5 Undeniable Truths about Diversity


Diversity training can be uncomfortable for many of us because we have a fear of either being judged or seen as judging others. Even popular and forward thinking television shows reveal our discomfort with the subject. Although it’s hysterically funny and a bit over the top, this episode of The Office, shows how totally off track perceptions of diversity and the experiences of others appear.

Both Saturday Night Live and Jerry Seinfield TV shows have been called out for their lack of diversity. SNL’s absence of a black female cast member on the show since Maya Rudolph left, and Jerry uses the defense “Funny is the world I live in…I have no interest in gender or race…Are you making us laugh or not?”


The diversity challenge goes way beyond your company’s legal obligations to comply with legislation for equal opportunity and non-discrimination.   A diverse workforce has lower turnover, better employee morale, higher sales and increased profits.

When it comes to living out diversity, the truth is, we find it much easier to simply keep ourselves surrounded by people like us even though, the benefits of a diverse workforce are HUGE!


Truth One – Where there is Diversity there is profit!

Study after study proves diversity adds to the bottom line. In fact, way back in 2009, a study was published in the “American Sociological Review”. When the researchers compared the workplaces with the most diversity to those with lowest levels of racial diversity, the workforces with a mix of races had 15 times more sales. That’s impressive…and we are only talking about racial diversity in this study.

True diversity is not that simple. It is much more than a mixture of races and genders. It encompasses ethnic groups, age, personality type, cognitive style, ability, tenure, education, lifestyle, organizational function and a whole host of other things.

“Strength lies in differences, not in similarities”

~ Stephen Covey

Neil Lenane is Business Leader Talent Management with Progressive Insurance. He is quoted as saying, “If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.” He says the company does not see diversity as a program. Instead it is a cultural movement with measurable results.   The team is able to overcome inhibitions and apprehensions to become more innovative. With innovation comes the ability to better understand customer needs.

As a bonus, he believes this core principle allows the company to cast a wider net to reach the best talent too. This is a claim you will often hear from companies who have successfully implemented diversity into the company culture.

Diversity brings profits in the television industry too. Although many see the entertainment industry to be liberal and progressive, true diversity in this industry is in its infancy. Data from ratings shows the highest-rated dramas and comedies were shows with 41 to 50 percent Black/Latino/Asian casts and had a median household rating of 5.84. Shows casting the least diverse mix had a median household rating of 3.79. So, this season we can look for shows like Blackish, Christela, The Goldbergs, and the newest featuring an Asian-American family, Fresh Off the Boat to prosper.




Truth Two: Diversity can be Messy

With all this data supporting the fact diversity is a profitable undertaking, why do we still need to talk about it? The bottom line truth of bringing diversity into the workplace is uncomfortable and it’s challenging.

Newer companies begin the hiring process with an intentional focus on incorporating diversity into the company culture. It is one reason why many new start ups are making higher profits. When your company is large and well established, diversity is a bigger challenge. Here is why:

  • Communication Barriers: When the workforce is made up of people with different perceptions, cultures and native languages it can often spiral into ineffective communication. Team members may be confused, have trouble working as a team and eventually lead to low morale.
  • Resistance to Change: In every established company you will have employees who refuse to accept change. The mentality of “we’ve always done it this way” destroys any new ideas and stops progress in its tracks.
  • Leadership Weaknesses: Having a workshop about diversity does not prepare the leadership for managing a diverse workforce. Although they may be armed with assessment data of employees, creating an implementation plan for their particular team is no small task.

Sad to say, exclusion is a human instinct. People tend to cluster in tightly knit groups because they want to be with others who think like them. Gender diversity often falls prey to this bias. Men, who dominate the upper management positions, tend to spend time together casually. They may all go to lunch together for example. Asking the upwardly mobile female to join them may feel uncomfortable to everyone involved. Yet, relationships are deepened, business is discussed and decisions are made in these informal encounters.

Formal mentoring can be an effective way to address the subtle prejudices that sabotage diversity efforts. Mentors provide advice, feedback and career coaching , and almost no one is blatant about their discriminatory attitudes.   It shows up in subtle habits that are harder to diagnose and very hard to cure.

