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Why Is It Hard to Find Good Male Leaders On Campus?

An issue continues to surface on college and high school campuses. It came up in the 1990s, and it’s back again. It’s about male students. Specifically, male leaders. Or, the lack of them.

Male LeadersIf you have plenty of male leaders on your campus—you are the exception. Deans, directors, coaches and principals are asking the question: How do we identify them and equip male leaders? Thanks to great efforts to provide opportunities for women since the 1970s (i.e. Title Nine), girls are everywhere; now guys are missing.

Why Are Male Leaders Missing?

Let’s take a quick look at what’s happening in our culture today. Why don’t we see more males leaders? I am sure the list below is not exhaustive, and some may find it invalid. I’m simply offering my observations as we work with thousands of campus administrators who struggle with finding enough healthy, male leaders.

1. Student populations on university campuses are primarily female.

In 1949, seventy percent of students were male. In 2009, it was just over forty percent. Guys are now the minority—which results in two realities: they avoid the pressure they feel to step up and serve. Instead, they enjoy the opportunity to be “in demand.” Frequently, schools dilute standards just to get guys involved. This male / female ratio has actually served to diminish the number of male leaders.

2. We train males for work not for relationships.

Consider for a moment the kinds of activities males engage in: video games, sports, technology and, oh yeah, classes. Few of these equip them to lead in relationships.

The average guy takes classes in math, science and reading, or perhaps his college major—but few have been equipped to develop their emotional intelligence. Self-awareness and social awareness remain low.

3. Males avoid involvement when they believe they will fail.

Not all of the time, but much of the time, males draw their identity from “conquest” not “connection.” Testosterone pushes them to achieve. They naturally want to go out and “win.” If they feel inadequate at building personal relationships—leading through personal power rather than positional power—they might just quit before they begin. Who wants to fail? Because women mature up to two years ahead of men between ages 16-24, guys can be intimidated by their disadvantage and withdraw.

4. Males have ingested chemicals that confuse their identity.

While I think it’s natural for males to want to lead, as boys, most have digested chemicals that reduce their ambition. Many have taken medication for ADHD and nearly all of them have unwittingly consumed BPA, thanks to the plastics they use and water they’ve consumed. Long after the meds have stopped being taken their personality has been altered. What’s more, BPA mimics estrogen in the human system—and confuses boys about their ambitions.

5. Males are often emotionally impaired.

Approximately 62% of kids are growing up without their biological father. This is especially tough for boys; they may have seen no models of healthy male leaders.

Author Patrick Morley says 80% of males today are so emotionally impaired, they are not only unable to express their feelings, they’re unable to identify their feelings. The collateral damage is devastating. This makes stepping up to a leadership role difficult if not daunting.

6. Our culture has provided a faulty image of masculinity.

A cursory look at male heroes from Hollywood reveals two basic images: cowboys and playboys. They are either the strong silent type or the smooth talker who uses people to gain an advantage. Neither is in touch with his feelings or is wiling to be vulnerable and transparent with others. Their goal: keep your cards close to your chest and control your circumstances and outcomes.

7. Males may carry a wrong view of leadership.

Our picture of male leaders from Wall Street or Washington DC is about power and money. Those should be by-products not pursuits of healthy leadership. But males have either bought in to these notions, or completely opted out, despising what they see in corporate and political leaders. When males feel weak, they won’t disclose it. That would be political suicide. The weaker the man, the more he feels he must prove his strength. What comes across is a need to project one’s self-worth.

Increasingly, we live in a world of adolescent men. Men who act like boys. When a man acts like a child, he forces his wife (or girlfriend) to act like his mother. We have too many women trying to raise her children and her husband. Maturity doesn’t come with age. It comes with the acceptance of responsibility. So many guys center on sports, food, alcohol and sex…not accountability and responsibility.

So, What Can We Do?

We must cultivate strength under control not in control. The stronger the man, the less he feels he must prove anything. Here are a handful of suggestions to undertake on your campus to produce healthy male leaders.

a. Identify the few healthy male leaders and focus on cultivating them.

Even if you only have a few, call them out and invest in them. Meet weekly for one year, reading, discussing, holding them accountable to practice leadership. Spend time mentoring them; then challenge them to reproduce other male leaders.

b. Talk about the crying need for healthy male leaders.

Every chance you get, find fresh ways to reveal the great need for men to step forth, then cast vision for what could be if more males would answer this calling. Don’t put anyone on a guilt trip, just be forthright about the need for healthy male leaders.

c. Highlight and affirm the healthy male leaders on the campus.

