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Updated: Nov 25, 2020

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Respect, trust, and integrity. These three words are essential in the ability to earn respect, even more so if we are leaders. I am sure we all know of teachers that declare that students in their class must respect them. I remember these comments coming from teachers who spoke those words to me, especially when I was a new teacher. I know as students, we have all been in a class with a teacher that demanded respect from us, but it has never felt right. I have never been sure why anyone thinks they automatically command respect, but that is clearly impossible without the ability to respect others. If it’s hard for someone to earn respect from others, maybe it’s time for them to reflect on their own ability to offer respect, and what conditions are in place for them to be able to respect others.

If we are working with student leaders, and we are wondering why students don't respect them, it likely falls into one or more of the qualities I listed initially: trust, integrity and/or respect. I would suggest that you start with integrity; when leaders are asking others to behave and make choices that they themselves are not making, then they do not understand the importance of integrity. It is important for us to talk to students about what integrity means. As we help our students become leaders, having honest conversations with them about their integrity will allow them to understand why other students (and others they lead) may not listen to their advice. This is especially true if their students don't trust that they are speaking about something that they themselves are not willing to do. Students will listen to their peers based on trust and integrity. It is also important to acknowledge how hard it is to have integrity, while also reminding them that integrity is not always doing the right thing, but owning the mistakes that you've made and accepting the responsibilities.

Peer pressure, for adolescents, is a force that is far stronger than adults may remember. That feeling of needing to belong can be intense. Doing something, even when you know it's not right, just to feel like you are part of something is an incredibly powerful force. Students who truly want to be leaders have to understand the challenges they are facing and the forces that will be working against them as they step into these roles. This understanding is key to their success and their futures as strong leaders.

Having the integrity to do (or not do) the very things you are asking others to do (or not do) is probably the most important ingredient in a relationship that is built on trust.

Military leaders may have to ask their soldiers to fight and deal with conflict, and those soldiers will likely go into battle more willing to fight if they have a leader who is willing to walk beside them. On the other hand, we have examples of the leader that tells soldiers to go fight a battle they themselves are not willing to fight. This analogy is not all that different from student leaders asking their peers to say no to pressures, if they themselves are not willing to stand up and say no to those pressures. Remembering the importance that it's not about always being right, but identifying what to do when you've made the mistake, and how to take responsibility for your choices whether they are right or wrong.

We are in a time right now where respect and integrity are rare. In many relationships, we have seen a lot of trust broken. We have not seen many of those with power make decisions with integrity. When there is not good modeling provided it is key to have those discussions, because one of the most important things about working with students and student leaders is integrity.

Why do your students struggle with integrity?

If this post speaks to you, I encourage you to share this post with someone else. If you think the ideas I am sharing could be useful in a training session for you or your school - please contact me today for a discovery conversation to see if we are a good fit. I really want to spread the world with strong, confident leaders. I can work with teachers, students or your own children, there is really nothing we can’t try.

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