Landing a leadership position in an organization on campus is a great resume booster as well as an awesome way to gain experience and develop new skills. While being a student leader comes with many benefits, there’s no doubt you will run into a multitude of problems. Check out our solutions for some of the most common issues student leaders run into!
1. Communicating clearly to your fellow members
Cheryl Cran, author of Leadership Mastery In the Digital Age, believes that communication is the cornerstone to being a successful leader.
“It is important to be able to articulate a vision, a passionate direction and to be able to adapt to a variety of different communication styles,” she says. “Master leaders have mastered the art of communication.”
Since communication is a two-way street, make sure you’re holding up your end! To do this, Cran encourages envisioning the end result. “Focus on what you want for an outcome – What do you want to have happen?” she says. “Then base all of your word choices to create that outcome. Focus on being energetic and engaged with others, show empathy and care and communicate to people with an attitude of caring about them.”
Grace*, a junior at Texas Christian University and former head of International Christian Fellowship, came to realize the importance of communication after struggling to connect with her club members.
“I was a part of a mentor program that eventually asked me to lead the organization,” Grace says. “When I started leading the group, I really had no idea what I was doing. I would talk to a few different people about what they wanted for the group, but everyone was hesitant to share their ideas. After a lack in progress, I realized I needed to initiate responses rather than wait for them.”
To initiate responses, hold face-to-face discussions as much as possible. Your message will be a lot clearer this way compared to those delivered via email or text message.
“Face-to-face allows for connection, facial expressions and body language,” Cran says. “This type of communication is always best, as typically there will be clear understanding between … the group. I also recommend face-to-face whenever you need to have a important discussion such as giving feedback [or] airing concerns.”
In these discussions and whenever you’re interacting with the group, be confident! You will be much more approachable if you portray a sense of confidence rather than seeming unsure about what you’re doing.
Finally, try and get to know as many of your members on a semi-personal level as possible. This will help you determine the best way to speak with these different people. However, in getting to know different members within the group, you will become closer with some than others. Don’t let these developed relationships lead you to showing favoritism or being selective.
2. Conflict in the group
Conflict is bound to arise in your student group. Although addressing conflict can be tough, you cannot leave issues unresolved!
“Conflict is inevitable and is often created due to personality differences, value differences, generational differences, gender differences and work-style differences,” Cran says.
With student organizations, leaders will most often find themselves dealing with two or more members disagreeing about how to do something for the group and refusing to compromise.
“It is important for the leader to learn the art of mediation or facilitating solutions,” Cran says. “A great leader will be able to see a situation from both the points of view of each of the people involved in the disagreement while also being objective and focusing on solutions to the conflict.”
According to Cran, you should ask each person what his or her understanding is of the situation and what to do about it. Then you can focus on what they have in common and help the group members come up with a win-win.
While conflict may be a pain to deal with, Dr. Rick Brinkman, author of Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, believes that challenges that arise due to conflict are good for keeping you on your toes.
“Whether or not you succeed in dealing with the situation, you will have built your own strength and be better prepared for something similar in the future,” Dr. Brinkman says.
3. Maintaining positivity within your club
Nobody wants to be in an organization full of negative energy!
“Whining and negativity spread through a team of people,” Dr. Brinkman says. “A leader has to manage other people by bringing out the best in them.”
Cran says that preventing negative behavior is tough because some people, no matter what is said or done, are always going to be negative. However, you can still influence the group by maintaining positivity.
“The leader needs to model positive behavior by showing a positive attitude, being focused on solutions, believing in the talents of the team and having regular team-member meetings to share positive updates, focus on what is working and to verbally recognize those on the team who are adding positive energy,” Cran says. These aspects will set the standard about being positive and solution-oriented.
Creating this positive energy can be done many ways, but there are specific strategies you can take as a leader to improve attitudes in your group. One of the best ways to spread positivity throughout your club is by acknowledging successes, big or small. Share any victories with the entire group and commend those who made them happen.
“It is important to have both group recognition as well as individual recognition,” Cran says.
To accomplish both of these, you can first recognize the group by rewarding them with something like pizza, for example. After complimenting everyone on a job well done, mention a few specific people and their contributions while encouraging the group to recognize them as well.
Another tool that you shouldn’t be afraid to use - humor! As long as your sense of humor is lighthearted and not at the expense of others, it could be extremely beneficial to a group that might be a little stressed out and in need of a good laugh.
Chelsea*, a senior at the University of Missouri and former president of the Mizzou French Club, held monthly activities to allow fun interaction between everyone in their organization.
“If I didn’t have time to put together something a little more elaborate, I would just host a barbeque and encourage everyone to come,” Chelsea says. “I got to know everyone by doing this, and it created a fun environment.”
4. Working together
As a leader, you have to remember that your group is working toward a common goal. While people might have different ideas about how to accomplish that goal, you have to ensure that individual progress leads to the main objective, aka teamwork.
According to Cran, to improve teamwork, you need to help everyone focus on finding solutions together. One of the best ways to do this is by organizing team meetings to brainstorm ideas on how to work better together.
“A leader needs to provide individuals with understanding and guidance that more can be accomplished through a team than alone,” Cran says, “A master leader would facilitate a team training on what it means to be a team-focused individual and also team activities such as building something together or doing creative problem-solving games together.”
Brittany*, a senior at Kansas State University and a student leader of Ecumenical Campus Ministry, is a pro when it comes to team-building activities.
“I always incorporate fun little exercises to encourage everyone to work together. Whether we play little games or do physical challenges, we always have fun,” Brittany says. “One of our favorites is ‘human knot,’ a game that makes everyone get their arms tangled up and makes us work together to get untied.”
5. Balancing the organization and your other obligations
Just because you’re a student leader doesn’t mean you don’t have other responsibilities. It’s important that you devote yourself to your group without losing sight of your other obligations!
Remember that the group’s well-being comes before your position within that group. If you’re under too much stress trying to manage your responsibilities, you can’t do everything to your full potential.
If you find yourself buckling under stress, Dr. Brinkman recommends asking yourself, “Is this really worth it?” Put everything into perspective, and then decide if you can continue on with being in a leadership position while managing your other responsibilities.
Also, keep in mind that your fellow members of the group might be struggling to balance their obligations as well. Be understanding with scheduling conflicts, lack of availability and so on.
While being a student leader may put you in some tough situations, don’t let that stop you from taking this great opportunity! Being in a position of power comes with responsibilities, and one of the biggest is trying your hardest to be the best leader possible. Look at the problems you run into as learning opportunities.
*Names have been changed.