President's Handbook - Part One
The Twelve Lessons of Leadership
- Trust is the most valuable currency in the world, spend it wisely.
- If it is new to you, it will be new to your successor, write it down.
- Research what you can and cannot do ahead of time and ask questions when you are not certain.
- Effective preparation will yield a better outcome.
- Understand and accept that you will never be able to please everyone.
- Check your ego at the door and lead by example.
- Respect is not given, it is earned.
- Give credit where it is due.
- Encourage your officers and members to exchange ideas, for you never know when a seemingly insignificant comment evolves into an amazing plan.
- Stand your ground when you know you are right and admit your fault when you are wrong.
- Your decisions should reflect what you genuinely believe will bring the most benefit to the organization.
- This is a democracy, not a dictatorship.
What You Should Know From Day One
Your first few weeks as President may be difficult. You will learn about policies and procedures that sound more like "Thou shalt not..." This is normal as there is a multitude of legalities that must be covered.
You may also run into the time-honored criticism, "You're supposed to know this already!" If you were never properly instructed the first time around, respond with, “This is new to me. Could you help me understand, please?” By turning the criticism into a learning experience, your critic may be less harsh on you in the future. A good rule of thumb is if you do not understand, ask questions until you do.
Leave a Paper Trail
This is perhaps the most important lesson in being a President. You are a manager of your organization. Because you are the President, you will be held accountable for both everything good and bad. The written word is proof. You will see on numerous occasions where having documentation is invaluable.
I advocate email over texting because email servers allow for much greater storage capacity and they can be retrieved from any device. On the other hand, text messages are useful for quick conversations. The problem is, if the phone is lost then potentially, the evidence is also lost.
By recording your important activities, you will be able to remember what you were talking about with whom. Additionally, just in case things go wrong, which they will from time to time, you have a solid way to determine who, what, when, where, and why was involved when the plan fell apart.
Be Remarkable Your Way
You can expect that your role will be very demanding and time consuming. If it is not, then you are probably doing something wrong. You will feel pressure to surpass what the previous president accomplished. This is normal. You may want to shoot for the stars, I suggest caution for that. If you promise the world and fail to deliver, it only results in you and your organization losing face.
Focus only on what you genuinely feel you are capable of. You can be remarkable without hosting gigantic events and calling in high profile speakers. It certainly does help; however, you should not set out to be a one-hit wonder. Leave a legacy of that will be remembered for the benefits you and your team brought about.
Communicate With Your Faculty Adviser
You should make time to meet with your adviser on a regular basis. Your coordinator should be aware of everything going on in the organization and you should take meticulous notes on.
Your faculty adviser/coordinator/equivalent title has very likely observed how the organization has operated for a number of years. More importantly, your adviser may be able to identify problems that are on the horizon based off correspondence amongst the officers.
Avoiding the Ego Trap
If you spend all your effort chasing fame and building your name, you may fall into the "ego-trap." The ego-trap is all about "me, me, me" and not giving enough attention to the organization. While you may not be aware of this change, others will be as it reflects in all that you do. When that happens, your legacy will likely become diluted. People will probably remember your mistakes instead of your achievements.
Dealing with Nostalgia
Perhaps one of the most annoying aspects of being President is you will be compared to presidents both recent and long ago. Many people will remember the past through rose colored glasses. "John did such an amazing job back in..." "Last semester Christine hosted this incredible event." That is well and good; however, John and Christine are no longer around.
Try not to let this bother you - at least on the outside. It may be necessary to politely remind others of this fact in order to steer the conversation from the “good old days” back into the present. "I'm glad to hear how Christine performed. Let's see if we can do something similar built around what we want to do." This will hopefully engage your officers and spark ideas. Who knows, you may be the one who everyone talks about after your term has ended.
You are not a Carbon Copy of your Predecessor
More to the point, you should not try to be one. If one event was successful, following the exact same content the next time around will not be as interesting. For example, there was a panel to discuss women's issues in the work place. If this is important to you and your peers this year, your club could host a panel of successful women and ask how they achieved their goals. It is the same model yet with different content.