The next step after mentoring is sponsorship. Sponsors are advocates in positions of authority who use their influence intentionally to help others advance. Both are important to advancement as employees navigate the workplace and earn opportunities for growth.



Truth Three: Your Brain is to Blame

Even when a change of habits is life or death, humans are resistant to making drastic changes. Studies show that about one out of nine patients who undergo coronary bypass surgery actually changed their habits. Although the number of studies to support lifestyle changes is abundant, these patients settle back into their familiar lifestyle and took their chances.

If people won’t change their behavior to save their own lives, how can we expect them to change their work habits just because it will make them happier, more innovative and provide massive profits to the company where they work?

Here is the scientific answer: the interplay between working memory and focused attention are at odds with each other. Working memory, the holding area where new information can be used, engages the prefrontal cortex. It is the brain’s area for rational thinking. It is energy-intensive and fatigues easily.

The brain is wired to recognize perceived differences between an expected outcome and actual outcomes. When it perceives differences, it fires off neurons connected to fear. With the fear circuitry engaged, it quickly morphs into anger and counterproductive behaviors.

Humans love to do what is easiest and the brain supports the easy way of perceiving. When you are doing known tasks, the basal ganglia, located deep in the brains core, is in performance. These behaviors take less energy than what is needed by the prefrontal cortex. No real conscious thought is required, so diverse ideas are quickly and easily rejected.

Without the ability to intentionally overcome our brain’s reaction to outside perceptions, it becomes really hard to collaborate with people who think differently. Understanding how the brain is wired will help empower your actions toward diversity goals.


Truth Four: The World is Getting Smaller

As the world of business becomes more globalized, the need for diversity increases. Technology has allowed business to be conducted across borders easily. Expanding into foreign markets is absolutely essential for success in world-class companies. Otherwise, smaller companies from across the world who were “born global” will drain away market share.

Decisions made during the process of globalization walk a thin line between efficiency, with consistent processes, and adapting to the markets of different cultures. Having a diverse workforce gives these companies a competitive advantage. When employees come from diverse backgrounds it gives the company a wider perspective. A diverse customer base pushes innovation to develop new products and services to meet the needs of a diverse marketplace.


Truth Five: Trust the Process

The inherent discomfort of diversity can be overcome when it is part of a company’s everyday process. Four primary processes can be remembered with 4C’s – Commitment, Collaboration, Communication and Competence. When these 4C’s are applied to the goal of diversity in the workplace, trust is developed.

“Diversity and independence are important because the best collective decisions are a product of disagreement and contest, not consensus or compromise.” ~ James Surowiecki

Trust is critical to the success of a diverse team because they will be constantly interacting to reach company goals. In a blog article, Emergenetics explains how they have developed a process called the WE approach to collaboration. Their methods show how high-level teams tap into the different brains of individuals to establish trust.

  • Credible resources are used to support facts and conclusions which open up the analytical pathways in the brain.
  • Procedures are established for everyone to follow with a process to create realistic timelines and expectations. The processes and procedures protect the brain from feelings of fear.
  • Social consideration is given to how certain behaviors may impact other people and validate their feelings and emotions.
  • Exploring new concepts opens the conceptual pathways in the brain to allow each member to communicate their vision of the future.

The article goes on to say, “The combining of thoughts and behaviors in a way that expresses respect and understanding to those around us enables us to build and maintain trust over time.”

In an article in Inc magazine, Geil Browning, brain researcher and founder of Emergenetics shares her lessons in diversity.

  1. Communicate openly about cognitive diversity.
  2. Deliberately hire all thinking and behavior types.
  3. Put your diversity to work.
  4. Make cognitive diversity a core part of your culture.

As more and more companies are uncovering the benefits of a diverse workforce and creating an inclusive environment in which each member of the team is valued, respected, and is able to fully contribute their talents, the conversations will become easier.


When we reach the point we can see diversity and inclusion as a normal ways to build successful companies, our world will be better for it.

In the words of Commander Spock in Star Trek: “Infinite diversity in infinite combinations…symbolizing the elements that create truth and beauty.”

