As someone who is passionate about leadership and student organizations on campus, the Student Leader Round Table was the perfect opportunity for me to reflect on my experiences as a leader, share my own learnings and wisdom, as well as learn from other leaders in the university. Over the spring semester, the round table (or the student leader illuminati as I like to call it) met every other week and discussed a specific issue related to running a student organization. Each of us have had different approaches to the issues, so it was great to hear how the specific situation of an organization affects our approach of thinking about or solving an issue.
Here are all the sessions listed in order and some ongoing reflection from each session.
We met for the very first time in January to get to know each other and plan out the semester. We broke out into 2 groups, and each group had to come up with 5 topics to talk about throughout the semester.
This session was probably the first time I have interacted with other student leaders to talk about common issues in an abstract manner.
The first session topic was Hybrid Meetings and Events.
This is a relatively new issue for student organizations, ever since COVID restrictions have relaxed. After the rise of virtual meetings, organizations have discovered that the convenience of attending an event from home is going to forever change how we connect with our community. At the same time, there are people who, after living in isolation for over a year, really want to get back to face to face interaction. So hybrid meetings seems like the best way to cater to every audience.
However, since hybrid meetings have never been properly explored by anyone, let alone by student organizations. So we discussed motivations, ideas, challenges, etc. It was a great conversation that I learn a lot from, and hopefully it will allow me to improve the hybrid meeting experience for my organizations.
The topic of our second session was Recruitment.
This is one of the most elementary issues that every organization has to deal with. To stay relevant in the community and continue to achieve our goals, we have to spread awareness about our organizations' existence and attract people who can contribute to the organization.
The recruitment process has many different aspects, including (but not limited to) identifying the target audience, figuring out incentives and benefits, and formulating attractive marketing material.
To exercise formulating elevator pitches, we did the classic "Sell me X in a minute" activity. The presenters chose a few random images, and a volunteer had to come up with an elevator pitch on the spot. This was a great exercise for me personally, because I am often put in a situation where I am in a conversation and I want to tell them about my organization and what we do and why they should get involved.
In our third meeting, we talked about Executive Transition.
Executive transition is an issue that usually lives in the blind spot of organization leaders. If we are not conscious about how we are handling transitions to the new executives at the end of our tenures, the organization can potentially go through a very difficult start and change into something else.
This mostly happens because every leader needs to have certain frameworks and processes to run an organization. If those frameworks are not handed to us by a previous leader, we will come up with our own, which will take a lot of time to figure out, and will be likely very different from what the previous leaders used.
We talked about the timeline of executive transition - candidacy, elections, transitions and first meeting. For candidacy and elections, we discussed what the candidates and the voters need to know before the elections. We also discussed how different organizations can have different approaches to how the new executive is selected, or how elections are executed.
Every executive role has some essential core aspects, which need to be clearly documented and shared with the newly elected members. The easiest way to achieve that is to write it in a document and hold a transition meeting between the outgoing and incoming member.
This is the meeting that I presented in along with a partner, and it was about Inter-Org Collab.
I am very passionate about collaborations. I think collabs are a great way to build up relationships, expand outreach, and get access to more resources and do bigger projects. So that is what we started the discussion with - benefits of collaborating.
I had a lot of experiences and anecdotes to share for this presentation, because almost all of ITSA events have been a collab of some sort. They also helped me come up with topics to talk about, as well as to make my point. For example, I brought up the idea of the ITSA partnering with a local cafe and coffee roaster to increase awareness about specialty coffee.
This specific meeting was also a little disappointing in some ways. It finished in less than 40 minutes, where as all the previous ones went on until the 50-55 minute mark. While some of that can definitely be attributed to low attendance and participation by the other members of the roundtable, I definitely felt like the content we came up with in the meeting was not enough. What makes it worse is that my partner warned me of this, but for some reason I was confident that the content we have in the slides was more than enough. In hindsight looking at the slides of the other meetings, I definitely under-prepared.
However, even though I did not get much feedback from the other members on this topic, just the preparation had an immense impact on how I think about collaborations, and it helped me organize a lot of my random thoughts and opinions into a clear framework, which I can document further.
This week the discussion was about UFB Funding and Fundraising.
