The 3 Motives Of A Leader People Want To Follow

We are in the process of electing/selecting our group of student leaders for next year. We call them “student leaders” because they will fill the various leadership roles we have identified on our campus. These include positions in student government, resident assistants, peer mentors, etc.

Each of these roles have some authority (with a lot of responsibility) built into them. One of my tasks is to help each student leader learn to exert his or her influence among peers and followers in a way that goes beyond the initial authority that’s inherent in each position. I can’t express this enough: Your peers will follow your leadership with greater loyalty when they want to, rather than when they have to.


At this early stage of their student leadership year, I think it’s so important to talk about motive. Asking questions like:

Why did you want to serve in this student leadership position?
What are you hoping to achieve for those whom you lead?
What kind of reward do you want to get out of this experience?

If you are one of those people who was recently elected or selected for a student leadership position…Congratulations! Now it’s time to evaluate your motives as a student leader. Your motives will go a long way in helping you to be the kind of leader that others want to follow…rather than have to follow.

Consider the following three suggestions.

1. Meaning over money.

Many students run or apply for a student leadership position because of the benefit it will bring to them personally. I think it’s great that we are able to pay some of our student leaders. But that can’t be the main reason you want to lead. Those who follow you aren’t excited to follow your leadership because you are gaining a financial reward from it. They want to follow someone who is creating meaningful experiences for them. They want to know what they are getting out of this thing. If you work hard to develop meaningful experiences for your peers, they will see the money you’re getting paid as a good investment.

2. Purpose over power.

I often hear students say they want to be a student leader so they can finally do things their way. I don’t argue with them. Their way might actually be better than previous experiences. But doing things “my way” isn’t a solid motive to build your leadership around. No matter what kind of authority or power you have in your position, you will find even greater power in your ability to connect people to a purpose greater than themselves. Students want to be a part of something significant. They want to join a cause worth fighting for. You have an opportunity to use your resources to do something great for them…not just for yourself.

3. Ethics over ego.

There is always a bit of ego tied to the election/selection process of student leaders. I’ve talked to hundreds of students who have ¬†lost in the process. It hurts and it makes you question yourself a little bit. It’s also true for those who win. It’s easy to get an over-inflated view of yourself. When that happens, you might find yourself acting in ways that go against character or integrity. When you have a big ego you might feel a sense of entitlement or that the rules don’t apply to you. When that happens, you repel people. Entitled leaders are egomaniacs. Ethical leaders will always work hard to make the right decision, even if it’s unpopular. When you do that, you earn respect. Respect is much more powerful than popularity. (Tweet this now)

Take a moment and reflect on your own motives in each of these three areas. Which way do you lean?

In the comments, tell me why you’d rather follow a meaningful, purposeful, and ethical leader rather than the other kind?

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