Be a Leader for a Cause… Not for Applause


How do you steer your teen toward goals that matter?

There’s a common drift taking place among leaders. It’s the drift from altruistic motivation to self-serving ones…over time. So often, we begin well as a leader for a cause, but slowly, it becomes about “us” instead of that great problem we were trying to solve.

The drift is especially pronounced among teens. If you asked the typical high school or college student today if they hope to be a part of “changing the world,” I’d bet you’d hear a resounding “yes.” It’s the make-up of Generation Y. But, the last time adolescents were asked about their top goals, their answer might surprise you:

  • Their number one goal was to be rich.
  • Their number two goal was to be famous.

Further, more teenagers said they want to be the “assistant to a celebrity” rather than the celebrity, meaning that they want glamor, but not the responsibility that comes with it. I find they often want the influence but not the burden that comes with that influence. Just enough to be paid well and to be around… well, you know… the applause.

The students who think this way have failed to answer the “why” before they get to the “what.” They want influence and affluence—but why? For many (not all), I fear it’s for the applause, not the cause. Oh, they still sign petitions for getting clean water to Africa, and to stop human-trafficking and to save the trees, but my research shows they’ve become less passionate and more “fashionate.” They do it because their friends do it; it’s fashionable. This tells me that the motivation behind their action may not be altruistic after all. Alas, it may still be narcissistic.

So what can we do to help them remain leaders for a cause, not applause?

Talk over the “why” before the “what.” As you discuss their life-purpose and plans, before you ever dialogue about their vision, help them nail down their values. Before they settle what they want to do, talk about why they want to do it. Is it truly about furthering the “cause” or the “applause”? In short, leaders must get in touch with what’s behind their goals. This is crucial, for I have found that why I do something will ultimately determine what I do.

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