A Crash Course in Leadership

Credit: flickr / Dunechaser

Disclaimer: don’t take any advice from me. I’m known for giving terrible advice, particularly when it comes to relationships. Also, don’t let me set you up. It invariably ends in disaster.

WISE has enough money to last through January, I think. Then we’ll have to work something out, or stop.

I’m not down with stopping, I’ll work something out. Watch me.

Here’s my advice: no matter how good the cause, don’t be the driving force in starting (or restarting) a student organization. Particularly one with no stable source of funding. In fact, don’t ever be President of a student organization. Get involved, sure, but pick a clearly defined role and do it well enough that no-one will put anything else on you, but no so well that you give the impression of not having enough to do.

The positive: I get to work with a great group of people, sometimes we get to put on events (like last week) that are truly useful and thought-provoking, and inspire debate. I get to feel like I’m involved in something that will genuinely make a difference, even if a small one, to some of the girls and women at the University.

However being President involves a lot of rubbish things too. It involves the stuff that it says in our constitution, but also taking care of or finding people to take care of the stuff that other people aren’t doing or won’t do. I’ve worked out who I can rely on – and the people who you thought would, don’t always make the cut. Worse is, last week, I got two complaints and another person requesting to be removed from our mailing list, in a way that suggested she thought we’d scraped it off the internet (we don’t do that, obviously, if we have her email address it’s because she gave it to us). The complaints were just… I want to reply saying –

WE KNOW AND WOULD LIKE TO IMPROVE THIS! But I have to tell you something – we have a handful of people and very little resources. We are doing the best we can. As a result of this, my policy is not to listen to complaints from people who don’t offer to help. Sorry.

Then at the weekend I had to break to one of our execs that the application she’d spent so much time on, that we’d submitted ages ago and waited months to hear about? Yeah they totally ignored what we’d discussed prior to submitting it and that their “acceptance” of it was completely meaningless. Good times.

You can probably tell, I’m frustrated. All the more so after reading about the lack of women in tech. Oh there’s a report? Super helpful! I’m so pleased!

OK – sarcasm over. Do we need reports? Don’t they just say things that on some level most of us realize – we need action, and role models, and support networks, and inspiration… all the things that WISE is trying to do. Only we have no money, so that may stop after January. And everyone knows that my job is rubbish, so no-one wants to do it – so what about when I graduate? And I can’t do convert to a PhD like my supervisor and I wanted me to because I pay international tuition, and the university bureaucracy is anyway driving me so insane that I don’t think I want to anymore.

However this post is entitled A Crash Course In Leadership. So here’s what I’m learning:

  • How to organize and motivate people – need to improve on this.
  • How to deliver bad news – but sometimes it’s best to keep it to yourself.
  • The importance of conviction –I am literally out a couple of hundred  dollars until our finances are sorted out. Because I believe in what we’re doing, even if I’m not always sure we’ll succeed.
  • The importance of team work – if it wasn’t for the others, I would have given up by now.
  • How to delegate, and how important it is that you do.

Will this be helpful later on in my life? Of course. But right now I’m worried I’m failing. Which means I fail the team, which is too awful to think about. We are all doing the best we can, but sometimes that is not enough. Especially when the people who you need to support you, don’t buy in. Another important lesson in leadership, I think: you don’t lead in a vacuum.