Square Peg in a Round Hole…or How to Fit a Nontraditional Workforce into a Traditional Workplace

Last week, I was at the UPSTART LIVE Spring Summit New Strategies & Solutions in the Global War for Talent as the opening second-day keynote speaker of the conference. This event had a unique focus—it was highlighting HR recruiting in the Oil and Gas industry.  Since I was keynoting the opening on the second day, I decided to make good use of my time and attend some of the first-day presentations.

The conference had a sweeping range of topics and interactive sessions along with peer-to-peer round tables. (Jeff Hurt, you would have been pleased.) Because my subject matter for my address was around the generations succeeding together in the workplace, I was very interested in some of the generational success stories shared by several of the corporate participants.

It was like adding fuel to my tank … a lot of my long-held concepts were confirmed as I continued to listen, learn, and grow.  Now I want to shout from the mountaintop because I am so excited to share what I have learned. For years, I have been saying that in our world today when we talk about the generations in the workplace, we have to realize that the core conflict arises from trying to fit an increasing nontraditional workforce into a traditional work environment.

Here are a few things I discovered at the conference:

1. LinkedIn is where the future of recruiting lies. Attending this session was so amazing and informative. Chris Kelleher, senior sales manager at LinkedIn shared the power of LinkedIn sourcing tools and employment branding services.  He mentioned  that companies and organizations must have a strong brand presence on LinkedIn and candidates need to get active in using key words and updating profiles.

2. There was a lot of emphasis placed on the knowledge gap. Back 30 to 40 years ago, there was a tremendous hiring of engineers who stayed in the oil and gas industry. These Boomers have gained a huge amount of knowledge and experience in that industry, and they need to share the knowledge before they retire. Some people have suggested mentoring programs, but I was excited to hear David Kent speak. David is the founder of Houston’s Oilpro.com, which is an oil and gas social network launched to bridge the industry’s generation gap. David said that Oilpro is an online community of oil and gas professionals interested in connecting with colleagues, advancing their skills, building credibility around their expertise, staying current, and exploring exciting new opportunities.

3. I got excited as I heard about all the innovative things that oil and gas companies are doing to KEEP the talent.  Here are some of the findings and solutions:

Meyerland Harris HR at HEB grocery stores, which hires many Gen Ys and Gen Zs, shared these suggestions when managing the younger workforce:

1. Explain your company’s vision

2. Prioritize community service

3. Develop in-between steps and titles

4. Give encouragement and regular feedback

5. Be flexible with schedules

6. Provide educational and personal development


Laura Ramey, VP of HR at Crestwood Midstream, shared her experiences working with Boomers. She said that the most important thing to remember when engaging Boomers is to remember to give them attention and recognition. Boomers like to know that they are still in the loop, and that they are motivated by being valued and needed. (How about that for switching perspectives?)

Edda Tinis, the Learning and Development Director for Air Liquide, has worked on programs that successfully increased retention rates for both Gen X and Y employees for more than 10 years.In 2000, Air Liquide created a two-year rotation for all new college  hires. The programs consist of four different rotations each lasting six months.  In addition to the tech/operations/rotations, new hires have training in really interesting and necessary subjects such as networking, career development, the FISH Philosophy, negotiating skills, teamwork, CPR, safety and risk management, volunteer opportunities, and my favorite business—etiquette.

After hearing all this great information, I decided to shift my keynote address and put the focus on Gen X.  I challenged Gen X to take on the leadership role by understanding that the conflict arises from trying to fit an increasingly nontraditional workforce into a largely traditional workplace. Gen X can be the leaders of creating the new work environment by using their knowledge, creativity, and skill to lead, manage, and guide both the Boomers and the Gen Ys. (Thank you, Edda, for giving me the fuel.)

So, I appeal to you, Gen X. It’s up to you to help all of us understand and value the strengths and differences of each generational group—leverage the strengths of each and create a work environment that values differences.

When You Snooze, Do You Lose? Is waking up early a generational thing?


