Interview with Tim Elmore

The following is a Q & A exchange between Dr. Tim Elmore and me.
I had the privilege of connecting with Tim when a mutual friend introduced us after seeing I had recommended his book, Generation iY, and I am thrilled he has agreed to share his insights with us.

When I think about how quickly the world is changing for ourselves and our students, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Our current technological and social trends present a new array of possibilities and pitfalls that require us to be both innovative and creative.

Tim Elmore helps navigate this brave new world. He is a great resource for school leaders, parents, or students who want to understand the unique challenges and opportunities of reaching this generation of young people.

My goal in posting interviews with successful leaders like Tim is to inspire us to reflect on how our own choices, goals, and actions can affect our lives, our leadership, and our teams. I must also give credit to John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire whose great podcast interview questions I have modified for the Q & A’s I have with my guests.

Tim’s Bio

As the founder and president of Growing Leaders, Tim Elmore provides great resources for developing emerging leaders. As an accomplished author and speaker, he has addressed hundreds of thousands in audiences all over the country as well as internationally.

He has written over 20 books and speaks to high schools, universities, as well as corporations. His books include his best-selling Habitudes™: Images that Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes, Life Giving Mentors, Nurturing the Leader Within Your Child, and Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future.

Tim and his wife, Pam, are raising their children, Bethany and Jordan, in Atlanta, Georgia. You can learn more about him at or at

WDP: Thanks for sharing with us! First, can you start with a favorite success quote?
Tim: I have so many, but one comes to mind that I have pondered for thirty years now. Zig Ziglar used to say, “Show me a stock clerk with a goal, and I will show you a man who’ll make history. Show me a man without a goal, and I will show you…a stock clerk.”

WDP: How have you used the idea contained in your favorite quote to affect your organization’s leadership?
Tim: I have believed that even though I didn’t come from college educated parents or have some elite pedigree, I have always been ambitious and set targets in front of me to hit. It was this that enabled me to begin working with Dr. John C. Maxwell in 1983, and from there, launch a non-profit called, “Growing” We now work with over 6,000 schools and organizations, equipping students to be authentic leaders. I don’t deserve to be doing what I do, but I love every minute of it.

WDP: Can you take us back to a failure or obstacle you overcame and how you did it?
Tim: I became a diabetic when I was 20 years old, as a junior in college. For a while, I wondered if I’d need to give up my career goals, as I knew some diabetics who struggled just to live a normal life. And I didn’t know any diabetics at the time who were over-comers. Along the way, I decided to switch my big question in life from, ‘What do I want to do most in life?’ to ‘What is life asking of me?’ I suddenly realized that overcoming a chronic condition is part of what would make me into the leader I am today.

WDP: What is an example of something you have done that required risk but created great results?
Tim: Launching out on my own, to start “Growing Leaders” was a bit of a risk, compared to remaining on the John Maxwell team, getting paid well and enjoying a life of security. It was safer to stay where I was—but with Maxwell’s blessing—I launched out and have realized my mission—to equip a million students to think and act like authentic leaders. We are now working in over 20 countries, and have translated “Habitudes” into fourteen languages.

WDP: Do you have example of an “aha!” moment where you realized a key truth that you turned into a success?
Tim: Yes–when I first realized I must engage a student’s right-brain, not just his or her left-brain, in the education process and changed my approach to teaching. Ten years ago, I created the first “Habitudes” book, Habitudes: Images That Form Leadership Habits and Attitudes. It has been the most popular resources for small group discussion in the classroom, at youth groups, in businesses, at non-profits and even in the military. I discovered that one key to engaging students is to teach with images, conversations and experiences.

WDP: Have you had an “I’ve made it” moment?
Tim: I never want to stay too long in the land of “I Have Made It,” but it was fun to be asked to be on Fox and Friends, as well as CNN Headine News four times this past year, to talk about this emerging generation of kids, Generation iY, and what we need to do to prepare them for adulthood.

WDP: What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Tim: The best advice I ever got was this: Learn to lead yourself before you ever try to lead someone else.

WDP: What is something that is working for you or your team right now?
Tim: Right now, we are doing pilot projects, partnering with the Department of Education in three states to create tools for teachers in order to get students “career ready.” The state of Nebraska has asked us to create new Habitudes (images) that will ignite conversations in K-12 classes to prepare kids for career and adulthood.

WDP: Do you have a resource that you just love that you would recommend to school leaders or leaders in general?
Tim: I have benefited greatly from the book, “Leadership and Self-Deception” by the Arbinger Institute–a powerful book that forced me to reflect. I have read it many times.

WDP: Any other recommended books for school leaders?
Tim: I would love to invite schools try out our “Habitudes” book series for their students and, of course, the book, Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, for faculty and parents. You can preview them at,

WDP: If you could speak to the 20 year-old version of yourself, what advice would you give?
Tim: Go slow. Stay focused. Do it right.

WDP: Any final thoughts?
Tim: Thanks for all you do for the next generation behind you. Educators are my heroes.

WDP: Thanks, Tim, for sharing your insights, advice, and recommendations with us! You can learn more about Tim Elmore at or at

Now It’s Your Turn

1. Tim shared how he changed from asking, ‘What do I want to do most in life?’ to ‘What is life asking of me?’ How would you answer that question for yourself?
2. What are resources you use or recommend for teaching through the use of images, conversations, and experiences?

Principal Matters–The Book!

Principal Matters (Final) 3D
School leaders are very busy, so each of the twenty-four chapters is designed as a quick-read and followed with take-action questions for follow-up or reflection. If you want practical ideas on understanding your purpose, managing school teams, dealing with challenges, and leading with courage, action, motivation, and teamwork, go HERE to pick up a copy for you or your team.

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker