Leadership not an individual endeavor

Congratulations! You’re an officer in your favorite organization. I’d imagine that you’re feeling a mix of excitement and fear, and that your mind is filled with grand plans for the future and more than a few bits of apprehension. Don’t panic! These feelings are perfectly normal.

After all, being an officer in one of Tech’s many student groups is an important responsibility. People are truly depending on you, and you can no longer let “them” handle it. You are “them”! As you begin your adventure as one of the leaders of your group, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

First and foremost, get to know your fellow officers. They are going to be your closest allies, if not  your closest friends. Only together can your officer board lead your organization; an organization driven by a single person only leads to a burnt out single person. Only by connecting with the others can you band together as a team.

That means going out to dinner as an officer board every now and again, and trying to understand what makes your colleagues tick. Making an effort to connect will help all of you do a better job leading your organization together.

When you’ve secured the team you will work with in the present, your next task will be to figure out who will lead the organization next year. That’s a task that needs to be done now, not next semester. It seems really early but developing next year’s leaders is a task which takes many months and careful attention. You should not choose next year’s president in October, but you should have an idea of the handful of students who will form the core of next year’s officer board fairly quickly.

Once you have identified those few, make a special effort to include them in small decisions and ask for their input. Give them meaningful tasks and maybe let one or two of them shadow you. Encourage them to invest in the organization so that when it comes time for the group to choose next year’s officers, there is a stable of younger students to step in whole-heartedly.

When it comes to actually carrying out your job as an officer, you must understand that you have many resources available to you. To put it bluntly, you should use those resources. Externally, you have SGA funding and an SGA executive position—Vice President of Student Organizations—devoted to helping you and your group succeed. You probably know many older students who can be give you advice. The Office of Student Involvement always has programs which help teach you how to best make use of what the Institute offers you.

There are also young alumni of whom you can make use—for the next few months, anyway. Most importantly, many groups have faculty advisers or coaches. You should consciously make an effort to use these people in particular, and to carve them out a place in your group. Letting them just sit on the sidelines is a disservice to them and a waste of talent.

Internally, your biggest resources are your members. It is guaranteed that there will be people in your group who complement your particular set of skills. Don’t hesitate to reach out to them when you’re struggling with a task. Also, don’t be afraid to deputize someone if you need help with a certain initiative—with their consent of course. It’s a great learning opportunity for those who help you, and it will help you carry out your job.

When you finally come to planning your year—after making sure you have the right people and resources around you—it’s important to think big but take it slow. Often, student groups want to change everything right away, but immediately need to dial back their ambitions because there simply isn’t the enough time. Resist the temptation to change everything and instead translate those grand dreams into multi-year projects.

Of course, a multi-year project means that you need to achieve intermediate goals on a regular basis. Lay the groundwork for future groups’ efforts. A year is a very short time, so identify that which you can complete in an academic year, then strive to complete a piece each time you meet.

Above and beyond all of this advice, keep this in mind: have fun. No, really, just have fun. A dear friend of mine told me that the day I looked to the next group meeting I had to lead with a sense of dread was the day that I really shouldn’t be leading the group anymore. You have an awesome opportunity to affect Tech’s campus in a meaningful way. Go ahead and take it. Good luck!


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