Maybe it’s a generational thing, but my internal clock gets me up and out of bed each day on or before 5:30 AM.  I am up, with coffee in hand, and at my computer creating and writing long before the sun comes up.  I guess it’s my boomer generation’s work ethic showing. Although I have read many stories that correlate waking up early with success, I do it because it’s the only time in my day when I can carve out precious time to write and be productive.  In addition, I have discovered that my early morning “creative time” starts my day with a positive and even inspirational tone …I get more stuff done and I feel happy about myself.

So before you hit that snooze button remember this…


Gen X Needs a Rebranding – It’s Your Time to Lead

Gen X Needs a Rebranding – It’s Time for  Generation X to Lead

I clearly remember the downfall of Arthur Anderson. I remember it so well because I was working with them when Enron went down (November 2011) and brought Anderson along for the ride. Then, in early 2002 Anderson Consulting was reborn as Accenture. In response to the negative publicity, they came out from under the rubble and they rebranded.

A successful rebranding effort demands a new vision that inspires others to see a person, company, product or service in a new light. But it doesn’t end there. Once clear on the message, the word must get out and spread out through savvy marketing.

Today there is a lot of hype in the media about baby boomers. We are constantly bombarded with news about the boomers retiring, boomers and social security, boomers downsizing and even boomers exercising. And when we are not reading about the boomers, we’re reading about the Millennials /Gen Y and how they are changing the world. What we are not reading about is our next generation of leaders … Gen X

 Gen X. Remember Gen X? The generation born between 1965 -1979? The generation that has given us Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, Larry Page, Jack Dorsey, Brene’Brown, Corey Booker, Paul Ryan, Cheryl Sandberg, Marrisa Mayer, Salman Kahn, and Robert Downey Junior (now that’s a brand make-over!)

Gen X, the generation that is sandwiched in between the boomers and millennials.

You might remember them as the “Slacker Generation.” When Gen X entered the workplace in late 80’s and early 90’s, the media (who were boomers) painted a very negative picture: they dubbed them the slackers. Other words used to describe Gen X were grungers, negative, cynical, apathetic, challengers of authority, latchkey-kids, and losers. wah waaah.


Back then, Time Magazine described them as “cautious” in this oft-cited article:

“They have trouble making decisions. They would rather hike in the Himalayas than climb a corporate ladder. They have few heroes, no anthems, no style to call their own. They crave entertainment, but their attention span is as short as one zap of a TV dial. They hate yuppies, hippies and druggies. They postpone marriage because they dread divorce. They sneer at Range Rovers, Rolexes and red suspenders. What they hold dear are family life, local activism, national parks, penny loafers and mountain bikes.” (Time, 1990)


As many of us know … Time Magazine was wrong! They took back some of the snarky remarks  in  2000, But many still remember the Brand. So, Gen X, you need a rebranding plan.


As Gen X has aged and blossomed the negative sterotype have mellowed, but the brand is still a little dull and needs a little polish. My intention is to be part of a campaign to help them speak their truth and shine a more honest and more honestly positive light on the real Gen X. You are the generations that was raised with real-world experiences, you are comfortable with technology, you have the awareness of global issues, you are sensible, reasonable and logical, you have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, AND you are in the middle of your career and your life.


Here’s a little more that we have learned about you Gen X:                                 

  • Gen X brought work life balance into the forefront. The quote “Never confuse having a career with having a life” was printed on the Eddie Bauer shopping bags.
  • The divorce rate in the U.S. is now the lowest it’s been in 40 years and many credit this change to Generation X. Since a large percentage of  Gen Xers come from divorced families, many of them vowed they would not divorce when they were adults. Gen Xers are a family focused generation as they have moved into middle adulthood.
  • Gen Xers are actively involved parents demonstrating that they are a generation who values education and encourage and support their children in attaining educational goals.
  • Generation X is a generation of independence. Because parents left Gen X to themselves (the Latchkey-kids) they are a generation that learned how to be independent early in their lives.
  • This creative generation defined the do-it-yourself DIY cultural ethos, and many turned entrepreneurial when they entered the job market in a down economy in the early 90s.
  • A big thank you goes out to Gen X women for the ban panty hose!
  • Gen X is highly productive and knows how to “Get Stuff Done.”
  • Left alone (no hovering parents) and allowed to fail, this generation is the most innovative and creative of all the generations and have lead the way in technology and music. (Garage Technology/Garage Bands)
  • Generation X’s sullenness has softened into a sensibility has been driving openness and transparency in business. Gen X has helped change cultures and policies of corporate America and they have done it from the inside out.
  •  Generation X members had the most casualties and were also the major heroes on September 11th. They were the police and firefighters. They were the passengers who crashed the plane rather than having it go on to Washington, DC. They were the workers in the World Trade Center Towers. Gen X members responded to the terrorist attacks with bursts of patriotism and national fervor that surprised even themselves.


