I used to be afraid (now not so much) // My leadership journey in NUS so far

DISCLAIMER: This post is gonna be a reflection post on my leadership journey in NUS. It contains my experiences and mine only (it does not apply to everyone), neither is it a one size fits all kind of thing. Feel free to take the advice, but also know that it is from MY perspective.


I think I used to be afraid of position names. I still am, except, this time it comes with a sliver of courage, which is something experience (bad and good) gave me. I was afraid of position names because I used to think that it was a bad thing if I could be in a position and not have the ability to fulfil my role which would lead to letting people down. Slowly, as I took different positions, I realised that I not only was able to lead well in that role (thank you God!!) but I also surpassed my expectations in terms of what I was capable of. This is not to say that I didn’t fail. I freaked out countless times, especially with a fear of public speaking, I didn’t know how to phrase my words properly (I still have trouble with that), in that I do not know how to be diplomatic. I’m more of a get-the-job-done person, many times without considering the interpersonal relationships and dynamics of people that are intricately linked to the task at hand. Anyway, here’s a few lessons I learnt after taking on about 5-6 different leadership positions in Uni, from Subcomms to Secretary, I’ve kinda tried most stuff, including currently being the Project Director for Guardians.

  1. School is a safer and friendlier place to learn from your mistakes. I’ve always been very thankful for school. It’s the one place where you can screw up and have people actually teach you and tell you what went wrong without them having your head chopped after that. In the corporate world I’m sure that’s not just not the case, but also out there if you made a mistake, it could potentially cost like thousands or millions of dollars for the company. I guess I’m always thankful for mentors, seniors, people who give you advice especially with regards to leadership positions. I’m not saying you cannot get this out there in the working world, it is just that in school, it’s different, you can actually ask questions for things you don’t know with less politics, less people breathing down your neck, etc. It’s kinder, friendlier, of course this is not to say there aren’t politics, but, if you really hate it, you’re also free to leave an organization. I suppose it isn’t that simple to walk away from a job.
  2. Do things well in your term, give your best, LEAVE A LEGACY. You’re not gonna be serving in that term forever, pass on things well, don’t do a slipshod job. I get super annoyed every time people pass on stuff (whether materials, or their legacies) and it’s like crappy. Like a crappy event that was previously hosted, or a crappy attitude or whatever. Don’t do it halfheartedly, I mean you got elected/chosen/selected/whatever into that position because you said you wanted to do it, so do it, dammit. Do it well, don’t leave crap for people to pick up. Having said that, bad experience has also taught me that people will always leave their crap for you to pick up, then the onus is on you to create a good event, run a position well, do things to the best of your ability, then you (and your exco if you have one) will do well. I learnt this especially from my time in ODAC, the seniors did well, so well and there was so much that was learnt from them. My batch that served were tremendously talented as well as responsible and hardworking, they toiled super hard to create great events. I learnt much with them because I watched how they worked intelligently and honestly. So when we passed on everything to the next batch, they had much greatness to inherit (lol), no seriously, they inherited great things and we also made sure we attempted to select the best people so we could carry these things on. I’m still proud of them (hehe).
  3. Good communication is key. Be honest, yet tactful. I am still learning this. Two years, about 6-7 CCAs and I still have not mastered this art, yet I can say I have improved much. Communication breakdown tends to lead to failure. It seems very cliche to say this but seriously, a dearth of communication tends to lead to shit happening everywhere. Internal politics will result in external events failing, one cell believes they worked harder than the other cell, this results in crappy feelings and angst against another party, then leading to vendettas of people against other people, blah blah blah… I’ve gone through that and it wasn’t a pretty sight. So communicate, learn to air your feelings, sometimes it will be more painful than other times, especially if you’re on the side of blame, but I can say that it is better to deal with people telling you your mistakes in a straightforward and direct way than it is to deal with bitter feelings and unspoken tensions and fake diplomacy. Good communication also ensures people in the team know what is going on, they feel involved, not left out, and everyone wants to feel involved and part of the event/team.
  4. You need a good combination of diplomacy and efficiency. Usually you do this by combining the P/VP personalities, or at least in the Pres cell you should have a combination of both kinds. This means that you have to have task-oriented and people-oriented personalities. Too much of one either results in unhappy people while the job may be done, or happy people and no job done, or slow job done. Diplomacy is super important, you need someone who can talk to people, persuade, convince, and also elicit actions and responses from people, whether your fellow exco, participants, etc. Some people have both efficiency and diplomacy, like an individual I worked with and am friends with for two years. But others like me do not, I can really work but I don’t have as much skill/tactfulness in speaking to people. Have both personalities and those who lack part of the duo also sometimes do learn slowly. Having said that, it is not that these are the only two things needed in good leadership, but they are extremely crucial. Other factors however, do count.
  5. Learn the ropes of different roles in organizational stuff in NUS. Proposals, Admin, how to deal with OSA, how to book venues, how to email people using PDPA guidelines, how to handle addresses/a torrent of them especially in large(r) events, how to deal with manpower issues, logistics, catering services, vendors, marketing. Everyone of these usually is a different cell in a committee but it is good to get to know them. I think it is good that people try different things to learn. I joined logistics, admin, manpower, publicity, before I applied for VP role in a club. I think that’s very useful because it gives you finally a bird’s eye view over situations and in events you know where to get what done and how to get it done. It seems like a trivial job to print posters but there are things to learn there too. Ask questions, try different roles and learn from those who are in it already, it doesn’t hurt to learn more things and be able to help others who may suffer from the same problems in future. Also, knowing different cells and their roles actually makes you very marketable, it makes people want you because you know stuff and you can do stuff and even if you’re not doing it directly, they know you will be an asset to the club. Never hurts to be needed/wanted.
  6. Lastly, learn to deal with higher ups – whether OSA, CCA advisors, or even if you’re in a Subcomm, learn to deal with your pres cell. You need to learn to work under authority and with authority. Instead of feeling inferior, know your position and then excel in it, sometimes exceed expectations (haha). Make yourself an active and integral part of whatever you’re in. Learn to deal with higher-ups by befriending them and working with them, if you have issues with them, try and voice it out nicely (and if it doesn’t work, find another way out or ask for help/alternative suggestions). The higher-ups usually don’t cause trouble unless you do.

    Anyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to drop your comments/disagree. 🙂

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