This is often called, “Bell Sheep.” Hang a bell around the sheep you want the flock to follow. Be intentional about spotlighting good examples of male leadership when you speak, and affirm their qualities that can be replicated.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What can be done to raise up more healthy male leaders?

20 Comments

  1. Patrick McHugh on February 23, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Tim, not sure if you have seen the documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster but I think it plays into this topic. The movie is basically about steroid use in our culture, but one of the sub themes is that the rampant use of steroids is due to the change in how views of masculinity and male body image have changed in the last 30 years. It is worth taking a look at if you haven’t already. As teacher, coach and Athletic Director at a high school, it is a concern how many boys are consumed with the pursuit of getting larger — possibly by any means necessary.

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm

      Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to check that out!

  2. AdamLehman on February 23, 2012 at 4:19 pm

    Amen Tim! I’ve watched a pastor, Chris McAlister, help college guys see new health and spiritual transformation. http://chrismcalister.com

  3. Macpartyof5 on February 23, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    Tim,

    Great post.  I think part of the problem is that by the time males reach college it is too late.  More work needs to be done at the high school level (emotional awareness/identity/spiritual). 

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 4:02 pm

      I agree. It’s always easier to do this work early than try to correct it later!

  4. Moakster on February 23, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Tim this is a great post.  I have been a youth pastor for the past fourteen years and have seen this issue time and time again.  I have a many girls that are ready to assume the leadership reigns but the guys are few and far between.  I’m really concerned about how the modern culture has given males the avenue to become relationally deprived, full of anger, malice, and rage through the constant exposure to wartime video games based upon real-life stories but with no real consequences for their actions.  They only know how to interact online and through games… but shy away from real life relational confrontation or even peaceful communication.  They are paralized with the fear of being rejected that they never even try!  I try to invest in young male leaders when I see them… even to the point of taking a guy that is full of insecurity and is constantly depreciating himself and speaking words of love, faith, and trust into his life every time I see him!  So many young guys have never had a man speak loving and encouraging words to them.. its’ so sad.  Thanks for bringing this to the attention of ministers and leaders across the world.  It’s a huge issue.

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm

      Thanks for the work you are doing! Sounds like your intentionally investing in the young men around you.  Keep up the great job! 

  5. Dave Schroeder on February 24, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Tim, I couldn’t agree more with your assessment.  When I was in high school and college during the 90s, this was an obvious issue.  I was always encouraged to lead and to be in positions to encourage others in it as well.  The fact is, it wasn’t hard to attain official leadership positions. The reason?  Because most of my male counterparts just didn’t care and wanted to spend their time in their own thing, which was yes video games, sports, watching movies, etc.  It was simply easier to do that.  I am tempted to retreat even as a husband and father now because of observing that mentality then. It will not get easier for the young men out there and I have recognized that even though I have two little girls, I need to be mentoring young men in how to grow in leadership.  Thanks again for this post as well as all of your posts.  

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      Thanks for taking time to read and respond. I wish you well in mentoring other young men!

  6. Dan Larson on February 24, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Desperately needed.  The question for this generation is….Where are the men??

  7. Andrea on February 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Tim,

    Put this together with your blog about why women don’t feel like leaders.  We decry the lack of male leaders on campus.  Many women could serve in the leadership roles traditionally carried by men and allow men greater opportunity to disciple people.  But we insist on having men in leadership roles that take them out of active discipleship, or make it such a small part of the picture that it becomes impossible to do well. Given the gaps you’ve identified, it seems that more emphasis on discipling men, not less, is needed.   In the meantime, women who can lead are not invited to and do not have the affirmation of their abilities so that they feel that they can rise to the challenge.  Nothing substitutes for discipleship when building young leaders.

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Great point. I’ve seen it over and over that real life-change takes place in a mentor relationship. Both men and women need this if they are to reach their potential!

  8. Ryan McReynolds on February 27, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    I’m working on a new project to address this issue. I’m hoping to use the language and structure of games and heroic narratives to translate the glory of Jesus in terms that men understand and find compelling. I’m slowly working on this at 
    http://www.crugames.org/

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      Looks like your off to a great start! Very intriguing idea!

  9. Nick W on February 27, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    This is insightful, however, your point in #4 is pretty unfounded. Is there Evidence-based Medicine to back that up? 

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm

      I didn’t intend this blog post to be a scientific discourse. Dr. Leonard Sax has done great work in this field. Check out his work (especially his book “Boys Adrift”) at http://www.leonardsax.com/ 

  10. Ferdie_javier1991 on February 28, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Great topic! Its an eye-opener for us. Hope that i can share to my fellow men leaders in our campus. 🙂

    • Tim Elmore on February 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm

      Thanks for passing it along!

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Why Is It Hard to Find Good Male Leaders On Campus?