RLL 42: Lessons from the 'Worst Class in School'

Real Life Leading #42

Lessons from the 'Worst Class in School'

Happy Sunday, everyone! I'm excited this week to share with you a few things I've learned from what has been labeled 'the worst class in school' (I mentioned them in last week's blog post. You can find it here: Last week I mentioned the importance of setting high expectations early and to believe the best in people. This week I want to follow up with two others lessons associated with this group.

First, I find that it is vital to address the 'elephant in the room', the giant issue that everyone knows is there but most people refuse to acknowledge. The reason for this is simple: if you just ignore it, it continues to be an issue. For this class, the elephant in the room was their reputation and the things that have contributed to it: being disrespectful, constantly breaking rules (e.g. dresscode, gum-chewing, etc.), and generally being disinterested in their school work. So together we addressed these issues by discussing their importance, and once the students saw that there actually is a purpose for these things, their approach became somewhat more respectful. Keep in mind, though, that habits take time to break, and these are still kids after all. That's where it's important to have grace, and it also leads us to the second point.

The other important thing is to revisit the expectations daily or at least very regularly. Students shouldn't have to be reminded to follow the dress code; but neither should adults have to be reminded to follow the speed limit. And yet we need those reminders. Whether through simple forgetfulness (or, more likely, sinfulness), we tend to slack off. So in my class we revisited each issue once or twice during the week, reminding the students of the policies, but more importantly, reminding them of the progress they're already making in terms of changing their reputations.

I find that it's extremely important to "catch the students being good" (if I could remember who I heard that phrase from, I would gladly credit them!) and to show them that you saw what they were doing. Much of what I've shared this week has been strongly influenced by a book called 'The First Days of School' by Dr. Harry K. Wong. It's a must-read for every teacher, and I also believe the principles would be useful in any leadership setting.

So, this week in your world, be sure to address whatever 'elephants' are causing your group problems. Just remember to do so with patience, grace, and love, the same way we want people to address us when we're not doing what we should. Jesus has forgiven me for much bigger things than leaving my shirt untucked; therefore, I need to be willing to forgive students when they don't follow the rules in my classroom. Discipline still occurs, but it's done to teach and instruct, not to punish; again, in the same way God disciplines us. 

Thanks for your time, and feel free to share this article! Also, I'm still booking speaking engagements for the rest of 2018 and into 2019, so if you'd like to learn more or hear me in person, contact me via the form on the website, or email me at Thanks, and have an amazing rest of your day!


RLL 36--Lessons from Dad

RLL 36--Lessons From Dad

Today is Father's Day, and as such I wanted to share with all of you the introduction to my e-book (Extra)Ordinary Leadership, which is written about my dad, as well as the list of 10 Things Dad Taught Me Without Saying Anything.

These are lessons that Dad lived and that I observed and have tried to also live out (though, admittedly, I have failed more often than I have succeeded). They form guidelines for how I try to treat others and how I try to lead. I hope that you are encouraged by them and inspired by them. I also hope that they cause you to remember with fondness lessons that your father or father-figure taught you. Happy Father's Day!

My father, John Wesley Hawbaker, was an incredible leader: educated at Illinois Wesleyan University (B.A.) and the University of Georgia (M.A.), he also went through the US Army Officer Candidate School, US Army Airborne School (where he won the Outstanding Leadership Award for his class), and the US Army Ranger School. He was a member of the famous 82nd Airborne Division, and he won three Bronze Star Medals for his service in Vietnam. 
He also was a businessman, an ROTC instructor, a college professor, and a civic club volunteer. Most importantly, he was a husband and a father. He truly followed the motto of the U.S. Army Rangers: “Lead the Way.” This is about what Dad taught me just through the way he lived. 

“Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi

The cover of '(Extra)Ordinary Leadership': Dad in his military dress uniform.

The cover of '(Extra)Ordinary Leadership': Dad in his military dress uniform.

The above quote is often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though I have not been able to find any record of him actually having said or written it. Regardless, I feel that the sentiment is true, and that St. Francis may have said it is entirely plausible based on his own life of service and love to others. St. Francis was the founder of the Franciscan order of monks, and even hundreds of years later he stands as an amazing example of a man who lived his life in such a way that he consistently put the needs of others above his own.

What does it mean to preach the gospel without using words? Actions must show the love of God to others, to the degree that the recipient cannot but wonder at your motivation. Our love must be such that it cannot be explained away by reason or ulterior motive, even by the most jaded cynic. Understood this way, love is a choice, an action, an expression of the will. This idea is addressed by C.S. Lewis in The Screwtape Letters when, writing as Screwtape, he describes the demons as wondering what God is really up to when Screwtape says that “He really loves the little vermin.” To people who don’t understand the love of God, the motives of Christian love will forever remain a mystery.