Your best bet is to take what others have tried and transform it into something better. Try something new, exciting and unprecedented. If it fails, determine why it failed, make a note of it and move on.
I'm all Stressed out!
Stress comes with being President. Sometimes, it can be a good motivator for getting work done and it can spur innovation. When major projects are accomplished everyone feels absolutely awesome.
On the other side of the coin, it can become a nightmare. If you feel that you're being pushed beyond your limits, ask for help. Do not let pride get in the way of completing your goal. Talk to your officers and your faculty adviser for help.
If you are at the point that your grades and more importantly, your health, are being negatively affected, I recommend stepping down. Resignation based on legitimate causes such as those previously stated are not signs that you are a failure. All of us have our limitations. You are not Atlas. You are not obligated to hold up the world. Do not bear your burden alone.
Always do your homework. Verify the person and organization you are talking to via search engine. If any negative key words pop up, avoid further discussion. This will be explained in greater detail in Part IV: Protecting Your Organization.
What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
Absolutely everything. Don’t expect much to be accomplished if you or your officers:
- Set goals but never meet them.
- Set goals and complete them later than originally planned.
- Rarely, if ever attend officer and/or general meetings.
- Rarely, if ever respond to any communications.
- Are incredibly difficult to work with.
- Are over-dramatic. Some people enjoy causing problems for the sake of doing so.
Any officer, including the President, who is actively undermining the organization, should be dealt with immediately by reporting the situation to the faculty adviser. That being said, work with students who exhibit a positive, "let's get this done right the first time" attitude.
Trust is like a Farm
It starts with planting the seeds (meeting someone) and cultivating the crop (developing the relationship). This process is time consuming and worst of all it takes is one bad season (one bad experience) to ruin a harvest (loss of a connection, or worse, a friend).
Do your best to develop and maintain good relationships with those you who have helped you. You should meet and exceed all expectations without violating others' trust in you. While this is easier said than done, it is attainable.
Think Before You Speak (and Write)
As the Miranda Rights state, "anything you say can and will be used against you." More often than not when word spreads it becomes "anything you say will be misinterpreted, taken out-of-context and used against you." In short, learn to communicate clearly, concisely and appropriately to minimize this risk.
When tensions are high, it is very easy to say something you will regret later on. If you are angry, do not impulsively respond that email/text/instant message. If possible, walk away and come back to the issue when you have calmed down. If it is a face-to-face encounter and feel like you are about to explode, speak in a firm tone of voice, "We'll discuss this later."
If the person continues pressuring you, repeat yourself, “I said we’ll discuss this later. Now is not the time because tensions are too high.” Continue walking away. It could be that the other person is extraordinarily passionate about the topic or, unfortunately, it may be an intentional power play to make you look bad.
"It's not what you say; it's how you say it"
Try this exercise: say out loud, "I can't believe you did that!" in a congratulatory voice. Now say that phrase again in an angry voice, same words. Notice the difference? That is how powerful one’s voice can be, same exact words in two different tones result in two entirely different emotions.
Understand and use what medium is most appropriate
The written word is frighteningly easy to misinterpret. Do not be overly reliant on email and instant/text messaging. Because the recipient cannot hear the tone of voice, the recipient’s mood at that particular moment greatly influences his or her reaction to you. Sometimes a phone call or face-to-face conversation is required. This especially true if you need to discuss sensitive topics.
Give Credit Where it is Due
What is the main reason people leave their jobs? Lack of recognition! Give credit where it is due. You will see a dramatic improvement in achieving your goals.
Ask for input as this helps generate ideas and participation. Clear communication between yourself and your officers can lead to good results. When someone suggests an idea that you like mention that. “I like Jen's idea...” “Alex suggested that we..."
What if I have an officer who's here just for the title?
Unfortunately this is a common occurrence. This is someone who rarely shows up to meeting. He or she rarely if ever responds to emails. Sometimes, he/she (they) is (are) just plain unreliable. If this is the case, he or she may be a "buzzword hunter." A "buzzword hunter" is all style and no substance. These kinds of people search for what looks great on paper but seldom accomplish anything outstanding.
