What Should We Teach Our Kids About Leadership? Interview with Jeff Myers
By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #78, 2007.
Jeff Myers has made a career of teaching kids about leadership. Here's what he has to say.
Speaking on September 13 at Dr. D. James Kennedy's funeral, James Dobson of Focus on the Family asked:
"Who in the next generation will be willing to take the heat, when it is so much safer and more comfortable to avoid controversial subjects? Who is going to defend traditional morality in a culture that is sliding into moral decline? Who will call sin by its name, and lead a nation to repentance and holiness?"
Reading this, I immediately thought of the "leadership guy," Dr. Jeff Myers. Author of three popular leadership courses (Secrets of the World Changers, Secrets of the Great Communicators, and Secrets of Everyday Leaders), Jeff has built a reputation as the "go to" guy when homeschool conferences are looking for someone to talk to teens and their parents about leadership.
So, how did this Associate Professor of Business at Bryan College (bryan.edu) hit such a chord with so many people?
I caught up with Jeff while he was en route to yet another speaking engagement with his son in tow. Here's Jeff's story, and his vision for our children's generation.
Jeff Myer's folks were from Kansas and Oklahoma, but moved to Detroit, MI, in the 60's to get jobs. He was born there, although soon after the family moved back to Kansas, where they began homeschooling his youngest brother. "They realized he just wasn't fitting into the school environment," Jeff relates. "He was getting sick all the time and getting into fights. So I wasn't homeschooled, but my two youngest siblings were homeschooled."
In high school, Jeff got involved in competitive speech and debate. His team ended up winning their state's high school debate tournament. That led to opportunities to be involved in collegiate debate at Washburn University in Kansas. After graduation, he was hired to teach speech and coach debate while he worked on his Master's at Baylor University, which at that time fielded the #1 debate team in America. "That opened up a lot of doors," he says.
While Jeff was at Baylor, he was involved in a car accident that broke his neck in three places. He had to drop out for a year before resuming his studies. "During that year at home with my family I observed my parents homeschool my siblings," he says. It was a time of spiritual revival for him. "The experience of coming close to death and having a miraculous recovery changed my whole perspective on life and upset all my priorities. I no longer desired just what other people defined as success."
After recovering, Jeff went back to Baylor to resume his studies and coaching. Then he received a fateful call from David Noebel at Summit Ministries. Dr. Noebel said, "We just did two days of interviews about Summit on Focus on the Family's radio program. We've gone from having 250 students to having 14,000 requests for applications. How soon can you get to Colorado?"
In Colorado, Jeff helped develop Summit's Understanding the Times curriculum.
In 1997 he moved to Tennessee with his young family to teach at Bryan College. "So that's what I do to this day," he reports. "I teach undergraduate courses in leadership and MBA courses in effective managerial communications." This led eventually to self-publishing the three video courses mentioned at the beginning of this article. He also still is on the board of Summit Ministries.
Jeff sounded passionate as he explained, "My focus is preparing the next generation of culture-shaping leaders. I wanted to develop courses that would help students get a bead on God's design for them... what their calling was. So that first course was called Secrets of the World Changers. The reason for the name was that I studied world-changing leaders and realized they didn't have a formula for leadership. They just did what they could not NOT do. They were stubborn enough to do precisely what they were designed to do, as opposed to merely trying to meet the expectations of others, or leading self-indulgent lives. They acted purposefully because they were doing things that returned energy to them and made them feel more alive.
"The second course I developed was Secrets of Great Communicators. I realized that great communicators didn't set out to make speeches; they set out to make a difference. I knew that communication was the bridge between someone with a genuine worldview and someone with an influence.
"The most recent course I've developed is Secrets of Everyday Leaders. We interviewed leaders and asked, 'What are the barriers that stop you from succeeding as a leader?' We then gave the biblical prescriptions for breaking through those barriers."
Passing The Baton International (passingthebaton.org) is now the major focus of Jeff's work outside Bryan College. He claims, "The next generation of leaders will be trained not through training events or curriculum, but through life-on-life influence."
For a guy who had done lots of those training events and developed quite a bit of curriculum, this is a pretty strong statement. It was time to start asking the tough questions.
Practical Homeschooling: I question whether there is a baton to be passed. It seems that the Baby Boom generation has pretty much given away the farm.
Jeff Myers: I agree. We're seeing it in government, business, and the church. We teach leadership coaches and one of them is a consultant for a major oil company. He told me that almost half of their senior executives are retiring within five years and they have no plan to successfully replace them.
As a Christian, I'm thinking of this from two perspectives. First, this is tragic. Second, what a once-in-a-century opportunity for Christians to train young leaders to emerge into positions of significant influence!
PHS: What do you currently see as the major problem facing teens?
JM: At the top of my mind, since I was just talking to Ted Baehr of Movieguide.org, is media consumption. Young people identify themselves primarily as consumers, not producers. This results in living selfishly, rather than trying to be someone who will bring a blessing to others. I was thinking of a quote by C.S. Lewis, "If a man seeks truth, he will find it in the end. If he seeks comfort, he will find neither comfort nor truth."
The second problem is related to the first, and that is aimlessness. With so many great causes in the world, it's tragic to find kids who are slackers and videogame addicts.
PHS: To what do you attribute this media addiction?
JM: Television became a good babysitter. The kids became quieter and left you alone. But parents have no idea how influential, in a negative way, media is on their kids. People design these programs to become addictive so you won't stop watching them.
The first thing to do is: Turn off the TV and get outside!
Second, as Carl Menninger, one of Washburn U's most famous graduates and a nonbelieving psychiatrist, says, "If you feel yourself coming apart mentally, lock yourself out of your home and start serving others." I've seen students experience that joy from becoming other-centered. It gives them a new zest for life.
We do a lot with missions in our family. One of my friends said, "If you take your kids on a missions trip once, it changes their perspective. If you take them twice, it changes their life."
PHS: If you could redesign the high-school curriculum...
JM: I'd have it taught from more of a mentoring and coaching perspective. 'What are you interested in doing? Let's find some wise counselors who can guide you in that and arrange for you to walk with them."
PHS: What do you do with a kid who says he's not interested in anything?
JM: We tell a parent, "If your child is addicted to drugs, they've committed themselves to a lifestyle of deception. Not just deceiving others, but themselves." Media addiction is serious and should be taken seriously. A homeschool dad I worked with very closely had a son in that situation. He took him away to a cabin for an entire week. They studies the Word, spent time together, hiked, and read, and it brought the kid back to life. It's like he actually came alive.
Boys have to have battles to fight. I wonder if we're too easy on them sometimes. When the car accident broke my neck, they did a surgery to wire me back together and fuse my bones in place. Twenty-four hours later they made me sit up. It was the most excruciating pain I could imagine. I thought, "This can't be good for me. This has to be bad." My goal was avoiding pain. Their goal was healing me.
PHS: How do you interest kids in real-life battles?
JM: The only way I know is to take my children with me every place I go.
PHS: If a kid wants to be a culture-changer, what should he do?
JM: They need to understand the times and seek wise counsel about how best to use their gifts. They also should learn to communicate, and seek opportunities to influence others. Ask: "What needs to be different, and how might I be a part of the solution?"
I really believe that this generation of young people has been given by God everything they need to be a channel of His blessing to all nations. And I'm determined to help them grasp the opportunity. I don't want to miss it and I don't want them to miss it.
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