“What I Wish I’d Known Before Taking 3 Student Leadership Positions” was written by SWE member Ozioma Ozigbo.
It’s a popular opinion that people should take leadership positions in organizations and teams. Leadership experience improves communication, collaboration, time management, critical thinking and problem-solving skills. That is where the conversation usually ends. No one really talks about the experience that brings about growth in these skills. That being said, there are certain things you can learn and be prepared for before you enter into the process. This blog is for people who are thinking about taking student leadership positions, newly elected and continuing student organization officers, or people simply interested in the leadership experience.
This past school year, I took up three student leadership positions in three different organizations at the University of North Texas (UNT). I was the Head of Public Relations for the UNT section of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). I was also the Advertising Chair for the UNT section of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Lastly, I was the Vice-President of the Servant Leadership Council at the Catholic Campus Ministry at UNT.
I learnt a lot from these positions. These are a few of the things I wish I had known before so I could have been better prepared to lead:
- Sacrifice and service: This is the heart of every leadership position. The Cambridge Dictionary defines sacrifice as the act of giving up something that is valuable to you in order to help another person. Taking the role of a student leader involves the sacrifice of your time. It goes beyond the one hour your organization may decide to have officer meetings. For most organizations, the officer meeting is used to discuss and come to conclusions on the different projects going on. This means aside from that time, you are expected to be doing work and then bring the results to the meetings. As part of the sacrifice and service, certain activities may require you to go out of your comfort zone for the good of your members. If you want to be a leader, you have to be ready to serve.
- Time management: This is a skill you will learn from taking up a leadership position. However, this is something you should start practicing now. There are a lot of deadlines that have to be met when planning an event or doing a project. To plan an event there are a lot of factors to consider like location, funding, advertising etc. There are usually time constraints to consider with all these factors. You do not want to advertise an event, then cancel it because you missed the deadline to apply for funding. Do not leave things to the last minute. If you didn’t already, start now to keep to deadlines in your everyday life.
- Communication: Good communication skills are essential for a good leader. This involves communication through different media (in person/email) and to different people (other officers/professionals/members). Good email etiquette is necessary to learn before you go into a leadership position. How you speak to other officers will be different from how you speak to professionals in the industry. Listening to the needs of your members is important; they are the ones you are serving. Lastly, receiving feedback and constructive criticism will help you become a better leader. For example, your organization planned an event that no one showed up to. One can send out a survey to members to see the reasons they didn’t attend the event. This way, we learn and improve.
There is a lot more involved in being a student leader that was not mentioned here. The goal of this blog is not to scare people away from leadership positions but provide insight into the process. In leadership or mentorship, we want the people stepping in to learn what we learnt, but faster. Lastly, I would like to encourage those who may be scared for whatever reason to apply for leadership positions. In addition to the skills you will learn, there is nothing more rewarding than simply serving others.