Cultivating Strong Character in Our Children

ID-100297304“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character…” – Billy Graham

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. However, allow me to add a third thing–when your teen leaves home, his or her values will be tested. How will he or she hold up, especially when homesick, friendsick, or experiencing a raging case of the lonelies? How will they react when put in a high risk situation at a party, or offered to have their mid-semester paper authored by their English major friend? During times like these, it helps mightily to have a strong character foundation. It also pays to have a well-developed list of non-negotiable values that they will, under no circumstances, compromise.

Here, on this personal balance sheet, you will find a list of values (as well as other personal assets) that you can discuss with your teen/student. Ask them which ones are most important to them and why. Discuss which ones they would never compromise, and which values they’d like to strengthen in their own lives.

Additionally, here are some helpful pointers to reinforce:

  • Character is revealed through our attitudes, behaviors, and decisions, and is often revealed when no one else is looking
  • It is extremely difficult to recover from a damaged reputation
  • Surround yourself with positive people who will help uphold your values, not encourage you to compromise them
  • The best way to maintain strong character is to avoid potentially compromising situations. The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies!
  • You may not always be loved, but you must be trusted
  • Don’t say something about someone else you’d regret if they heard (hard to do, but such a great discipline)
  • If you’re not sure whether to do or say something, imagine it as the headline in tomorrow’s newspaper

As you develop a strong character foundation in your teen, here are some helpful questions to consider. Use them to help guide you as you navigate parenting an older teen, even if he/she has already moved away from home. Alternately, allow your child the opportunity to answer these questions about themselves.

  • Are they guided by integrity in everything?
  • Do they demonstrate love, kindness, and respect toward others?
  • Do they live with honor and self-discipline?
  • Do they stand up for their beliefs and values with conviction?
  • Are they people of humility who encourage others?
  • Do they demonstrate a commitment to excellence and giving it their best effort?
  • Do they take full responsibility for their mistakes and shortfalls?

Know that in the teen and young adult years when they’re facing major life transitions and social adjustments, they will slip up sometimes. That’s one reason it’s so important to share in humility your own mistakes. Let them know you weren’t perfect either!

Parents, how would you rate yourself when it comes to building character in your children? What methods have you utilized to help build a strong character foundation? What have you noticed works best? As always, feel free to join in on the conversation!


Photo:, by Stuart Miles

Five Keys to Nail Your Performance Review


Now that school is out and summer is in full swing, many of the young people in our lives are headed into the career field or starting up summer jobs. So here’s an opportunity to equip them with some “street smart” wisdom to excel on the job and win some great references!.


For many, few things generate more stress and discomfort than a performance review. For all parties! It doesn’t have to be that way, but unfortunately it usually is.

For the reviewee, questions race through our minds. Will it be fair? Will it reflect all of my contributions? Will he/she rip me for my missed goals? Will I get a raise and if so, what? Will I be scolded for anything? Expecting the worst, we enter the boss’s office a nervous wreck, ready to do battle if we don’t like what we hear.


It’s no picnic for the reviewer either. Let’s face it: most of us don’t mind delivering compliments, but constructive feedback…not so much. Arguably, most supervisors are underwhelming in the relational aspects of management and can be a bit awkward when discussing their employees’ “growth areas.”


I was fortunate enough to have achieved virtually all of my career goals for a number of reasons, not the least of which was by setting myself up for success in my performance reviews. Some of my methods are rather unconventional, but they worked during each stage of my career. I’m confident they’ll work for you, too.


  1. Understand your manager’s definition of “excellence” (then deliver!)

    On my first day on the job, my manager discussed the position requirements in great detail and then handed me the performance evaluation form. He told me that in six months I’d be evaluated and the overall ranking would determine my raise. I perused the form, noting the eight ranking categories and the 1-10 rating scale (10 being excellent). Things like reliability, job requirements, teamwork, leadership, communication, and attitude.

    Struck by these highly subjective evaluation categories, I asked how he defined “excellent” in each one. He said he didn’t give excellent ratings. I told him that in six months I wanted to be his first. I was armed now, and six months later, I indeed would be his first “excellent” employee. Yes!

    Get inside your manager’s head when it comes to your evaluation, especially if it’s highly subjective. After all, if you don’t know the target, how can you reliably hit it? Most managers will not automatically volunteer this, so you’ll have to ask for it.

