development as human beings. Real leaders are able to assess the potential in someone and are able to coax it out of that person by giving him or her responsibilities that are just barely beyond what they are currently able to handle. This guarantees their growth. In class, I’d give a student an actual responsibility, not something fluffy and meaning-



less, by using him as my assistant. This ended up validating the student and in turn validating me as the leader. I wasn’t trying to do everything myself. Others were drawn in to accomplish goals. What’s cool is that the students who were made into my assistants felt like they mattered to the group. One day after subbing, I organized (with the help of a few students that I delegated responsibilities to) a mud football game. On the field out in front of the school, ten teenagers and I prepared for allout mud-slinging pandemonium. Most of the guys were somewhat athletic and/or actually played football for the school. Matt, on the other hand, was no athlete. He played a LOT of video games, fixed computers, was a bit overweight, and wore gigantic jeans. Being 8 years older than everyone, I took the role as all-time quarterback. There was a turning point in the game when I decided to hand the ball off to Matt. Matt ran. Defenders grabbed him, but could not contain his power or relentless forward motion. I loved it. We had found his role. He knew it. I knew it. We all knew it. So I named him the “rhino.” Now, to be fair, I am embellishing. Yes, he did great, but his performance was amazing mostly because I made a HUGE DEAL about it. Every time he’d carry,


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

I’d pretend I was witnessing history. Then I gave him a fitting nickname. The other guys began calling him that, too, and it actually stuck well past the game itself. I was on facebook the other day and saw a status update by Matt. It read, and I quote, “Get ready, L.A. The rhino is coming to visit.” What you have to know is that the football game happened in 1999. He has never forgotten. He knew what he felt that day. On that day in 1999, Matt mattered to his team mostly because of my leadership.

2. Desire to belong The nickname I gave Matt helped make him feel like he belonged. Nicknames are either the best or worst thing that can happen to us. Sometimes they are cruel, like the one given to me by the other 6th graders in my class when we lived in Hawaii: tourist. They’d ask me where my camera was and tell me to go back to the mainland because I wasn’t welcome there on the islands. It was heartbreaking to me as an 11-year-old. Two years later I was in class in San Diego with an oddball teacher that everyone loved. Mr. Column was out of his mind and in a good way. He loved teaching. I think the guy was an ex-hippy. He kept



a loaded Super-Soaker in his desk drawer to shoot anyone who dozed off. Pretty much everyone in class received a nickname at the beginning of the year. Bert was dubbed “Bert toast.” Marlow became “Marlitoooooo.” Anna became “Chilly.” I became “Passage Head” since my last name is Hall. PreAlgebra with Mr. Column is to this day the best class I’ve ever had. Yeah, I probably learned some math, but you better believe I felt like I belonged there. How can you cultivate belonging within your group? It’s honestly not rocket science, but it does take conscious effort on your part. Think back to how I described the initial gathering of your group in the bridge illustration. Which of these would help members feel like they belong? Take a pen and rank your top 3: • • • • •

every name is known by everyone each member’s talents are made known the leader encourages and inspires the group the main goal is defined the timeframe of the goal and tasks are made clear • positions and tasks are divided up • checkpoints are established (the group must know how to keep track of progress)


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Penn State, which is still reeling in the wake of the child abuse scandal of 2011. As I was leaving the Nittany Lion Inn to lead a workshop, I stopped to read the front page of the school paper. To honor the dedication of the football players who are staying to play this year, the school is putting the players’ names on the backs of their jerseys. In over 100 years of Penn State football, this is the first time...ever... that they are doing this. I thought it was an incredible gesture to the players. They won’t be able to play in a bowl game this year, but they know they belong. They’re one of the gang. It’s not hard for me to understand why kids join real gangs. Too many kids come home to an empty house after school. In many families, young people are left more and more to fend for themselves while the parent works one, two, maybe three jobs. Sadly, to some kids, the gang becomes family. They learn the signs, wear the colors, and become part of something. It’s important to know that you can in fact feel like you matter without belonging and vice versa. When I worked at the YMCA, I had a killer job. I ran this gigantic teen center on the property. Although I knew what I was doing mattered, I often felt dis-



connected from the other Y directors. One obvious reason was that they all had offices and programs in the main Y, while I was mostly at the teen center. I wonder if my leader ever realized that he could have made more of an effort to include me when everyone would go out to lunch or go play trivia at night. I mattered, but didn’t feel like I belonged. Being a head high school lacrosse coach was an incredible experience. One way that I nurtured my individual relationships with players was on bus rides to games. I would sit with different players every time during the hour-long rides and get to know them personally. I could have done what most coaches and chaperones do and sit with the other adults in the front, but I rarely did. Matter and belong. It’s possible to have one without the other, but that’s not the goal of your leadership. So here’s a quick word of caution as you move forward. Convincing me that I matter, but don’t belong, can make me feel manipulated. Manipulation is getting others to do what you want them to without caring how it affects them, how it affects their progress as human beings.


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Manipulation is actually a subtle form of bullying. It disregards their experience and only focuses on yours and/or the outcome of the situation or task at hand. What about when I feel I belong, but don’t matter, to the group or to the leader? More often than not, you won’t be able to keep me around long. If I am made to feel like I don’t belong, I will go matter and belong somewhere else.


As a leader, be careful not to live vicariously through your group. They are not your pawns for you to get the glory. You are here for THEM more than they are here for YOU.

1. Complete your goal Now it’s time to prove you’ve grown as a leader. You are going to write as much as you’d like in each space provided. I don’t care what you would have written before reading this book, only what you’d do now. Leave the past in the past. Now go get a pen... You are back at the river. You have been appointed leader by a group of 10 people. Let’s begin.



Gather: (summarize how this plays out with you as leader)


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Decide: (How will the goal be completed? Be sure to write out why.) Repair the bridge

Build a new bridge

Find another way across



Define: (present the tasks to be done in order to complete the goal)


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Delegate: (Give the tasks away. Who does what?)



Deploy: (send the members out to begin. Who is going where? What are the checkpoints you’ve established?)


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Debrief: (Consider writing how you would talk to them if the goal was NOT accomplished?)



We can assume that we all would successfully accomplish our goal. After all, it’s a hypothetical situation. So you can put your pen down and lean in close as we tie this all together.

2. Moving forward, remember these essentials 3 relationships you must manage: Member to Member Leader to Group

Leader to Individual

Successfully attacking any problem with your group: Gather Decide Define Delegate Deploy Debrief What every follower wants: to matter and to belong


The Only 2 Words Young Leaders Must Know

Currents carry sticks and leaves down the broad river. In the twilight, you can make out shadows of prowling bears on the bank across from you. They’ll have to settle for squirrels rather than your group members for supper tonight. Well done. But was it done for the good of your group? Did they have a chance to grow? Simply completing your goal does not make you a successful leader. After all, you could have told everyone to sit in the grass, jogged 5 miles downstream, found a shallow section you could wade across, and then brought your group to safety. The task is completed, but has your group even been involved in the process? This makes you a HERO, but not a LEADER. I want you to be a leader who inspires, respects, and cheers on your followers as you release every drop of potential from them. Ultimately let THEM be the heroes. Your reflection ripples and glimmers back at you. The image of a leader stares piercingly into your eyes. 2, 4, 6, 8, 10 members flank you and put their arms around one another and around you. They believe in you. 57

You have made them to feel that they matter and belong.

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The only 2 words young leaders must know  

The only 2 words young leaders must know  

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