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Winning With People Lesson #6: Give Others A Reputation to Uphold

Treat a man as he appears to be and you make him worse. But treat a man as if he already were what he potentially could be, and you make him what he should be. -Goethe

 Just this past weekend I was looking for something to be on in the background as I worked on our new web page sharing our new Youth Leadership Programs and the classic Lean on Me (Morgan Freeman as principal “Crazy” Joe Clark) was available on Netflix. I love this movie not just for the transformation Clark brought to Eastside High, but the transformation Clark goes through himself through the movie. Clark’s tactics are highly criticized even 30 years later, but there is one thing he did extraordinary well is see the possibility in the 2,700 students and hold them to that standard at all times. He communicated a vision of success through discipline and hard work, while painting a picture of possibilities for each adult and student in the classroom regarding their future. He said, “Discipline is not the enemy of enthusiasm.” 

 I remember when I was in sixth grade (1988) and at the end of the year our teachers gave us award certificates that were more focused on our personalities and sarcasm rather than painting us in a picture of success. I recall a friend who wore her hair out very big got the “Hairspray Award” another friend who just couldn’t stay out of trouble received the “Black Cloud Award”. I spent most of my sixth grade sitting in the far corner of the classroom hanging out with the coats received the “Most Talkative” award. My junior high career didn’t heed any better results and by the time I got to high school, I was a very average student, resulting in an SAT score of 700 total points. 

 We don’t get what we want in life, we get who we are. And who I was, was a poor student with a very bad attitude. I think back now a wonder, where was my Joe Clark? Where was the teacher leader or adult mentor in my life to pick me up by the bootstraps and help me paint that picture of possibility with his or her words and vision? 


When I was a middle school principal I tried to be that leader, but my own character was poor, I was immature and my actions were not always one to model. I too gave out those silly awards. The one I’ll never forget was the “Pigpen Award” to a sixth grader that well, reminded me of pigpen. It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. Now, I think back ten years later and realize why that student pretty much dedicated his time at our school to disruption and chaos. Even though he was one of the smartest to walk through the door. 

 Here are four strategies you can implement from John Maxwell’s teaching to live out this principle:

 Have a High Positive Opinion of People: Whenever I hear someone say “I am just” when they share their position or status in the organization I am quick to remind them, “You are not just anything, you are the __________ who is responsible for…… We only think of ourselves as successful on rare occasions. It is critical for leaders to continually communicate to people how important they are to you, to the role of the organization’s success and how you see them in the future (leading a team, leading a critical initiative or running their own school). 

Back Up Your High Opinion of Others With Action: When you back up your belief in people with action, their self-doubt begins to evaporate. It’s one thing to tell your teenage son or daughter they are a good driver. It’s another thing to give them the keys to drive the family to dinner. Ever wonder how the most successful schools and organizations create a healthy culture where everyone seems to just jump in and help without being asked? It’s because the leader of the organization trusts them with the keys and continually reminds them how important they are. No “Pig-Pen” awards to be found. 

Look Past Their Pasts and Give Them Reputations for Their Futures: Old negative names, labels, or nicknames can block a person’s growth and progress. When I was first hired as a middle school principal and completed my first walk through I notice that one particular class of students had 100% of our minority students and all of our Exceptional Children students. The school abided by homogeneous grouping and they followed each other like sheep throughout the day from class to class. I made it my mission to get to know these students and their goals. During the next year’s planning we built two high school courses into the plan and I challenged the teachers to identify students from that class who could thrive in that environment. One particular student, Tyshon Scott, was a non-negotiable for me. On the first day of his eighth grade year he came to me and said, “Mr. Miller, there is a mistake on my schedule. I am with the smart kids.” I replied, “No, you have it backwards. They are with the smart kid.” He left our school with two high school credits, more than any ninth grader in his next school.

 Give People a New Name or Nickname That Speaks to Their Potential: As a long time teacher and coach I enjoy creating nicknames that speak to their potential and uniqueness. My daughter will always be my “Soul Shine” and my son is “Flash” because he is always on hyper speed, especially with his thoughts. 

To apply John’s teaching to your own life:

                                                           Forget about: 

A person’s failures in the past and focus on his or her potential in the future.


What is special, unique, and wonderful about this person? How can I show it in others?

                                                                   Do it:

Back up your high opinion of a person with action that reinforces that opinion.


Many people go farther than they thought they could go because someone else believed they could and told them so.

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