Today we are facing a world with finite limits,  a place where there are no easy answers, and the sobering realization that we are encountering significant, intractable problems on multiple fronts. Gen X, this is your time. It’s interesting that the most negative elements of your childhood and early adult life may well be those that will provide you with the strongest capabilities today. Your courage, guts, determination, pragmatism, and values are what we need in our politics, our businesses and our communities.

Gen X, it’s your time –

A time for a new generation of leadership.

Freaked-Out about Technology? Lesson I learned from a Gen Y

I remember when I first started putting Power Point into my keynotes. I freaked out  when projector couldn’t find my my Mac and I had to go it alone …Then I added music and I freaked out when the sound was so soft the audience strained to hear Ice Ice Baby …Then I added video to the Power Points and I freaked out about the quality of the movie…

I guess I am a technology freak.

Then, last year I started working with Crystal Washington, a Gen Y social media and marketing guru creating Socialtunities workshops, and I learned that at times technology fails…get use to it! If you don’t try new ways of doing your presentations and keynotes you are not growing. Today the audience is forgiving when it comes to technology. Everyone knows that at times technology will fail. – Just keep on learning, growing, and trying new technology! Thanks Crystal…

BTW Crystal is offering an advanced Social Media Webinar for business owners, sales manages and professionals who  want to learn  how you can better leverage social media to connect with powerful influencers, attract clients, and get sales. Read all about is here – just click on classes…Crystal has helped so many grow their business with social media that she now has her own segment on Fox. She is the real deal!

New Hires Miss the Mark- Many are not job ready when they graduate from college.


Gen Y, the good news is that the hiring of college grads is up this year. The best opportunities for new graduates are in the areas of business, engineering, computer sciences, and accounting. The bad news is that many employers are finding that their new hires are not job ready. The new world or work needs good communicators, team players and engaged employees. Watch the video to see what’s up.

My Dad, 104 Years Young – Mike’s 10 Tips for Staying Young and Lively


Mike Speranza 1906-2011

My dad, Michael August Speranza- Mike, lived to be 104 years young.  My parents were “older” when I was born and as a child and teen I always considered them in the category of my friends grandparents…they were really old in my young eyes! It wasn’t until my dad turned 80 that I started noticing that he was so YOUNG and COOL! I love you so much dad!

This is what I learned watching you live your long and beautiful 104 years of life.

Lessons learned from Mike!

1.  Exercise! Exercise! Exercise! My dad never missed a day without doing his hour routine in front of the full length mirror in the hall bathroom.  Push-ups, leg-lifts, squats…I think he was doing Pilates  before it became popular. When he and my mom moved into Independence Village (he was 95 when they left their home) he walked a mile a day-every day until he was 103…then he slowed down.

2. Get excited about something. Have passion! and then PRACTICE-PRACTICE-PRACTICE. Mike loved golf and he was really good at it.  There is a  Cleveland Plain Dealer article here in my office with the headline, Par for the Course…Lyndhurst golfer, 85, shoots a 72. That Lyndhurst golfer was Mike!

When I was a kid, my dad would have me chip 9 iron shots aimed at a box maybe, 15 yards away, and give me a quarter for every shot that made it into the box!

3.  Eat healthy and when possible grow your own tomatoes, lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers and swiss chard! Every night in the summer my mom would go out into the small garden and pick the lettuce and tomatoes for that night’s salad. Salad and vegetables every night! Swiss chard was not my favorite but Dr Oz says it’s a must! I have decided to start a garden this fall in honor of Mike!

