From the Archives: November 20

It certainly has been an interesting week following the election.  My father-in-law has moved in with Sue and I for a few months and is a CNN junkie.  There has been no shortage of news watching in our house.  Many times as I watched I saw potential leadership lessons that could be shared with students on both what leadership is and what leadership isn’t.  One of my favorite commentator/consultants is John Meacham.  He is a highly respected writer, presidential historian and biographer.  He shared the following observation from research on his books on the day after Election Day  – “Democracies do not work without empathy”.

The concept of empathy is distinctly different from sympathy.  Sympathy focuses on having feelings for the the situation{s) affecting others – I have sympathy for the poor.  Empathy focuses on understanding, being sensitive to, or vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experience of another.  One of best leadership lessons on empathy I utilized with my student council members and leadership class students is the The Squat Game (a copy is attached).  I was introduced to the Squat Game by Kenni Spencer.  Kenni was on staff at the National Leadership Camp I directed in Tennessee in the early 90’s.  The Squat Game was included in the 2003 NASSP/NASC/NHS publication Leadership Lessons – Lessons to Lead By. Through this activity participants experience and gain perspective on issues such as hunger, helplessness and responsibility for helping others.  I would often use this activity as a lead in activity for our annual Canned Food Drive, one of my favorite activities each year.  With the increased number of food-challenged families in our communities, these drives take on added importance.  

These annual food drives not only helped needy families in our community, they also provided an opportunity to teach and reinforce valuable leadership lessons, such as, goal setting, project planning, problem solving, encouraging involvement by others, communication and public relations.  My message to the student leaders each was to look back at what was done in previous years and make this year’s drive even better.  Our best year ever started with a well defined SMART goals.  There were two goals that year.  The first was to collect a school record number of cans this year (more than 6,000).  The second and probably most important goal was to have every first hour class collect at least one can per student.  It was this second goal that made success in the first goal possible.  When the Student Government officers looked at the date from previous years, they saw that while some classes collected more that 30 to 40 cans per student each year.  These were usually from the classes of the same few teachers and many classes did not collect any cans at all.  The strategies they developed included better utilizing a first hour student representative from each class as the contact person, providing the rep with a collection envelope and promo poster, recognizing levels of participation with certificates (gold, silver, bronze – if you achieved one can per student, you received a certificate to put up in the classroom), designing a logo unique to this year’s drive for Student Government members to wear to promote the drive, daily updates on the status of the collection via the daily announcements and a thermometer (the top classrooms were very competitive, posting a list of classes that achieved the one can per student goal, special classroom prizes (donuts, pizza, lunch) and t-shirts to the winning with the logo on the front and record total on the back.

Looking back, I believe that group of student leaders utilized  the Simon Sinek’s concepts of the Golden Circle and Starting With Why years before his book was published.  They did not start with what and drill down into why.  Instead they started with the why (helping as many families as we could and then worked through the how to get to the what.

I hope you and your family have safe and meaningful Thanksgiving.

As always feel free to contact me if you any questions or if you have a suggestion for a future “From the Archives” topic.  Stay positive and test negative!

Tom Heethuis,

Click here for a link to “The Squat Game”