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How to Lead Generation Z When You’re Not in Charge

Leading is never easy–especially when you don’t have a badge. And it can be even tougher when you attempt to lead students. By this, I mean gaining authority in a teen’s life is an accomplishment, especially if you have no title or position of leadership. Consider this case study from last year.

Coach Goodman works with the varsity high school boys’ basketball team. Once the cuts were made and the team was in place, something switched. Goodman found that several of his team members gave him no respect. A few of them acted like they knew more than he did. When he confronted them on it, one replied, “We don’t have to do what you say; we have rights, too.” 

The social contract of a team and the idea of teamwork had not yet taken root. 

Earning Authority with Students

Respect works differently than it did when I was a student. Certainly not all teens exhibit the renegade spirit illustrated above, but because Generation Z has been exposed to so much information and to so many adult realities, they’re more jaded than previous generations of students. They know too much too soon. Consequently, many educators and leaders find it challenging to get teens to cooperate.

This likely means leaders like you and I must practice adjacent influence. This means we stop presuming anyone will follow us simply because we are the positioned leader. Instead of assuming, what if we started earning our influence? Credibility to lead doesn’t automatically come with tenure or titles. Start with these steps:

  • Pretend you lead volunteers. No one gets paid or is expected to follow you.
  • Imagine that every day is a job interview for you and your leadership.
  • Ask yourself: What reasons do I give anyone to want to follow my directions? 

How would this change your approach to leadership? 

How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge

These questions place us back in positions to influence, as if we are not in charge. Many who read this actually may not be in charge. You are a friend. A teammate. A colleague. How do you influence others in this situation? In the Habitudes series, I introduced “The Paul Revere Principle.” The evening Paul Revere made his ride around Lexington, MA, to warn patriots the British were coming, William Dawes also made a similar ride, giving the same warning. History tells us hundreds of volunteers responded to Paul Revere’s challenge. No one responded to William Dawes. Interesting. Neither had a leadership title, but one still influenced people. Let me suggest a few qualities that enable a person to earn the right to influence others:

  1. Insight. People listen to you because of what you know.
  2. Relationships. People listen to you because of whom you know.
  3. Sacrifice. People listen to you because of what you’ve suffered. 
  4. Abilities. People listen to you because of what you’re able to do.
  5. Character. People listen to you because of your integrity. 
  6. Experience. People listen to you because of what you’ve done. 
  7. Intuition. People listen to you because of what you sense or foresee. 
  8. Humility. People listen to you because of your heart.
  9. Relevance. People listen to you because you identify with their needs. 
  10. Convictions. People listen to you because of your passion.

So, without a title, do you give students any reasons to follow or listen to you?

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How to Lead Generation Z When You're Not in Charge