The bigger problem is that a candidate who otherwise could have possibly performed is locked out. Think of it as the newly hired employee who shortly thereafter becomes a burden on everyone else.
How do I deal with them?
Ask questions without making it personal. "Why were you unable to attend the meeting?" is acceptable. Give your undivided attention and listen. That means silence your electronic devices. Do not submit to any distraction (unless it's an emergency). The person(s) may be telling you the truth and you could be perceived as not caring at all his/her/their circumstances. Or, the person(s) may be lying to your face and you may not spot it. Focus on who you are speaking to.
Another way to deal with unreliable officers is by enforcing a rule of two meeting absences. Any officer who misses two or more meetings should be reported to the faculty adviser. From there, the officer should be given opportunity to state his or her case and have option to resign. Finally, if the officer's misconduct continues, with the adviser's awareness, he or she may be removed from office by majority vote of all of the officers.
“Whatever it is, I’m against it!” – Groucho Marx
There are three separate methods of refusal – direct, indirect and ignoring. Direct and indirect techniques are meant to ultimately stop you from whatever it is you have planned. Ignoring is simply that – you do not exist in that person’s world. You will encounter all three of these in some fashion – indirect is more common than direct as it is easier to make an excuse than it is to outright deny someone.
Stonewalling is a direct undeniable “no.” In fact, it can be that simple at times. This is more likely to happen with university employees. Perhaps the reason is based on legality, insurance policies, school policies, the list runs the gamut. Be advised, you can potentially swing the refusal into acceptance depending upon the circumstances and your ability to negotiate.
Example of Stonewalling
President: I’d like organize a trip to New York.
Depending upon how the conversation is flowing, you may want to politely ask why now or perhaps wait until a better time. It is important to phrase your inquiry effectively to learn more.
President: I mean no disrespect when I ask this, why can’t we?
Stonewaller: Our insurance charges us sixty dollar an hour for bus transportation.
Hopefully you’ll get a straight answer. In this case, now that you have one, seek an alternative route to your goal.
President: Okay. Is there a way we could raise funds to cover that expense?
Stonewaller: Yes, you could.
Fogging is a deliberate attempt to re-direct a topic. It can be mildly related and even entirely unrelated. Sometimes it is done to slip out of a negotiation they are not interested. Other times it can be more sinister. You may encounter people who will try to use your personal interests to derail the conversation in order to favor their agenda, such as persuading you to pay more than your fair share.
Example of Fogging
President: Alright, the budget for this event comes out to about one thousand dollars. Since this is a combined event, that comes out to five hundred from each of us. I just need you to contribute the other half by next week.
Fogger: Wow that’s a lot of money. Hey, did you hear how much theater spent on their trip to New York? Crazy isn’t it.
Notice there is a lead in. It starts out relevant and then deviates.
President: How much did they spend?
Fogger: Something three or four grand to take the whole club to see a Broadway show.
President: Wow. How’d they manage that?
Fogger: I don’t know. Oh, hey I gotta go, talk to you later.
The above scenario can happen in one way or another. Unless the other person says, “yes,” they have not committed. Even after they said yes, they still may not be fully committed. After the other party said “yes,” follow up with an email to confirm what was said. “Please email me if there are discrepancies or if you would like to change anything.” By doing this, you have evidence. If things go awry, you will not be on the hook as you have demonstrated your intent to follow-through.
Ignoring is the nuclear option. It is simplest yet most powerful and painful form of refusal. It sends the message you don’t care about the other person. Avoid using this unless you believe it is necessary. An example of ignoring others properly is when you encounter “opportunities to earn a little extra money.” This will be explained in Part IV: Protecting Your Organization.
Everyone is Watching
“Whenever you are to do a thing, though it can never be known but to yourself, ask yourself how you would act were the entire world looking at you, and act accordingly.”
