I am finishing a blog series explaining why it’s so difficult for young people to step up into leadership roles today. Staff/faculty tell me it’s very difficult for the majority of them. I plan to offer a diagnosis and a prescription in each blog. So far, I’ve shared three ideas young people struggle with currently: meaningful conversation, critical thinking, and healthy risk. In this post, I will share one more.
The single trait that people indicated they most desired in leaders is: integrity. People young and old want leaders who have values and are honest and ethical. Sadly, this is a huge reason why students today shun leadership roles. They don’t possess those values.
In nationwide surveys, students admit they are far too pragmatic to stick to any one set of ethics. For instance, you probably know how prevalent cheating is among kids. While they acknowledge it’s wrong, they still do it because…they’re an exception. They have to get a good grade to keep their GPA up so they can get that scholarship. (Incidentally, students in both public and private, Christian schools cheat).
So how do they cheat?
They have learned to cheat in ways we never would have imagined when we were in school or college. The Chronicle for Higher Education carried their most popular article ever in a recent edition. It was written by a man who ghost-writes papers for students anonymously, via a website. (These websites are numerous). Students can fill out a form, indicating the topic of the paper, how long it must be, how many sources must be included, and any other particulars their professor desires. Days later…Bingo. The paper is done. The man who wrote the article (under a pseudonym) shared that he’s ghost-written papers on theology, military strategy, lab experiment reports, and yes, even papers on academic integrity.
Truth is, very few students live their life by principles. By this I mean, they don’t enter high school or college with a set of values that guide their decisions. For that matter, I suppose millions of adults don’t have these guidelines either. We are no longer a nation of people who live by principles. Just look at our congress in D.C. Just look at corporate investors on Wall Street. For that matter, look at teachers in public schools who’ve cheated on test scores so they can get a raise. So, how do we rebuild these principles in our students?
1. Start young. Teach them to kids as early as possible.
If you’re a parent, begin by talking about these principles (in an age-appropriate way) when they are in pre-school. You’ll be amazed at how much it helps.
2. Live them out don’t just talk them over.
Kids benefit more from “seeing” a sermon rather than “hearing” one. Model the way. Embody the life you want them to embrace when they’re older.
3. Apologize when you fail.
I just did this yesterday with my daughter. When kids see adults apologize, it reminds them that there are transcendent principles that even adults must follow.
4. Help kids write them down.
When they are ready, sit down with them and help them write out their own list of personal core values. Then, show them your list. This helps solidify them inside.
If we expect kids to be leaders, they must first learn to lead themselves. This, quite frankly, begins with incarnating a set of principles.
How can we help students live by principles?