The world will question Christians’ motives, and we must overcome even the strongest objections through our actions. When we do this, and when the opportunity arises for words, the words will then carry the full weight of convictions already proven, not just the often-empty promises of something postponed or alluded to. I do not know if I ever heard Dad actually share the Gospel. In fact, when he was not far from death, I asked my father about his salvation because I simply was not sure, and I was not willing to lose him without being as sure as I could be about his salvation. I knew he had been a good man of high morals, but since he was not vocal about his faith, I was not sure he was saved, and I needed to be. As it turns out, this was one of the more ridiculous worries I have ever had.

Upon reflection, it should have been obvious that Dad’s motivation was not anything other than a desire to serve God well by loving other people. When I look back at the many ways Dad served and loved others throughout his lifetime, I began to try to understand the principles behind his actions. The more I examined them, the more I have realized that all of them are rooted in love. Despite being from a generation that often frowned on males showing affection, my father never hesitated to give me a hug or tell me that he loved me.

In the same way, many people who knew Dad spoke of how they knew he cared about them because of his actions, his treatment of them. It was this ability to show love to others, to serve them and show them that he cared, that was at the center of who my father was. He was not always perfect, and he often failed, especially with my older brother, with whom he often disagreed. However, as Dad and my brother both got older, this love became more evident, it became more vocal, and it made my heart glad to see how much better my dad and brother got along before Dad died.

In talking with many people about Dad, including my mom, I have learned that Dad first learned integrity and love from his own parents, John Myron Hawbaker, a good man by all accounts, and Olive Alice Merriman, a loving and caring mother. And it is the foundation of love that is at the heart of all of the principles found in this book. For those of you who want to know where these principles came from, a brief explanation may suffice.

One of my all-time favorite pictures: Dad, my older daughter, and me, on our way to a soccer game.

One of my all-time favorite pictures: Dad, my older daughter, and me, on our way to a soccer game.

A number of years ago I was asked to give a devotional message for my fellow high school teachers at a Christian school in Alabama. In the process of thinking about that, I started thinking about my father, who had recently passed away. I was struck by a number of life principles that he embodied and yet never spoke aloud. I was also amazed that he had never actually said these things and yet they were so apparent to anyone who knew him. These principles form the core of each chapter in the book. Each principle is written out clearly and then explained using illustrations from Dad’s life. I hope that anyone who reads this is encouraged and inspired to also try to live like Dad did. I can think of no better way to honor him than to try to live out the principles he embodied.

In some ways, Dad lived an ordinary, if eventful, life: son, brother, husband, father, soldier, civilian. However, the way he lived and the principles he lived by were extraordinary, and I hope you are encouraged by him.

'10 Things Dad Taught Me Without Saying Anything'

  1. Always show respect to others, even when they don’t extend you the same courtesy.

  2. Control your temper--it’s yours, and only you can lose it.

  3. Choose to be in a good mood every morning--you can control your emotions, or you can be controlled by them.

  4. If there is work to do, do it--no excuses or reasons to avoid it--get it done.

  5. You are responsible for you. Own up to your actions and accept responsibility for your choices.

  6. Others come first--always.

  7. There is no person or task that is below your dignity.

  8. It’s OK if people don’t know how great you are--you don’t have to tell them.

  9. Take care of your family even if it’s hard.

  10. Always do what is right.

RLL 32--Inverted Leadership (part 1 of 4)

RLL 32--Inverted Leadership (part 1 of 4)

Starting this week and for the next month, these updates will be excerpts from my upcoming book Inverted Leadership: Lead Others Better By Forgetting About Yourself. The book will be available on June 12th on Amazon, and I hope that you are encouraged, inspired, and challenged by what you read!

From Chapter 1--Confident Humility: Leadership As Service And Art

My father is from a small farm town in Illinois called Paw Paw, with a population of less than 900 people. He was able to go to college at Illinois Wesleyan in the 1960s. A year after he graduated from college, he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. After that, he decided to make a career in the military, staying in the army for 20 years, eventually joining the 82nd Airborne, going through Ranger School, and winning numerous medals and commendations, including three Bronze Stars. He finally retired, having attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Just before he retired, though, he was up for promotion to the rank of Colonel, which would have been a significant step up in rank, in pay, and in prestige. However, because Dad knew he was planning to retire, he withdrew his name from consideration for the promotion.

This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of Dad, my older daughter, and me. If you can't tell, she's wearing a Cinderella a soccer game. She's not concerned about being judged or laughed at because she didn't know any better, and she was confident in the love of those around her.

