How to Deal with (Incompetent) Student Leaders
College is weird. College is weird in more ways than one. It’s especially unique in that students can ascend the student job ranks to relatively high-paying positions with little or no prior experience. Or sometimes they just take their Glee Club treasurer position a little too seriously. Inherent in the concept of leadership is a lack of experience and an amount of incompetence. That’s okay, we’re students. We’re supposed to learn, but improvement is necessary.
At one point or another–provided you aren’t an engineering major that is working ’round the clock on homework–you will have a run-in with a terrible superior that is also your peer. After discussing the topic with a friend, we figured the problems with student leadership boil down to two things: communication and ego.
For how connected students are these days, it’s remarkable how often miscommunication occurs.
Almost every student organization loses steam beginning about the fifth week into the term. I’m proposing that this is entirely the fault of a lack of communication. Around the fifth week, organizations without tight communication begin to slowly unwind. The goals set that first week get forgotten. Everyone runs around like a self-serving headless chicken.
Connecting the Lines
The key–in my experience–for successful communication is to keep it concise, relevant and constant.
For concision, keep emails to a maximum of 5 lines and limit yourself to only a few per day to each person. Word counts should be less than 200.
Keep communication relevant. Each email or message sent should have one topic. Write a clear subject line. Given the growing paradigm of search over organization (i.e. I search for emails rather than go poking around in dozens of folders), concise emails with relevant subjects and key phrases insure effective communication and quick retrieval of old information.
Without constant communication, an organization loses steam. People need reminders of goals and milestones to be reached of each campaign. Establishing a reliable (and sensical) method of communication early is key. Weekly “in real life” meetings aren’t the answer. Why meet if there isn’t a reason to?
A great solution for communication for my own personal endeavors has been religious use of BaseCamp, the Web 2.0 project management software. Check it out.
Straight up: students seem more susceptible to ego-inflation, especially for positions that he or she has been voted into. Because a certain leader garnered 51% of the students that bothered to vote, that leader suddenly believes that she possesses a God-given mandate to execute upon each idea on her platform.
Sooner or later, ego begins to trump accountability and organization. Feelings start to get hurt. People start leaving the organization. If an unbridled egomaniac runs wild for long enough, the entire entity comes undone.
Deflate that Balloon
There’s not much you can do to deflate someone’s inflated ego without organizing some intervention worthy of an MTV special. The best you can do is to protect yourself from being bullied.
My personal method of handling this is to let my superiors know that I need at least a 48-hour warning to complete anything. Even if my week is more open than Linux, I still hold myself and others to a 48-hour cutoff.
Why? Without such a system in place, you start becoming the personal assistant to anyone that needs work done for them. It might not be a problem at first, but soon you will find yourself overwhelmed with work you shouldn’t be doing.
Stay tuned for a post dealing with those incompetent leaders that never graduated.
How do you deal with incompetent superiors? Let us know in a comment (or two)!