- Thomas Jefferson
You are an ambassador of your organization. Just because you have not heard anything bad, people will gossip. Be mindful of your behavior as smartphones and cameras are everywhere. This principle should extend to your officers as well. They are representatives of your organization and should reflect respectable values and behavior.
Unethical Behavior is intentionally exploiting others for your personal agenda. Blaming someone else when it is definitively your fault, bribing others to win an election, coercing others to do as you wish - all of these scenarios are unacceptable. Everyone you have burned will jump on the first opportunity to return the favor. What goes around comes around.
If you screw up, apologize immediately to all persons involved and try to rectify the situation. That means if you sent an email out to your club with the wrong day/time/room/etc., you must apologize and correct the information. The longer you wait the less sincere your apology appears.
"Hey I have this awesome plan!"
Assess what you are good at and what you have in mind. Before announcing to your club, research what you can and cannot do. If it appears feasible, speak to your officers and adviser. "I would like to bring in Mr. John Smith, President of XYZ Corporation for our next meeting. What are your thoughts?"
Give people time to think. If possible, allow a maximum of one week. "If I do not hear from you in seven days, I will assume you are in agreement." This automatic opt-in encourages officers to respond faster. After the first few times, people should understand that you expect a timely response and you should discontinue use of it.
If your plan falls apart, let it fall apart quietly. Do not make a drama production out of it loudly proclaiming how you were wronged. If your guest speaker you had in mind is not able to present, move on. If anyone asks, be honest, "My contact was not available." If another club failed to deliver, express the facts of what happened to the relevant authority.
Dangers of Dirty Politics
All of us are trying to make a name for ourselves. Do not throw someone under the bus just to pad your résumé. Think of it like a restaurant experience. You will tell one person about a good meal. You will tell ten about a bad meal. The same applies to people. You do not want to have a bad reputation before you even get your career started!
Zero Tolerance Hazing Policy
Every student is volunteering his and her time to this organization. As President, you should not try to force a person to attend an event or function. Nor should you allow any officer to bully anyone else. The only pledge is to uphold the good standing of the student organization and fair treatment of all individuals involved with the university.
Dress for Success
How you dress when overseeing a meeting will affect how your classmates, professors and staff perceive you. Dressing up shows that you are respectful of the speaker's time.
You could potentially impress the speaker so much that you get an internship or a job from this experience. Who knows what could come of it? Maximize your chances of success!
All Things Email
Email is Evidence
You should save all emails involving your organization. You never know when someone might misunderstand something or simply forget what was said. Sadly, there is the possibility that someone may go back on his or her word. This is not to say people are out to get you, however, when something does go wrong, do not be surprised if no one wants to accept the responsibility.
If you feel it is important, or potentially could be important later on, document it -time, date, who you spoke with, what was discussed.
Keep your Faculty Adviser Informed
Again, the more informed your faculty adviser is the better. CC your adviser in all emails being sent to your officers. Your adviser may know if an event or speaker did not work out well or may have suggestions for you. Most importantly, this could protect you from trouble if someone falsifies an email.
You are Writing for Your Audience
No one can hear the tone of voice used in text. What sounds good to you may not come across that way to others. Express your thoughts as clearly as possible. Read your statement out loud or have someone else examine it. (I had someone proofread my emails early on before I became comfortable in writing to others.)
You will Receive Tons of Email
It comes with the territory. If your school publishes your contact information, I suggest using your school's email account. This will prevent a lot of hassle from bad businesses. This will be discussed later in Part IV: Protecting Your Organization on page 52.
You have 48 Hours to Respond
What's worse everyone expects a quick response. Responding within 48 hours maintains credibility. It is a tough task and the "I get too much email" excuse only works so many times before people question your competence as leader. Unfortunately, it comes with the territory.
Prioritize your email. If a more pressing matter is at hand, address the important issue and do it right the first time. Don't go crazy and check every ten seconds. Check it twice a day. I recommend checking after breakfast and after you finished for the day.
Don't check it before an exam. You might discover someone dropped and ball. Earning your degree is challenging enough. You do not need that extra anxiety. Err on the side of caution and wait until afterward.