This is one of my all-time favorite pictures of Dad, my older daughter, and me. If you can't tell, she's wearing a Cinderella a soccer game. She's not concerned about being judged or laughed at because she didn't know any better, and she was confident in the love of those around her.

I asked him about this later in his life, and I asked him why he chose to withdraw his name. Dad’s answer was an excellent example of what will be called Confident Humility. He simply said, “Because I don’t need to know.” Dad then went on to explain how, though he was curious if he would have been considered worthy of this major promotion, ultimately waiting to see if he got promoted would have been counter-productive to the Army and thus to the country. He admitted it would have been fun to wait and see if he got the promotion. But he also knew that by waiting to be promoted only to then immediately retire from the military would have benefited only himself. Therefore, he chose to go ahead and retire without ever finding out about that promotion. He just didn’t need to know.

That idea of not needing to know is exactly what this entire book is about: this concept of Confident Humility, leading others and serving others without focusing on yourself. It is self-belief that is used in the service of other people. This idea is upside down and backwards, entirely counter-cultural because it is based on what is eternal rather than what is temporal; it is based on Jesus rather than on what is good for us. We often measure success by how much we can accumulate, or how far and quickly we can get promoted--things that are self-focused and self-centered. As a result of that, we have come to a point where there is a gap between what success and leadership are and what they ought to be. This book is an attempt to begin correcting that misunderstanding by helping people rethink leadership based on an eternal perspective, beginning with the concept of Confident Humility.


Can you imagine, especially after the 2016 US Presidential election, a presidential debate that was characterized by true respect between the various candidates, rather than the passive-aggressive insults and insinuations among the candidates (even in the same party)? Can you imagine a politician ever giving a news conference to apologize for something before a scandal has broken, or in order to simply take responsibility for something that was done which he or she has now changed their mind about? Today it seems the only time people take responsibility for negative choices is when they have been outed and are now trying to save their reputation. As the old saying goes, “Success has many parents, but failure is an orphan.”

Again, Confident Humility turns that on its head, saying that our first job is to give respect to other people while taking responsibility for our choices and our actions. Confident Humility focuses on serving other people, creating good relationships between leader and audience, and on building other people up regardless of who gets the credit for accomplishments. When my wife and I got married, her father said something at our wedding about love that I believe also is very applicable in this context. He said, “Love is choosing someone else’s ultimate good over your own.” I believe this is absolutely how leaders ought to operate: by choosing the ultimate good of other people over themselves. The greatest example of this is Jesus, who through love for us and a desire to do the Father’s will, gave Himself up for us on the cross.


From Chapter 2--CEOs or Youth Soccer Coaches: Lead Where You Are

First principle of confident humility: Lead Where You Are

First principle of confident humility: Lead Where You Are

Here’s the truth about leadership: most of us will not be CEOs of multinational corporations with thousands of employees in our charge; most of us won’t be college presidents, responsible for dozens or hundreds of faculty members and hundreds or even thousands of students. Most of us will never be military commanders with soldiers’ lives in our hands; we are unlikely to be professional sports coaches, responsible for managing multi-millionaire athletes and some of their egos. But many of us will be parents, Sunday school teachers, or volunteers in local civic groups. We will be youth soccer coaches, organizers of small drama groups, or helpers at local animal or homeless shelters. Though our audience or organizations may be smaller, we will all be leaders in various ways because we have been called by God to further the ends of His kingdom while we are here on earth. The key is to remember: just because the setting and audience size are smaller, this does not mean that our leadership matters any less. In fact, the smaller our setting and audience, the more important the leadership due to the larger potential impact we can have on each individual within our audience or organization. Think of the person that has impacted your life the most: was it a celebrity or athlete or CEO? For most of us, the person who impacted us the most is someone we spent significant time with in a smaller setting: a teacher, a coach, a youth pastor, a caring adult, or someone similar.

I have an immediate family of four: myself, my wife, and our two daughters. I also have classes averaging twenty students per class, and I have an average of thirty soccer players in my program at any given time. The amount of influence I can have on my wife and daughters far outweighs the influence I can have over each student or soccer player that I have. The smaller the organization, the more influence and impact the leader can have. Thus, the first principle of Confident Humility, LEAD WHERE YOU ARE, means this: every role is either a leadership role or preparation for a future leadership role, so begin leading wherever you are right now.


I hope you liked those two teaser parts from the book! Remember, Inverted Leadership: Lead Others Better By Forgetting About Yourself is coming out on Tuesday, June 12th! If you'd like to read the whole first chapter now, come sign up at, and let me know if you'd like to be part of the launch team. Also, please be sure to share!