Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Leadership 101: Challenges of Leadership in a Student-Run Organization

What are the most formidable challenges for new leaders?

On the first day of my Leadership class, Professor Riggio asked the class what was the most significant leadership role we had ever had. After thinking about the question, I realized that I had just begun the most significant leadership position in my life - starting a marketing club and leading a group of interested followers to hopefully a good experience. Throughout the semester I would simultaneously be learning how to be a better leader in the classroom and in the club.

Our textbook (Leadership: Hughes, Ginnett, Curphy) defines leadership as "the process of influencing an organized group toward accomplishing its goals." Therefore, a good leader would be good at building teams as well as getting results. Speaking to a group of 18 people who showed up to the first club meeting, I realized that it was my responsibility to keep these people engaged in the club and guide them to achieve a club goal.

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Working Toward a Goal
The first step was creating a meaningful goal for the club to work toward. As the leader I felt it was important that the club decide to work toward something that everyone would like to work on. However, I soon found that it was impossible to satisfy everyone. I hoped to delegate team leaders for different projects but not everyone was as proactive about taking on a project as I had expected. In the end, the club had one goal: to make a simple school spirited product and create advertisements and buzz to sell them around campus. After holding a meeting that consisted of only 7 members we decided to make boxer shorts.

Delegating
For leaders who are founders of an idea or business, delegating can be the most difficult aspect of their leadership. Entrepreneurs tend to be the most passionate about their ideas and tend to micromanage too often. Therefore, by having a group come up with a goal to work towards, more people will feel motivated to achieve the goal because they feel responsible towards it.
Although selling boxers was not my idea, it was difficult to get members involved in the process. Followers started to diminish as school work became more of a priority and some members weren't as excited about making boxers. I tried to delegate different aspects of the project to various members; such as a group that finds a supplier to order and make the boxers, a group that works on the design of the boxers, a group to work on the promotion of the boxers, and a group to sell the boxers. The most successful delegating role came in the design process. Over 6 people submitted design ideas and 35 people voted on the best idea. Unfortunately in the end, I eventually found the supplier and it was my idea that was voted. I even took charge of the promotional process and created posters around campus. The last step of my delegation hope was a success as two members of the club stepped up and sold the boxers at an on-campus event.
My classmate Charlie is one of two student managers at SOURCE - a student run organization that consults with non-profit organizations to help build their capacity and increase efficiency. Unlike the marketing club, SOURCE is a more established organization and being a manager like Charlie comes with different challenges. In regard to delegating, Charlie said, "I help oversee the teams that work with our six nonprofit partners. Each team is led by a team leader, so we try not to micromanage their projects and responsibilities, but we remain in consistent communication." The key to effectively delegate is communication. In the case of having two student leaders, communicating to one another what needs to get done and who is accomplishing each project is important.

Leadership after College
Taking on leadership roles in college will prepare students for many challenges that they might face after graduation. Communicating effectively with others in group settings is essential in many jobs and this is reflected by Charlie. He states, "I've never been a fan of group projects, but co-managing a student organization with someone is like an expanded version of a continual group project. So I had to learn how to complement my strengths and weaknesses with the other leaders in SOURCE so that we could build off each other and be better off in the end."
Charlie and I have put ourselves in positions that we might not have been completely comfortable in, but putting ourselves in challenging positions we have given ourselves the opportunity to grow and learn. "You can try to plan everything," Charlie says, "but ultimately your most challenging times and the best learning experiences come from events that you least expect to occur." I've learned that the task of delegating is not as easy as I had thought. In the future I will need to emphasize the importance of projects and make sure that others find them just as important as I do. Charlie has discovered how to balance his strengths and weaknesses with other managers and will enter the real world with that ability to enter challenging situations with confidence.

Author: Eric MacColl, Claremont McKenna College class of 2010

 

Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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