  2. Have your manager to identify the most significant potential accomplishments (then deliver!)

    Another great strategy is to ask your manager to provide a list of the most important accomplishments you could achieve in the next review cycle. Chances are your job is multifaceted, but it’s always important to know what the boss would consider to be home run This way, while you deliver on your core job requirements, you also keep these key goals in mind. Again, supervisors don’t always offer this up naturally so you’ll need to ask for it. They’ll willingly comply!

  3. Contribute to your employer’s (and your manager’s) success

    In order to consistently nail your reviews and maximize your value, you’ll need to go above and beyond your job requirements. Different positions offer different possibilities, so think creatively. For example, during my investment management career, I was the “go to” person to help land major new accounts. So, in addition to delivering solid performance, I helped generate revenue for our business. That significantly broadened my impact and my list of advocates during review time!

    For the most part, there are four key ways you can contribute to your employer’s success: 1) help generate sales and retain key clients; 2) help reduce costs or improve efficiency; 3) innovate (e.g., new products, quality enhancements); and 4) lead (projects, people). How can you impact your employer’s performance—directly and indirectly?

    Lastly, it pays to understand how your manager is being evaluated. That way you can help contribute to his/her success, too. BOOM!

  4. Fully inform your manager before the fact

    Unfortunately, it’s impossible for a manager to recallall of the accomplishments and contributions of every employee over the review period (especially if it’s annual!). Consequently, it can become contentious when a manager fails to reflect key information in the review. Here’s where some preventive medicine can help.

    First, draft and deliver a self evaluation prior to the review date. List your major accomplishments and any factors that played into your performance.

    Second, to the extent that you’ve made key contributions to other departments, ask your advocates to draft a note on your behalf. Again, do not assume that your manager will know about (much less remember) your broader contributions to the organization.

    Finally, it always pays to ask for interim feedback at the midway point of your review cycle. That way you can make any midcourse corrections during the second half.

  5. Be a cinch to manage

    Management is something most people aspire for but quickly become disillusioned with. Many are promoted into supervisory positions despite lacking leadership skills or proper training.

Knowing this, I’ve always had empathy for the boss and went out of my way to be easy to manage. That meant delivering excellent work and meeting all deadlines a day or two early. I kept a positive attitude and was regarded by my peers as a constructive team player. This kept complaints to a minimum and guaranteed positive feelings about me while my review was being drafted.

These strategies will not only help you deliver great performance but will also help you receive a review that reflects it. May it be a “win win” for you and your manager!

Don’t Be a Procrastinator!

Are you sabotaging your own success? If you’re a chronic procrastinator, chances are … you  might be.

Procrastination is the act of putting off what seems like a mundane, intimidating, or unpleasant task to some (usually vague) future date, replacing it with a task or activity that feels more comfortable, exciting, or pleasant. This is not a genetic trait; psychologists tell us that procrastinators are made, notborn.  This is good news for procrastinators! Though it takes work and retraining, you CAN increase your follow through and productivity and multiply your chances of success.

As you may have already discovered, life becomes increasingly challenging for the procrastinator, especially when things get hectic. When we’re kids, most of the deadlines we face are school-assignment driven. However, that quickly changes when we’re in college and worsens precipitously with careers and family. Keeping it all together without missing deadlines becomes almost impossible when you juggle a million balls and chronically wait until the last minute to get things done.

What does procrastination sound like in your head? It says things like, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow,” or, “I work best under pressure.” But, in fact, you don’t feel like doing it the next day and you don’t really produce your work best under pressure.

What does procrastination look like? It looks like distraction—which is particularly easy to come by these days. Most procrastinators actively look for distractions, especially those that don’t require a lot of commitment. Checking e-mail is a great example. It appears productive, but is often little more than a time-waster in the face of more important things that need to be done. And then there’s Facebook …

If you tend to procrastinate important tasks, here are five steps to help break this habit:

  1. Start by setting your deadline the day before your task is due. Then, simply work backwards by estimating how much time you’ll need and the number of days over which you’ll have to spread the work. Once that’s done, you’ll have your plan in place with a beginning and end and a series of in-between days with their required time allotments.
  2. Promise yourself some “feel-good” rewards at the end of your task. Often we procrastinate because the benefits of completing a task don’t seem beneficial enough when compared to the amount of work and time required. Increasing the “win” factor for yourself—even if only psychologically—can be motivating.
  3. Ask your friends to check in on your progress and hold you accountable—and to NOT accept your excuses. Peer pressure is another great motivator.
  4. Improve your ability to make decisions. Much procrastination occurs when decision-making skills are weak or underdeveloped.
  5. Regularly make and keep a “to-do” list so you can’t (conveniently) forget those unpleasant or intimidating tasks. And, be sure to block your time sufficiently to get the job done.

