The Top Skill of Leadership Education: The Weekly Mentor


By Oliver DeMille

inspire, not requireToday I read a sentence that really impacted me.

It made me pause and really consider.

I mean, I’ve read a lot of books about the American founding fathers and mothers, but I’ve never read this before.

It’s incredibly deep and important.

Of all the things that helped America and the early founders succeed, one historian suggested that this one thing is the most important reason for America’s victory and later success over two centuries.

Here it is:

“Improvisation was the strength of the Americans: the ability to respond to novel situations with novel solutions, on the spur of the moment, without orders or directions.”

When I read this, my first thought was about today’s children.

Are they being taught this lesson?

Do they know how to improvise? To respond to new situations with new, excellent solutions? To see what’s needed, weigh the options, make a decision, and then take the right actions on the spur of the moment without adult orders or direction?

Are we giving them a real leadership education?

Because this describes it to a “T”.

As I pondered this top skill, I realized once again just how essential it is to “Inspire.”

Without it, we could never truly teach young people to have initiative, use ingenuity, and do whatever is needed without waiting for help.

Stephen Covey called this same thing, “Be Proactive,” and he listed it as the first of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Without it, leadership is dead. Without it, education is shallow.

Without it, morality won’t last and freedom will dwindle.

But do we teach it well enough?

Many schools actually teach students not to use this skill, as John Taylor Gatto taught in his book Dumbing Us Down.

That’s sad.

In fact, it’s tragic.

Why would we train the last three generations of children not to use initiative, improvisation, ingenuity?

What were we thinking?

The answer is that we wanted to train followers, docile employees, well-socialized sheep, not leaders.

And, in truth, leaders can be difficult.

I’m reminded of that many times in dealing with my daughters Meri and Abigail.

I’m sure you have kids like them—leaders.

Who think independently and take action without permission.

At least, I sure hope you have kids and youth like that.

I believe that when God sees the need for changes in the world, he does something really special.

He sends down a baby.

A little person with just the right talents, tendencies, interests, passions, and strength of will to change the world.

And in times like ours, well, I’m pretty sure He’s been sending down a bunch of babies like that.

We need them, desperately.

The question is, are we giving them an education to match their mission?

If not, we’re failing them.

And we’re failing the world.

Even worse, can you imagine how sad it would be if God sent down some of these babies to your home or mine and then we trained them to be followers—not leaders?

I’m going to pay even more special attention to “Inspire.”

Are there any born leaders in your home who need less requiring, less ignoring, and a lot more inspiring?



Image Oliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. He is the NY Times Bestselling co-author of LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through Leadership Education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. Angela August 8, 2013 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    This reminds me of one of Kirk Martin’s message (Celebrate Calm)- that if you have a kid that’s different, often seems difficult, you need to reconsider trying to change how God made him/her- and embrace those traits for strengths that will get things DONE later in life!

    Powerful reminder, thank you for sharing!

  2. Keith August 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm - Reply

    Improvisation is not well understood because new models in media delivery have replaced the need for a person to respond to questions on the spot, and fewer and fewer can actually take questions on the spot because they have no range of meaning within their own mind acquired through the same process. In other words, improvisation is an oral tradition of constant dialogue in the home, with friends, and within one’s community. It is the only and best way to check against pride, idolatry, and logical fallacies of all kinds. Take any person on the planet raised in a thick environment of constant conversation where their motive was constantly challenged and match that with a person raised by great books only and you might be surprised. Those with the approach to learning as if it can be obtained via a linear path of reading everything in site struggle in both leadership and innovation. Just like bad actors never trained in the use of improvisation (something easy to see these days), poor leaders surface because they lack the training in oral improvisation where they were openly confronted and questioned through many years.

  3. identitee August 18, 2013 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Interesting insights Keith! Maybe that’s why so many of our “leaders” today have to protect themselves from having conversations with their constituents.

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