The following is a guest article, written by Ariana Chaparro. Ariana is a recent high school graduate and is now taking a gap year before college to explore different career paths and interests.
A few years ago, a friend of mine was going through a challenging situation. I knew about some of her struggles and wanted to share my thoughts and advice, but I was worried she wouldn't listen or would think I was judging her and turn me away. I truly cared about her and needed to find a way for her to see that. I knew she would only listen to me if she knew I was genuinely listening to her.
Sometimes we're too quick to give our opinion, share our advice, or shut others down because we think they're wrong. Yes, sometimes the other person is wrong, or they do need our guidance, but there's a time and place for that. There are situations where we need to say something immediately, but other times we just need to listen, empathize, and try to understand where the other person is coming from.
As time went on, my friend started to open up to me, and for a while I just listened. There were definitely moments I wanted to cut in and share my thoughts, but I waited. I learned that she did not need me to tell her the same advice that everyone was already giving her and opinions that others were already throwing at her. She needed someone to listen and honestly care about how she was feeling. She needed somebody to encourage her when no one else would. Eventually, she opened the door for my thoughts and advice, and she listened! She considered what I had to say because she knew I had the whole picture in mind, not just an outside view.
Maybe you know someone going through a tough situation. Perhaps you have a friend who is living a lifestyle you think is wrong. Maybe you have a child who doesn't listen to what you say or fights back when you try to help.
Take a step back. Look at the bigger picture. If you can’t see the whole situation or understand their point of view, ask them to show you. We cannot expect to reach someone when we don't really know where they are. It may take a while. It might be hard for others to open up because of things we've said before or past experiences with broken trust. There's a time and place for everything. Sometimes it's not the time or the place for us to speak, but to just listen.
In a 2014 Ted Talk, David Brooks discussed two sets of values that we can pursue in our lives: resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are those accomplishments and capacities we can represent on a resume. Eulogy virtues are those characteristics and attitudes that are discussed in our eulogies. While most of us would agree that eulogy virtues are more important, we live in a culture that consistently affirms resume virtues. If we are not careful, as mentors, leaders, and parents, we too can affirm resume virtues over eulogy virtues in the lives of young people around us.
Brooks described how the two sets of values, or sides of our nature, work by different logics. The external logic that drives resume virtues is economic; the internal logic that drives eulogy virtues is moral. Tim Elmore and Andrew McPeak, in their book Generation Z Unfiltered, summarize the attitudes of these two sets of values or selves. The resume virtues tend to be worldly, ambitious, innovative, curious about how things work, and focused on accomplishment and success. The eulogy virtues tend to be humble, good, strong, curious about why we are here, and focused on honoring others, love and redemption.
In a world of standardized tests, social media posts, and a competitive global economy, it is easy to overemphasize those virtues that help get good grades, social media likes, and competitive job. As adults, we may unintentionally emphasize these virtues for Gen Z as we celebrate their resume virtues via our social media posts, and challenge or coach them regularly on school or work skills and accomplishments. Resume virtues are important, however, if they are overemphasized while eulogy virtues are underemphasized, we may find ourselves leading young people who lack internal motivation, a sense of moral direction, and empathy for others.
Gen Z needs encouragement to think beyond resume virtues and consider eulogy virtues. As an individualistic generation, they need to be reflective and determine their personal values, something that does not often happen in our busy, noisy world. Elmore and McPeak offer several suggestions to consider as we encourage young people. First, have them write their own eulogy, identifying key values. Consider also writing yours and sharing it with the young person you are mentoring. Second, ask the young person to identify actions that reflect those values they have identified. Third, ask them to put the actions that have been identified into practice. Last, provide support and encouragement.
What are ways that you currently encourage and affirm resume values in the lives of young people? Eulogy values? What are additional ways you could encourage the development of eulogy values?
Self-awareness is critical for effective multigenerational teams and leadership. Without self-awareness, we may fail to understand how members of other generations are perceiving or relating to our words and actions.
Researcher Dr. Tasha Eurich discusses two types of self-awareness. The first is internal self-awareness. This relates to how we see our “own values, passions, aspirations, fit with our environment, reactions (including thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, and weaknesses), and impact on others.” Dr. Eurich and her team discovered that internal self-awareness is “associated with higher job and relationship satisfaction, personal and social control, and happiness; it is negatively related to anxiety, stress, and depression.”
The second type of self-awareness identified by Dr. Eurich and her team is external self-awareness. This relates to understanding how other people view us, in terms of our values, passions, reactions and environment. Their research shows that people who know how others see them are more skilled at showing empathy and taking others’ perspectives.
Bradberry and Greaves, in their book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, define self-awareness as the “ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations.”
There are several ways to increase our self-awareness. The first is to reflect more. Take time to think about your words, actions, and decisions. Consider how others respond, or where you could have be more effective. While reflection is likely to reveal some areas where we need to change and grow, self-awareness is also about understanding how we are wired, what motivates and affects us. When we know these things, we can make decisions and choose opportunities that minimize our potential to respond poorly and maximize the positive impact of our strengths, gifts, and interests.
A second step to increasing self-awareness is to take the time to understand ourselves better. Assessments, coaching, or journaling are a few tools that can help us with this.
A third strategy to increasing self-awareness is actively requesting feedback and receiving it with gratitude and not defensiveness. There are many formal and informal ways to solicit feedback. One of my favorite growth strategies is to have reverse mentors who are older and younger than me. By requesting and graciously receiving their honest feedback on my behaviors, attitudes, and interactions, I can gain a deeper understanding of myself and how others perceive me.
Bradberry and Greaves tell us that “self-awareness is a foundation skill; when you have it, self-awareness makes the other EQ skills much easier to use. As self-awareness increases, people’s satisfaction with life…skyrockets. Self-awareness is so important for job performance that 83 percent of people high in self-awareness are top performers.”
Consider your own level of internal and external self-awareness. Where do you have the need to grow in your understanding of yourself and others? How can you engage someone older or younger than you as you seek to grow in your self-awareness?
James Emery White, in his book Meet Generation Z stated, “As the first truly post-Christian generation, and numerically the largest, Generation Z will be the most influential religious force in the West.” Author Jonathan Morrow explained that Gen Z is growing up in a world that rejects a Christian worldview, but desires the world that has the characteristics that biblical principles allow to exist. In addition, young believers often lack the education and discipleship that allow them to understand how faith applies in real life.
As America becomes increasingly post-Christian, church attendance and biblical literacy are on the decline. Data from the General Social Survey and the Pew Research Center corroborated a downward trend in church attendance in the U.S. “In the most recent GSS studies, 43% of respondents say they attend religious services at least monthly, down from 47% in the early 2000s and 50% in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, the share of U.S. adults who say they “never” attend religious services now stands at 27%, up from 18% in the early 2000s and roughly double the share who said this in the early 1990s (14%).” A LifeWay Research study found that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church actually read the Bible more than once a week and almost one in five churchgoers say they never read the Bible. Barna reported, “Since 2009, Bible reading has become less widespread, especially among the youngest adults. Today, only one-third of all American adults report reading the Bible once a week or more. The percentage is highest among Elders (49%) and lowest among Millennials (24%).” As we seek to encourage young people in their faith, we must recognize that they may not possess a basic understanding of healthy spiritual growth. As a result, they need intentional training, encouragement, and mentoring.
Even young believers with a strong faith, who desire to grow spiritually, often confront opposition to their faith that did not exist in our culture a couple of decades ago. David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock, in their book Faith for Exiles, contended that “today’s society is especially and insidiously faith repellent.” They reported that it is hard to grow resilient faith in this generation of young people growing up in a post-Christian culture. It is possible, however. Here are a few of the strategies we can employ as we seek to encourage spiritual growth in the lives of young people around us:
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are impacting many young people today. ACEs are potentially traumatic situations that occur before a child reaches the age of 18. They can include abuse (physical, emotional or sexual), neglect (physical or emotional), or household dysfunction (mental health, divorce, substance or physical abuse, or relative incarceration). Research indicates that around 30 percent of all children have experienced at least one ACE, that is roughly one out of every three Gen Z youth. Almost half of those have experienced more than one ACE. ACEs can have profound long-term effects on the mental and physical health of those impacted.
It is important for leaders, mentors, parents and teachers to be aware of negative situations affecting the young people around them and to provide support for those who have had adverse childhood experiences. Here are a few strategies to consider as we support Gen Z.
