“Images are the language of the 21st century” — Leonard Sweet.
Nationally renowned speaker Dr. Tim Elmore used images, mixed in with a few other activities, to relate important leadership and character traits to an auditorium full of Cooperstown middle and high school students last week.
Elmore is the president of Growing Leaders, an organization that says it provides public schools, colleges, civic organizations and corporations with "the tools needed to develop leaders who will transform tomorrow’s society." He has written several books in a series titled "Habitudes," one of which is being used in the district’s freshman seminal class. In addition to the students in freshman seminar, a group of athletes is studying the "Habitudes" lessons with the athletic director.
Elmore presented an image of an iceberg on a large projector screen. The top part represents skills and the other 90 percent hidden under the water is what makes up character, he explained.
“It is what is underneath the surface that sinks the ship,” he continued. “You are going to get pushed all your life to make sure your skills work, but nobody is going to push you about your character.”
He told students to consider themselves icebergs as they start their journey into the adult world. Just do not do what most adults continue to do, which is to follow the lead of others and not working on becoming the best person one can possibly be, Elmore advised.
A picture of Lindsay Lohan, from her younger years in “The Parent Trap,” suddenly appeared on the big screen. Elmore said there is no denying she has the skills of a great actress. Then he showed a more-recent photo, and said, “something went wrong below the surface.”
This got a chuckle from the crowd.
Tiger Woods then appeared on the big screen. It was a clip from CBS news where he admitted he had nobody else to blame for his marital affairs but himself. He said he knew his actions were wrong, but convinced himself the normal rules didn’t apply to him.
“I felt entitled,” Woods said in the clip.
In both cases, Elmore said, it was not skills holding the stars back. He told the students that people can continue to build on their skills, but generally trouble comes because of character.
According to Elmore, there are four ingredients of character: Self-discipline, emotional security, core values and personal identity.
Character was just the first part of Elmore’s discussion on how students can tap into their innate strengths to become leaders. Next, he talked about rivers and floods. The goal is to master becoming a river, he said.
“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything,” he explained.
IBM is a good example, according to Elmore, who explained how the company actually started losing millions of dollars once it started making more and more products.
“You would think more products would equal more money,” he said. “In fact, it was the complete opposite.”
Elmore said the company was a master of its one product and lost its identity when it became too big. He said the company has since refocused and is doing better.
“When many of you go off to college you will be attempted to sign up for lots of things. You will want to do everything, but I advise you not to do that. You need to focus and choose your river," Elmore said.
“You actually get more done if you are a river, not a flood. What you focus on expands. If your focus becomes deep, you will be amazed at what you can do,” he added.
The next topic of discussion was thermostats verses thermometers. Both deal with temperature, Elmore said, but one just tells what it is, while the other sets it.
The Growing Leaders president challenged all the students to be the thermostats in the room — to set the tone, not follow or be influenced by others.
Elmore then described a couple of ways to do just that. He said students should live by values and not to just react to what everyone else is doing. He also encouraged adding value, even if it is just with an encouraging word.
How do people become leaders? Elmore described four ways: Being born with the gift to lead, being put in the right situations (one that matches one’s passions, strengths and gifts), being positioned (when someone is asked to step forward and take on a challenge) and being summoned (when a problem comes about and something has to be done).
Harry Truman, the 33rd U.S. president, could have been elected the least likely to become a leader when growing up in school, according to Elmore. He said the late president was kind of a nerd, had big thick glasses, looked kind of frail and was made fun of a lot.
“He was the only president in the 20th century to never finish college,” Elmore said.
However, something happened when he was a young adult, Elmore said; Truman signed up to fight in World War I.
“When he was over in Europe with the rest of his troops, the Germans started dropping something from the sky. Nobody knew quite what it was, but they knew it wasn’t good. Everybody started to retreat,” he said.
“They are running in terror and Harry Truman had a horse fall on top of him. It was a miracle he did not die right then and there. But he squirmed up from under the horse and saw the rest of the men running in fear. He yelled out at the top of his lungs, ‘Stop, get back here. We have not finished our mission.’”
Elmore said the men stopped dead in their tracks and came back to finish the mission. And that night, according to Elmore, Truman wrote that he learned two things from that experience — that he had a little courage and that he loved to lead.
Elmore told students to expect to be called upon to lead at some point in their lives.
“Be ready for the challenge. Be called out. Let that summon you,” he said.
After school, Elmore met with faculty and staff to set the stage for further implementation of the leadership philosophy supported by the "Habitudes" series. Elmore also hosted an informational forum for parents and community members during his visit to the district.
Karen Lyons was one of the teachers from CCS who attended the Growing Leaders National Conference and Habitudes Training in June. She said she has been in education for more than 30 years and felt the training received from Elmore and the Growing Leaders affiliates was very inspiring.
“It has such a common-sense approach that I will be supporting it for many years to come,” she said. “I can see so many places where these skills can be used - certainly in our schools, colleges, community groups, small businesses and corporate America, but most importantly in our families. Leaders are everywhere, and we are all in this together. Everyone can benefit from the strategies and helpful guidance to insure that we all develop positive character traits that will insure not only our success, but our happiness in all aspects of life."