Personal Leadership Advice from a 12 Year-Old Student

Gabrielle, what advice would you give to students?

“If you have something to say,
have courage to say it.”

-Gabrielle Mims (age 12)-
Student, Saint James School, Montgomery, Alabama
Daughter of Dr. Dionne Rosser-Mims
Interim Dean, College of Education, Troy University


Many if not most people have an under-developed instinct because a common reaction has not been examined and improved:

When given an opportunity to speak, many of us hold back from saying what we know, think, or feel because of fear of making a mistake, fear of feeling embarrassed in front of others, or a habit of counting on others to contribute.

Reality check on truth:

When asking people who hesitate from participating how they feel about people who try, even if they fail, they usually claim to appreciate their courage. They want more courage themselves and want to feel freedom to  do more confidently.

And, when asking some of those people who hesitate what advice they would give to others on whether to show courage to try or to protect themselves by doing nothing, they almost always say they would encourage them to do their best and not hesitate because of “what others think.”

So, when unexamined, many people act differently than they desire. We can improve by envisioning how we want our best-selves to behave in important situations. Often, that challenging of self is the start of improved  thinking and behaving.



In addition to learning, writing, and answering questions to earn grades in school, you can develop yourself better as a person, team member, and leader who will enjoy participating with courage if you practice stating and doing more instead of hesitating instinctively. Practice by envisioning yourself hearing a question you want to answer, possibly feeling fear, and acting anyway because of the purpose behind why you wanted to contribute. For some, you will show more courage next time and for others change will take place over time making small continuous improvements.


Create a culture of trust where students feel courage to try as well as encourage others.

Many people often recommend, create a culture where people will not judge mistakes or efforts of others. That is good advice, though falls short. Higher level thinking goes beyond group behavior to also empower individuals to speak and act on convictions in groups prepared to encourage as well as those who may not.

If a student participates only when she trusts the class will be kind, she will be limited when a group is not encouraging. The better concept is to have courage when you think the group might not encourage as well as when you think they probably will. This way, you will be true to yourself more often. While it is valuable for students to perceive feelings and preferences of a group, deciding to speak or act only when others are receptive can lead to lower courage and spending excess time wondering “what others think.”

If our instincts prompt us to act or not based on perception of how the group will respond, we are not acting on the main question–what do we have to contribute? We should practice and train ourselves to assess in the moment if the question is worthy of answering and if we have something to say that could add value. This way, we can practice being true to ourselves and serving others to develop that instinct instead of instinctively decide to behave one way in one group and differently in another group based on external influences.

The probability is high there will often be at least one person in the group who does not share your values or like your approaches–and, for lower-level reasons, may not want you to succeed. There is risk you will decide to contribute–or not–based on the least supportive person in the room. Do you really want to give a person not wanting you or others to succeed power to influence you holding back on helping others or yourself? This is easier said than done, to speak in a partially hostile environment, though the more we face the reality and envision what our best-self would do the more courage we can develop.

Back Story and Forward Thinking

Kids from Camp Rockhurst had visited for Ranch Day days prior. I was arriving to work with Dr. Dionne Rosser-Mims, the new acting dean of the College of Education. Seeing her daughter, Gabrielle (Gabby), I told her kids her age and younger had come to my farm to spend time with horses and we provided a short seminar to offer ways to use the camp to learn and improve their lives.

Gabrielle’s mom (Dr. Rosser-Mims) asked Gabby, “what advice would you have given those kids?”

Gabby’s simple though profound answer inspired a discussion of what and how we could help more students–and adults–in camps, in classes, in curriculum to develop more courage and better habits. That discussion led to this article.

When asked the question, Gabby did not hesitate. She had an answer to the question and followed through instinctively. She acted as if she has internalized a belief that it is natural to contribute an answer.

How would you have responded?

How would your students or children or other loved ones have responded?

Let’s face it: many 12 year-olds may hesitate to speak up. Truth is, many adults with many more years of maturity hesitate in similar situations. The reason often is, they hesitated as children, practiced that thinking and behavior early on multiple times. They may not have considered what they wanted regarding callings, courage, and confidence. They kept the childhood behavior well into adulthood because they never challenged or changed themselves by creating different expectations.

Just because we get older does not mean we automatically get better. Also, a young person can become better than some adults at developing and using simple courage to participate by envisioning how they want to act and practicing until desired behavior becomes more instinctive. A proactive student can “grow beyond her years” with thought and effort.

Camp Rockhurst is a nonprofit program founded by Terry Slaughter primarily for kids who live in the Rosedale Community in the Birmingham Area. Terry, family, staff, and volunteers organized the camp and brought them to the ranch.

I got to greet them riding one of my horses, American Patriot, as they drove on the property. The big smiles and wide-open eyes built anticipation for most of them to meet and sit on a horse for the first time. We helped each child mount Patriot or Indian Legend to experience mounting and sitting on a horse, riding a short distance guiding the horse with reins, and having their photos taken.

Most of the children eagerly took their chance. A few, just like in a classroom, hesitated due to fear and had to face their instincts that held them back. Those kids not only learned a little about horses but also about themselves. Some will have more courage the next time they face fear.

We broke bread together on the porch and enjoyed a short program in the Ranch Room–Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, and Program discussing how they could learn and develop themselves in the camp. We discussed how to develop purpose and courage. After our picnic, many enjoyed catching and releasing small bass in the pond. We hiked through the woods and returned to eat watermelon and share some with the horses.

Students from Camp Rockhurst added to their Life Leadership in a day camp that included a beginner horse clinic, photo on a horse for a remembrance of their learning, courage, and enjoyment, short seminar on Life Leadership, fishing, hiking, BBQ lunch and watermelon.

To see more photos from Camp Rockhurst Ranch Day, visit the Life Leaders Ranch page on Facebook, then view the Camp Rockhurst album. To see more animals and facilities, visit the Triple D Ranch and Farm page.

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