Guiding Teens from Good to Great

Jim Collins took the business world by storm with Good to Great, the bestselling book that showed organizations how to reach beyond average levels of success and instead strive for greatness. I believe it’s time we took the same approach with our kids. We all want them to be healthy and happy, but what if that’s not enough? What if setting the expectation to get good grades and find a good job is cutting short their potential? What if, instead, we could raise our kids to be great?

No matter the situation you’re facing, no matter the challenges that get in your way, you have it within you to raise amazing children. The steps below will help make that happen.

1. Set New Expectations

From the first day I began working with teens I’ve noticed a phenomenon that just won’t quit: Kids fall down or rise up to meet expectations. Low expectations let them know we don’t expect much, and so they’re more than happy to meet them–why try hard when everyone expects so little? But the opposite is also true. When they’re set higher than high, kids strive. They push and reach and surprise. Greatness begins with expectation.

Let your teen know that you expect more than most from them, not through heavy-handed pressure but through belief. You believe they’re capable of great things. This will not only offer an immediate boost to their confidence and sense of acceptance to go for big things but also open their eyes to a greater potential. Your belief will help redefine what they think is possible.

2. Make Room for Growth

After setting the expectation, the next step is to back off. As parents, we have a tendency to take control and offer up our detailed plan for what our kids should do. Don’t. Instead, give them the freedom to dream their own big dream. Support them, guide them, offer insight when needed, but don’t smother them with prepared plans.

One of the exercises I enjoy most is giving my clients the freedom to set big goals. I offer no limits, no restrictions, just a springboard to paint a picture of things they’d like to do, be, or have in the future. Of course, they’re not always realistic (even when the purpose is to dream big), but within those lofty goals are hints at something that is within a stretched reach.

3. Seek to Understand

While the ideas are flowing, I again need you to resist the temptation to interrupt or correct. Giving your kids the chance to talk about things they’d like to accomplish in the future, especially when we’re talking greatness, opens the door to ideas but also to insecurities. It takes guts to open up and be that vulnerable. If you react with criticism, chances are they’ll immediately shut down and shy away from ever giving it another try.

This is the point to truly listen. I’m not talking about putting aside distractions and holding eye contact. I’m talking about really hearing what they have to say, letting their words tumble around in your head to fully understand what they’re trying to explain. Few things make us feel as good as being heard. In order for your teen to pull off greatness, he’ll need that type of support by the heaps and mounds.

4. Be an Accountability Partner

After your teen has chosen a project or goal or dream to pursue, it’s time to switch gears: out with the judgment-free support, in with the tough love of holding them accountable. Humans are hardwired to fear change. Change invites risk and risk invites the potential for pain and loss. As a result, we resist stepping out of our comfort zone. But that’s the one thing you can’t allow.

Your teen is going to find himself or herself in uncomfortable positions, doing things they’ve never before attempted; greatness requires talking to new people, doing new things, going to new places, thinking new thoughts. All of this “newness” is going to drive your teen back to the comfort of the average routine. This is why so many people start a goal but never finish. The discomfort it takes to change or achieve is too much to overcome. That’s where you come in. Your teen needs someone to hold them accountable, to check on progress and push them forward when fear gets in the way. No one is in a better position to offer that service than you. Be more than a cheerleader; be a partner in their eventual success.

5. Celebrate Success, Learn from Setbacks

The final step is perhaps the most important. Too many people believe the hard work in achieving great things is choosing the outcome, laying out the plan, and launching into action. Those steps may prove challenging, but the true test comes when our dreams are slammed to the ground by an uncaring reality. From the smallest goal to the grandest vision, setbacks, missteps, and failures play a role. They always do. The key isn’t to avoid wrong steps. The key is to make your way through the inevitable problems that slither into the best of plans. This is true for me, for you, and especially for your teen.

Help them see the truth about setbacks, how they are meant as a test and a means of growth. They aren’t signs of defeat or impossibility. They are everyday players in the quest to do and be something great. Expect them, prepare for them, accept them, and most important, learn from them. Failures truly are stepping stones to greatness.

It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to be a lot of work, and there will be some highs and lows. But following these steps can help put your child on a path to greatness.

Free Parenting Guide

After years spent helping teens successfully transition to becoming happy, healthy, responsible adults, I’ve discovered 7 qualities that make the difference, qualities that are present in every teen that thrives…and missing from every teen that struggles to make his or her way in the world.

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