Inspired by Simon Sinek’s "How Great Leaders Inspire Action" the high school leadership theme at Harrison Preparatory is “why.” Why we are leaders. Why it’s important to care. Why it’s important to show you care. Why it’s important to show students what we’re doing and include them in the conversation. Why we do what we do.
Harder though for teenagers is to discover their own individual why for leadership. Some join because they want to serve, participate and plan. Some join because they were told they’d be good at it or their older siblings did it. Others joined because the counselor scheduled them for leadership (because that’s what fit in their schedule). So challenging them to find their own why initiates a deeper conversation into who they are, what they stand for and how they make a stand.
As they work in their journey towards their own individual why, they find along the way what we call the “phrasal whys.”
As in phrasal verbs, a phrasal why is when you add something to your why that changes it.
Sometimes it detracts from it. Introducing the “why me.”
Everyone has a “why me” moment. These are the moments we spin on, the ones that haunt us in the dark, the ones we think about when we’re already low. They are the moments we play the what-if game with.
For a teenager, it could be anything from “why didn’t I make the basketball team” to “why didn’t that guy ask me to homecoming.” Or the profound. “Why did we have to move…again.” “Why did my parents get divorced.” “Why did that person have to die.”
How we move beyond these moments is that we find the light in them. The “why nots.”
Because you didn’t make the team, you got to do a play. Or join a club. Or volunteer. Or maintain a high GPA.
Because that guy didn’t ask you to homecoming, you got to go with a group of friends and have a great time or bond with your family or do something else entirely.
Because of your moves, you have friends all around the nation, or perhaps the world. You have skills from being able to quickly adapt to a new location and maybe can even communicate in multiple languages.
Because your family has been through hard times, you might be closer to your siblings. You have a greater empathy for others going through the same, so you help others cope by lending an ear and a shoulder. Or your family grew twice as large when you realized the amazing stepfamily you have.
Helping students find their “why not” to their “why me” helps them not only to create steps towards a more positive outlook on their situations but also allows them to recognize that their strengths have come from a place of work, of struggle, of adaptation. They can use this to enhance their why and recognize the gifts that life has given them, in turn using those to support others.
John Norlin is a Co-Founder of CharacterStrong, a Servant Leadership trainer, and motivational speaker. He was Washington Advisor of the Year, taught 5 leadership classes per semester for 10 years at Sumner High School, and was a Program Administrator for the Whole Child for five years.