How to Lead

5 Tips for How to Lead Your Student Organization

Whether you’re moving up in your organization and want to know how to lead, or you’ve been a leader for a while but still feel unsure about how to lead the right way, the truth is this: no matter what your level of experience, there is always more for us to learn about how to lead.  No single leader has mastered the secrets of how to lead.  Instead, it’s more accurate to say leadership is a process rather than a product, less concerned with the destination and more with the journey.  But a question remains: how do you do it?

Become Your Own Best Friend

Before you start grappling with how to lead others, you need to take a long, hard, and generously attentive look at yourself.  Taking a personality test certainly won’t explain everything about the wonderfully complex person that is you, but a test like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can help you figure out a few things, such as:

  • what kinds of situations and people energize you
  • what sorts of information captivates you
  • what goes on in your mind when you’re making a decision
  • how you approach and solve problems

Why does knowing all this stuff matter?  Because when you know what your preferences are in each of the items from the list, you can begin uncovering what your strengths and weaknesses are, and then start playing to your strengths.  You’ll understand what kinds of organizations you belong with and where you’ll fit in.  (See the end of our article on joining college clubs for some suggestions about the MBTI.)

The first big takeaway point with learning how to lead is this: motivating yourself will always be half the battle, so make it easier by directing yourself to the right role from the get-go.

It Ain’t Cheap

If a leadership role in your club or student org is worth anything, then it’s likely you have to earn it.  Maybe the role is chosen through elections, as in many fraternities and sororities, or perhaps it’s appointed through the administration, such as with some campus service group coordinator positions, and you have to apply for it.  Either way, you’re going to have to prove to others you’re worth the investment.  A sure way of earning others’ respect is discipline.  Plan out your day and stick to it.  Spend your time wisely.  No more daylong TV binges, nap fests, or video game frenzies—save these for when things are going so well for your group that you need to blow off some steam.  Free up enough space in your schedule to show you’re serious about the organization and its goals.  This will take a while, and in addition to this, you need to make the effort of building relationships with the current leadership.  So be patient with yourself, but stay diligent.

But what if you’re already a ranking member of your organization?  It doesn’t make much of a difference.  Discipline is still important because the effort that you put into the group will determine what others put in as well.  It sets the expectations at a certain point.  If it’s too high for some, then those folks will clear the way for a higher caliber of membership.

The second big takeaway point about how to lead is this: show that you’re committed, and it will rub off on others.

Work It

As we’ve mentioned before, the most effective leaders are those who know how to lead by including others.  Collaboration is not just a good idea—it should be a rule you follow consistently.  You should include others when brainstorming ideas and increasing involvement in your group.  You should also make a goal of becoming a pro at delegating.  We’ve explained again and again that collaboration can help you in two key ways. First, you make your organization a fun place to belong, thereby strengthening your membership.  Second, you can benefit greatly from the insights of others (many of which will surprise you, and even cause you to wonder, “Why didn’t I think of that?”).

The fourth takeaway point: your organization performs best when it’s a team effort.

Who’s Causing a Stir?

Through collaborative projects, you can begin to strengthen your organization’s inner circle of movers and shakers.  Pay close attention when your group brainstorms ideas and when you’re delegating work.

  • Who are the hard workers, the ones who go above and beyond what’s asked of them?
  • Who can capture the spotlight of the room, the ones who demonstrate a lot of charisma?
  • Who seems the most the clever, the ones whose ideas cause you to think about something in a totally different way?
  • Who is making the most friends, the ones who have a gift with making others feel welcome?

These are the people you want to develop the tightest bonds with, because they are the influencers, those who will help lift your organization to ever-higher levels of performance.

Approach these influencers directly and individually.  At the end of a meeting or event is best.  Set up a time when the two of you can meet one-on-one, and get to know them better.  Where are they from?  Why did they get involved?  What do they hope to get out of their time with your organization?  Invite them to take on a small project with you, to get their feet wet with some of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into your organization or with the planning process for an event—whatever best suits their interests.  Put them at ease, and make it clear that it’s a low-stakes thing for now, but if they are performing to meet your expectations, continue inviting them to help with bigger and bigger projects.  This is how you can build a cadre of dedicated individuals, each with different strengths, to complement your own.

The last takeaway: don’t go it alone—build up a team of the best your org has to offer.

Go Forth—and Delegate

At this point, as you continue to discern how to lead, one of your greatest challenges will be to hold people accountable.  You can start with setting workable goals using the SMART goals system, but then you must also follow up on them.  If your organization agreed upon a due date for something to be completed, enforce it: ask to see the end result on the chosen date.  Don’t shame people publicly, but don’t try to hide your disappoint, either: be honest when people neglect to complete something.  See more about delegating and following up if you have more questions.

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