Avoid it just before you go to bed. You may end up staying awake all night thinking (or worse, worrying) about the issue.
One Email One Person
There is no need to CC all of officers if you are only speaking to one of them. You should CC all of your officers on plans, reminders, and if necessary, going on record.
Why was That Person Included?
If you CC people who are not normally part of the conversations, this may arouse suspicion amongst your ranks. Most will think silently ask "why was (s)he CC'ed on this?" Then they may ask each other. A rare few will ask you directly. If it is not necessary, don't add that person to the conversation.
Only use Blind Carbon Copy when it is absolutely necessary
Users can see "Undisclosed Recipients" in the email. They may not know who specifically, however, that message is still there. In my opinion, using BCC too often will give the impression you do not trust those you are working with.
Help! No one has responded to my emails!
They most likely have not had time yet; allow them a day or two to respond. If you have asked a question that requires a response, be sure to set a deadline to respond. If no one has responded, it is your choice whether or not to send a polite reminder.
If you have tried your best in communicating and not heard back, do what you feel is best. If something does go wrong, you have proof that you made your best efforts to get a second (set of) opinion(s). There will be times when the issue cannot wait. That is when you should enforce the automatic opt-in after seven days. Sometimes, few if anyone will express any input. If you have made a sincere effort, and your recipients do not respond then that is their problem, not yours.
Dates, times, and locations
Put these criteria in bold to make it easier for your audience to know where to look. Keep your officers informed about what you have planned in as far in advance as possible. This allows them to time to prepare and if necessary, request off from work.
As previously mentioned, it is astonishingly easy to misread and misinterpret emails. What sounds like something is set in stone for one person may not be for the other. When setting up dates, write out the day, month and time. When that person responds with something like, "That works for me," you should confirm it. "Hi John, I'm glad to hear you are available Wednesday October 19th at 2 PM. I will see you at the Student Lounge in the Campus Center." This ensures that you did your part in communicating the time, date and location. If the other person does not show up then that’s his or her problem.
If you are visiting someone for the first time, even if it is a professor on campus, print out a copy and take it with you. "That's a waste of paper!" Not really. We're all human. People forget or misread the content. Having a copy on your person, should you require it, proves that you did your part. There have been times when the person I was to meet forgot about the meeting entirely! If I did not have a printed copy I would not have made it past the front door. Obviously if you know the person well enough, this step is not necessary.
Take pride in your role as President! In your email signature insert "President of Your Organization." Include a hyperlink to your website, Facebook page/group, Instagram, Twitter. Whichever medium serves your organization best. Its free advertising so take advantage of it!
Post Event Emails
Obtain the names and emails from new and returning members as their contact info may have changed.
Are there too many people and not enough time to mail each one individually? Search online for a mail merge tutorial using Microsoft Word and Excel. Some sites have mail merge templates for Gmail users.
This coincides with saving all of your email because it protects your reputation. A very devious individual could take what you sent out, re-write the email entirely to incriminate you, and pass it along to someone else who would be none the wiser. Scary isn't it? Save all of your email, both sent and received! Always keep your adviser informed about your plans. Just in case something like this does happen, you can print the original out as evidence.
Example of a Hijacked Email
From: President <President@club.edu>
Subject: Tomorrow's Meeting
To: OfficerA@club.edu, OfficerB@club.edu, OfficerC@club.edu,
Tomorrow's meeting will be in the Cafeteria at 1 PM.
From: Officer C <OfficerC@club.edu>
Subject: Tomorrow's Meeting
To: Adviser <Adviser@club.edu>
I'm extremely concerned about our President. He is being very vicious to us in his email.
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: President <President@club.edu>
Subject: Tomorrow's Meeting
To: OfficerA@club.edu, OfficerB@club.edu, OfficerC@club.edu,
Tomorrow's meeting will be in the Cafeteria at 1 PM.
I'm extremely disappointed with all of you. I am so angry with your terrible work ethic. (Italicized for proof of modification.)