4.  Fill your life with friends and when you get older it’s a good idea to start hanging out with younger people. My dad was very social and both he and my mom did something almost every weekend with friends.  When Mike turned 90 he was still golfing almost every weekend.  That’s when he started hanging out with  the young  70 year olds because people his age weren’t golfing!(and they weren’t living)

Mike is the second one in- He looks pretty darn good for age 90!

5. Nothing good happens after midnight! “Get 8 hours of sleep- God love ya!”

6. Laugh and lot… have fun everyday and don’t take yourself so seriously. Here’s a picture of all of the guys in our family with Tony Soprano… my dad is “Junior” sitting next to Tony! Mike loved a good cigar!

(picture taken from Cigar Aficionado – family photos superimposed)

7.  Keep learning and growing…never STOP! When Mike was in his early 80’s he was offered a job at Beachwood Place Mall near our house.  Mom and Dad’s neighbor was the manager of the mall, and he hired my dad to work form 8 AM – noon each day making sure the plants were watered.  Looking back on it, I am sure that this was an innovative  marketing idea. My dad was so cute and friendly he became the mall mascot. People would come by just to see Mike!  I remember that  was when he  bough his first pair of Gap jeans, a baseball jacket, and Nike’s…!

8.  Everything in moderation!

Mike second one in age 92-Cheers Dad!

9.  Don’t explain and don’t complain. No excuses ever!  Need I say more!  I can’t remember ever hearing either of my parents complain about life, aches or pains, or anything!  Now that doesn’t mean that they didn’t argue…hey, we’re Italian!

10. Dance like nobody’s watching. My dad was a dancer and he had a beautiful partner for over 76 years.

My mom Rose Speranza

Mike and Rose you are so loved! Thank you for all you have taught us!

BTW…I took a test on the internet to see how long I would live.  I typed in both Mike’s and Rose’s ages and it said that I might live to 118…So, I started smoking!

Gen X is the Bridge between the Boomers and the Y’s

Generation X (those born 1965-1979) were raised to  operate independently. Women were leaving the homemaker role behind, and heading off to work. The working mom in the 70’s  had no daycare or nannies to watch over her children.  Many Gen X preteens/teens  were now in charge! Boomers dubbed them the “latch key kids”-  with no parents hovering over them Gen X became independent. They developed traits of  resilience , creativity, and adaptability. So, they don’t want you or anyone micromanaging them. They were raised to operate independently.


Tips I Gained after a Gen Y Night- or #IStillGotIt

No one wants to look or feel old and outdated, but let’s be honest, it can happen even to the most hip among us. I know this firsthand because it just happened to me. Last week I attended a huge after-work networking event where it was specified on the invitation to wear business attire. I walked in armed with my black suit and my Boomer self-confidence, but as soon as I entered the ballroom and saw it filled with mostly people under 30 (yup, the Gen Yers), I started to feel old.

Then I heard that, critical little inner voice whisper in my ear: “whoa, you’re outdated!” Over the years I have learned that the key to avoiding this feeling and silencing the voice in the future is to learn from the experience … So, I decided to jot down a few tips I acquired that night while taking in the behaviors of the mostly Gen Y attendees.

Here we go:

  • Forget the explicitly stated dress code, ladies … always wear a one-shoulder or strapless little black cocktail dress.
  • Talk fast and laugh often.
  • Have a really cool and totally unique business card.
  • Take a ton of photos of yourself – that is, you with everyone possible. You can do this by asking a (preferably old and outdated) passer-by (Me) to snap the photo and share it on Instagram. Better yet, just take a #selfie (for anybody over the age of 40, a #selfie is the kind of photo you take your yourself with your iPhone). Or for a little fun, why not photobomb ( That’s where you hop into a picture before it is taken like President Clinton is doing to Kelly Clarkson…Hey isn’t he a boomer and she’s a Y?). But whatever your tactic, above all, do not forget to add the hash tag when posting it on twitter.
  • Skip the dinner. Just come for the cocktails.
  • But if you stay for the dinner make sure you snap a photo of your food. (#whatiate, #foodporn, #yummy)
  • Eat gluten free
  • While the speaker is presenting keep your eyes on your phone and tweet as often as possible.