This was possibly the topic that I was looking forward to the most, since organization funding has been a concern for me ever since I started being an org leader. Unfortunately, another important event happened to be at the same time, and I was supposed to be a speaker at that event, so I had to make the difficult decision of skipping this round table session.
I did learn about some of the discussions that happened during the session though, and we had also discussed funding a little in Session 0, so I think I have a good idea of what boat everyone is in.
Dealing with the University Funding Board usually tends to be a daunting task, because the entire process of getting funds from the board is very intensive and long. While the process helps organizations with making sure the project is successful and we have the details figured out, it can be frustrating sometimes to have to deal with extremely strict deadlines with the amount of work required. And with time and practice, it can become muscle memory to create budget proposals. It also is a great way to learn more about corporate funding processes. While I don't have personal experience with many corporate processed, I would assume that the standards of detail and presentation would be similar to what UFB requires.
Funding and Sponsorship in general is something that I love thinking about. I have spent a considerable amount of time figuring out how to get companies to fund some ITSA events, with quite a bit of progress. One of the questions during the session was how we pitch our organization to potential sponsors, and that is something I have worked on for my organization a lot. I recognized that what ITSA (and most student orgs) have to offer companies is access to resources and skills to host engaging events on campus. These events could be about anything, and the companies would love for the event to be about them, and they would be willing to pay a lot of money to make that happen.
Once again, circumstances forced me to make a difficult decision of not attending the roundtable session, since ITSA elections were being held on the same day. It's poetic, the last session of the roundtable was also my last day as a student leader.
This session was supposed to be a final discussion and reflection day for the roundtable. We were to talk about some key learnings from participating in the discussions, how they have impacted the way we lead our orgs, and how we can learn to be even better.
Even though I did not attend, I took some time that day after everything to just sit and reflect on my time as a student leader. The roundtable had been a great experience, not just because I got to talk to other passionate student leaders, but also because I was able to gather a lot of knowledge from them and use it to refine my thinking. It also forced me to organize and refine a lot of my own thoughts and ideas into nicely written and presented slides, which is something I don't do often enough. It is very difficult for me start writing down things, but once I start, it's like thoughts automatically flow through my fingers into a neatly structured sentence.
I have already taken a lot of ideas and learnings from the roundtable and preached them to the new ITSA executive board. I hope they are as passionate to lead a tech org as I was. I also hope more and more people consider creating spaces for leaders to talk about issues and solutions, because it's very difficult to become a leader without help.
Well I am certainly a better leader now than I was 6 months ago. That's just how practice works, the more you do something the better you get at it.
But am I a good leader?
Was I a good leader 6 months ago?
I don't think so.
On April 20, after the ITSA elections had ended, I came back home, did some chores, and lied down on my bed. This is when I started reflecting into my life as a student leader. It was my last day as an official student leader, because my final year was coming up and I had to dedicate all my time to work and study to make sure I graduate with a bang. I also knew I would not have time to do exec transitions at the same time while I'm graduating, so it wouldn't be fair for me to hold that position.
So I asked myself what I had learned throughout the my journey as a leader. I came up with an interesting dichotomous answer - I realized I was good at running an organization, but not leading an organization.
This recent experience has thrown me back to a mentality I thought I left behind a couple years ago, which is that I don't know how to deal with people. Leadership is all about understanding and connecting with the people around us, sharing out vision and passion with them, and encourage collaborative activities to achieve a common goal. I have realized that it will take a lot more time that I thought to learn the skills associated with leadership. A couple workshops and a couple years of being a student leader are not even close to being enough.
On the other hand, I have always been somewhat good with processes, frameworks, and systems. It is what has led me to my success as a software developer, and it has also led to the success of ITSA in such a short time. While I was not a good leader to the ITSA, I believe I was a great planner and organizer to ITSA, which is what many organizations lack. Unfortunately, those same abilities also hampered my leadership opportunities, as I did not put enough trust and faith in other students who wanted to contribute, and preferred doing everything myself.
I hope that in the future I get many more opportunities to expand my leadership skills, and eventually I can get to a point where I can confidently say that I am a good leader. But until then, you can bet the I will be involved in as many organizations and events as possible.