There is an African Proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Healthy, productive teams, however, require time, energy, and intentional leadership. This is especially true of multigenerational teams. I appreciate the perspective of former basketball coach, Pat Summitt who once said, “To me, teamwork is a lot like being part of a family. It comes with obligations, entanglements, headaches, and quarrels. But the rewards are worth the cost.”
The level of complexity and change in our world is increasing the need for self-directed and empowered teams. In his book, Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, General Stanley McChrystal, explains, “Much of what a leader must be, and do, has fundamentally changed. The heroic “hands-on” leader whose personal competence and force of will dominated battlefields and boardrooms for generations has been overwhelmed by accelerating speed, swelling complexity, and interdependence.” McChrystal and his co-authors describe the need for team leaders to begin viewing themselves more as gardeners, and less as chess masters. The new environment in which leaders today must operate requires less of the “move-by-move control” of a chess master, the approach more common in traditional team leadership. Instead, team leaders today can be more effective when they operate as gardeners, “nurturing the organization—its structure, processes, and culture” to allow team members to function with confidence, resources, understanding, and support that enable maximum motivation, collaboration, and innovation.
Tony Dungy, in his book, The Mentor Leader: Secrets to Building People & Teams that Win Consistently, echoes the importance of the leader’s role in creating an environment where teams can thrive. He explains that leaders must “engage, educate, equip, encourage, empower, energize, and elevate. Those are the methods for maximizing the potential of any individual, team, organization, or institution for ultimate success and significance. Those are the methods of a mentor leader.” Tony Dungy encourages leaders to walk alongside their teams. He explains, “If you want to make a difference in the lives of the people you lead, you must be willing to walk alongside them, to lift and encourage them, to share moments of understanding with them, and to spend time with them, not just shout down at them from on high.”
A lack of support from the leader is a key reason young people struggle on teams. Multigenerational teams thrive most when they have a leader who nurtures like a gardener, caring for the individuals on the team as a gardener cares and provides for the plants in a garden.
Reflect on teams where you lead or have influence. What about the culture or environment is healthy and empowering? What is unhealthy? Do you lead and influence like a gardener, who nurtures and supports the individuals and team? How could you do this more intentionally?
I was recently presenting on Gen Z, discussing the impact of cancel culture on young people today. Someone in the audience asked what cancel culture is so thought I would talk about it briefly here. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as: "a way of behaving in a society or group, especially on social media, in which it is common to completely reject and stop supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you."
While cancel culture is currently playing out in significant ways in our society as anyone from celebrities to CEOs can get "cancelled" for saying or doing something that is offensive to someone or a group of people, it is also a very real part of young people's personal lives. A 2019 New York Time's article, Tale's From the Teenage Cancel Culture, offered some powerful quotes from teenagers on the effects of cancel culture. Neelam, a 17-year-old explained, cancel culture is "a way to take away someone’s power and call out the individual for being problematic in a situation,” Neelam said. "I don’t think it’s being sensitive. I think it’s just having a sense of being observant and aware of what’s going on around you."
The article quotes another 17-year-old, Ben, who highlights one of the difficulties of cancel culture. He said, "people should be held accountable for their actions, whether they’re famous or not, but that canceling someone 'takes away the option for them to learn from their mistakes and kind of alienates them.'” The Cambridge Dictionary agreed that "the main argument against cancel culture is that it doesn't enable people who have wronged society the opportunity to apologize and learn from their mistakes."
Young people today are often living in fear of saying or doing something, or associating with someone or something, that could get them cancelled. They can also struggle with understanding the power of unconditional love, repentance, forgiveness, restoration and redemption in a culture that simple cancels those who make mistakes or do something that is deemed inappropriate or offensive.
As parents, leaders, and mentors, we need to model the reality that love, forgiveness, and restoration can exist in relationships. By providing relationships that are strong, safe, and supportive, we can help young people gain perspective and hope to live humbly, honestly, and confidently.
For more on this topic, check out this month's episode of The Leading Tomorrow podcast.
This month, we are celebrating the release of Daniel Generation in Spanish and Audiobook (English)! The print edition of the Spanish book is now available on our website. The Spanish ebook and English audiobook are coming later this month. Watch for updates! To celebrate, we are including an excerpt from the book below. Check out this month's The Leading Tomorrow Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts for more on Gen Z's pursuit of happiness!