Once you practice these suggestions a few times, it becomes a piece of cake and you will be more effective. I have no doubt your success factor will shoot up exponentially: you’ll be a better student, a more valued employee, a more organized parent, and you’ll dramatically lower your stress level as well.

How have you learned to overcome procrastination and increase your productivity and effectiveness? Share your ideas and experiences with us by commenting below; we’d love to have the benefit of your insights and experiences.

8 Financial Mistakes You Can Help Your Children Avoid

ID-10032399Money, money, money. Few things in life generate as much interest yet demand more responsibility. And, while money itself will not bring happiness, mismanaging it can surely ruin a person’s chances for success and cause personal and family strains. Young people who are not prepared for the responsibilities that come with managing their finances can run into major problems and often end up dropping out of college. A 2011 report by the Pew Research Center found for people ages 18 to 34 without college degrees, two thirds said they left to support their family, and 48 percent said they could not afford college. Why? One reason is that far too many college students are financially illiterate. Sadly, personal finance is not a required course for every student in every school.

As parents, you can help your children avoid some common financial derailers—not just in college, but for life.

The principles of wise financial management aren’t that tough to master. You simply need to know the basics and abide by the disciplines and key principles. It also pays to avoid these eight most common financial mistakes:

  1. failure to set goals and plan/save for major purchases
  2. failure to set aside an emergency fund for unforeseen expenses
  3. spending more than you earn and failing to budget and monitor expenses
  4. incurring too much debt, including student loans and excessive credit card usage
  5. incurring significant fixed expenses relative to your income that can’t be reduced in difficult economic times (e.g., spending too much on housing and cars)
  6. impulse buying and lack of value consciousness when shopping
  7. failure to begin saving and investing for the future at the beginning of your career
  8. lack of discipline and understanding of basic financial concepts

This list isn’t just for young people—everyone needs to keep these principles in mind both now and in the future. Periodically review how you’re doing in each of these areas, and encourage your young adult children to do the same. (Remember, they’re watching you, so be sure to “walk the talk!”) If we can successfully avoid these traps, we’ll ALL be in better financial shape!

photo:, worradmu

The Three P’s for College Academic Success

ID-100103840College is just around the corner for the hundreds of thousands of students who are graduating this year. Transitioning from high school to college academics can be challenging for many (More homework! Longer papers! Lecture notes! Stiffer competition! Fewer grades!), so here are some tips to make the grade.

First of all, remember this: You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to get GOOD GRADES!


To do well in college, perform your best, and get the most out of each class/assignment, it’s important to understand the secrets to academic achievement:

  1. The first success ingredient is good planning. This involves making a study calendar a few days out. You can find a reproducible homework and study planner on our website. Take an inventory of what you have planned for each week, including social events, and make sure you have enough time carved out to fully complete assignments and studying.
  2. This means staying committed to your study schedule, becoming a skilled time manager, and finding a study environment that works best for you. You can use the reproducible daily schedule  on our website to help with this.  Come prepared and, ideally, sit in the front row (it has a way of keeping you awake during those 8:00 a.,m. lectures!). Complete all of your required readings well in advance so you’ll have ample time to review and review and review. Remember, reps are the key to recall! Click here to read about my “Rainbow Highlighter Study Method” (step 3 in the post).
  3. Deliver what your audience (i.e., teacher or professor) is looking for (play close attention to syllabi and grading rubrics) and enter your exams with supreme confidence that you’re prepared to excel. Be rested, alert, and ready to go. Fuel your body with what it needs for optimum performance and make sure you get enough sleep. And, when you have multiple essay questions, start with the easy one to build brain momentum. It’ll also give you more time to contemplate answers to the more difficult ones.

If you can fully appreciate the need for planning, preparing, and performing, you’ll be well on your way to achieving repeatable academic success. (That’s the best part, adapting these three P’s into your regular study schedule means that you can continuously do well.) In this increasingly competitive world, academic performance is critical!


How have YOU helped the students in your life become organized and disciplined studiers? Or, if you are a student, what have you found works for you? Share your ideas with our online community of parents, educators, and youth organizations; we’d love to hear from you!

Photo:, by Ambro