Seriously, the #1 thing I got out of the night was that they showed up and they showed up with confidence- they smiled, they laugh and they were not afraid to show their star-power! They were there, connecting with each other, laughing and networking. They showed up and they showed up happy!

Sure it might be easier to just poke fun at this generation. But that behavior will hold you back. The world is changing. And it’s fast becoming their world. So, it may be time to rethink a few things. Sometimes we have to open our eyes to Listen-Up.

Gen Y is writing the script for their generation and it’s different from mine, as mine differed from my parents. They text, they photo-journal their adventures, they tweet and share their experience with those who couldn’t make it. They care about their health and what  they eat, and… they dress up!
Hey…I get it!
Some of us may not be under 30, but no need to feel old and outdated. If we are open to new ways of doing things, if we bend a little, and are open to change, if we can be more interested and more engaged- we too will say- #IStillGotIt!

Can Too Much Praise Actually Hurt Self-Esteem- and what about trophies?

I believe it may have been Oprah (lol) who started the self-esteem movement back in the 1980s (around the time that Gen Yrs were being born). Following her lead, a California task-force brought the movement into our schools, declaring every child is special. It was around that time that the word AWESOME crept into our vocabulary, along with “super,” as in super-smart, oh and amazing.

The trophy epidemic soon followed where every child who was on the team, no matter if they played in the game or not, was a winner. Everyone got a trophy just for showing up. Our hearts were in this movement because we love our kids and we just wanted to ensure they had sufficient amount of self-esteem, something we did not get growing up.

So if a little bit of sugar-coating is good, is a lot of the sweet stuff even better? Research says, No. In fact, we are over-praising our kids and it is hurting their future.


When we continually praise children, we may think that we’re building their self-confidence, but experts have discovered that too much praise can actually have a negative effect – making them self-centered, praise-dependent and risk-adverse. It can also diminish their work ethic.

One of the dangers of praising a child too much is that a child may begin to behave explicitly for the praise and for the applause, rather than for the experience of what the child is interested in doing or learning.

In a study of 400 school-age children, one group was praised for being smart and the other group was praised for working hard. What might surprise a lot of us is that the children who were praised for their intelligence fared really poorly later in life. They didn’t want to learn things that might lead them to make mistakes. They were afraid to take a risk and appear to be not so smart after all.

Lesson learned: Praise a child for effort not for smarts or talent. 

So, saying to a child “you are really smart”, “you are brilliant”, “you are so talented”, and so on will not actually grow her self-esteem. But praising a child on the effort it took him to succeed – such as: “WOW, I can see that you really tried hard” encourages him to keep trying, working and growing.

Need more proof? Here’s a little something from the research in Tim Elmore’s Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids… and How to Correct Them.

Dr. Carol Dweck wrote a landmark book called, Mindset. In it she reports findings about the adverse affects of praise. She tells of two groups of fifth grade students who took a test. Afterward, one group was told, “You must be smart.” The other group was told, “You must have worked hard.” When a second test was offered to the students, they were told that it would be harder and that they didn’t have to take it. Ninety percent of the kids who heard “you must be smart” opted not to take it. Why? They feared proving that the affirmation may be false. Of the second group, most of the kids chose to take the test, and while they didn’t do well, Dweck’s researchers heard them whispering under their breath, “This is my favorite test.” They loved the challenge. Finally, a third test was given, equally as hard as the first one. The result? The first group of students who were told they were smart, did worse. The second group did 30% better. Dweck concludes that our affirmation of kids must target factors in their control. When we say “you must have worked hard,” we are praising effort, which they have full control over. It tends to elicit more effort. When we praise smarts, it may provide a little confidence at first but ultimately causes a child

Focus on the effort your child makes and then praise the effort. And…as far as the trophy thing goes – time to rethink how we are rewarding participation. Why not celebrate the end of season game with a fun party, where you continue building camaraderie and friendships. Think about saving the trophies for the most improved player, maybe the most enthusiastic, and the team that wins the most games (if you are keeping score). Encourage and praise the values of what it takes to win, including self-discipline, self-control, perseverance, dedication and practice. I believe that if you teach your children these traits and self-esteem will take care of itself.