From Daniel Generation, chapter five:
In 1985, 25 years before the iPad, NYU professor, Neil Postman wrote an insightful little book titled Amusing Ourselves to Death. In it, he discusses the power of technology to create a culture of “uninformed pleasure seekers.” He further explains how media has slowly infiltrated our culture resulting in the promotion of entertainment as the standard of truth. Postman discusses writer Aldous Huxley’s vision described in Brave New World. The book was published in 1932 and set in London in the year 2540. Huxley understood that no “Big Brother is required to deprive people…people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.” In Brave New World, Huxley depicts the reality of people controlled by their desire for pleasure, rather than by tyranny or pain. A century ago, Huxley feared that what we love, our need for pleasure, would ruin us.
Technology presents several real dangers for us today. First, is its highly addictive nature. Nicholas Kardaras, in his book Glow Kids, explains what he calls the “dopamine tickle.” “Dopamine is the feel-good neurotransmitter that’s the most critical element in the addiction process. When a person performs an action that satisfies a need or fulfills a desire, dopamine is released…into a cluster of nerve cells that are associated with pleasure and reward, also known as the brain’s pleasure center.” This triggers a signal to repeat the activity again.
Technology consistently provides a “dopamine” tickle. Simon Sinek discusses its addictive impact. “The youth of today want to do good…the problem is…they're all addicted to dopamine. We pretty much raised an entire generation addicted to the ding, buzz, beep or flash of their phone.” Text message and social media notifications give us the same dopamine reaction as gambling, drugs, and alcohol. In some cases, we can’t wait a few minutes to look at our phone. Playing video games, posting to social media, or watching YouTube videos can produce addictions if we fail to manage our actions and time.
Technology’s power includes its pervading influence. It guides our behaviors and perspectives by getting us to click on ads, buy things online, or read the articles fed to us. Technology today allows companies to track our every click and enables the constant barrage of personalized ads, products and information right to the device in our pocket or under our pillow. Daniel encountered a powerful program of training that sought to influence his loyalties and attention. He completed the training but controlled its power to inform or control him. We must do the same with technology. Technology provides us with valuable tools, but possesses the power to manipulate our time, attention, and loyalties. If we simply respond to, rather than manage, its influence in our lives we risk responding to the powerful dings, beeps, and flashes of our devices rather than to God.
I was recently coaching a college student through some anxiety she was feeling. As she shared her struggles, it became evident that she did not feel heard, understood, or valued in key relationships. I was reminded of the importance of truly listening to the young people in our lives. As we head into the holiday season, where we are interacting with family and friends, it is a good time to refresh our listening skills.
I wish I could say I am really good at listening, but it is one of those skills I am constantly having to practice and hone. While it seems simple, it may be one of the most difficult leadership skills to develop and practice because it requires us to set aside our own perspectives, interests, and need to be heard to focus on another person and what they are thinking and feeling.
Today, with the constant noise and distractions of social media, news feeds, YouTube, and the busy world around us, we often give things our partial attention. This can become a habit that inhibits our ability to listen fully to those with whom we are interacting.
Active listening requires that the listener move from passively hearing to actively engaging with the speaker. This type of listening uses both verbal and non-verbal communication methods and shows the speaker you are interested. So, let’s reflect on some skills that are important for active listening.
The National Student Clearinghouse released their latest college enrollment numbers on October 15, 2020. They are showing that a month or so into the fall 2020 semester, undergraduate enrollment is running 4% below last year’s numbers. “Most strikingly, freshman students are by far the biggest decline of any group from last year, with a decrease of 16.1% nationally and a 22.7% drop at community colleges in particular. First-time students account for 69% of the total drop in undergraduate enrollment.”
It is not surprising that many undergraduate students may be putting their college plans on hold amid uncertain times. This means a lot of students who might otherwise be in college are doing something else right now. I couldn’t help but wonder what this season looks like for those who are waiting to reengage their college plans. While mental health risks for college students were high prior to the pandemic, we are now seeing an increase in depression rates for college students since the beginning of the pandemic. It is critical for students today to have support and encouragement in this season as they make decisions that will allow them to thrive amid the uncertainty.
If you know a college-aged student who has put their plans on hold, or who is reconsidering their plans, here are a few ways to encourage them:
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!