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Be the best student leader you can be: Words of advice from a Student President

Advice for student organization leaders

Philosophy: Being SGA President is broken down into two roles, being president of the student body and being president of an organization. Below are some how to’s on how to be effective in both roles.

You are a student, handle your classes first!

Student leaders lose their job because they get so caught up in the role, that they forget they are students. Grades suffer, and their GPA takes a hit. Handle your business in the classroom and your role as a student leader will not be as stressful.

You now represent a brand, be conscious of your reputation

Don’t do anything that compromises you, your colleagues, the organization, or the university. Be mindful of the language you use on social media and being in any atmosphere that could result in inappropriateness. Have your fun, but do not forget that as a student leader you represent an entire university now.

If you can manage yourself your organization will be fine

The secret to being a great student leader is self-organization. Make a weekly to-do list for yourself (and a master to do list for the organization) and get to checking it off. A to-do list will help you stay on top of your priorities and prevent you from forgetting what you need to do. (And get comfortable using your email for scheduling meetings).

Being a student leader is a mental game

Before you get your day going, it is important that you organize your thoughts to avoid becoming overwhelmed or feeling scattered. Set aside just 10 to 15 minutes in the morning or before you go to bed to review your daily schedule, including student org-related tasks. Being sloppy and unorganized mentally will have a negative effect on your leadership.

You are a student of the game

The moment you stop learning is the moment you’ve failed as a leader. You do not need to be a know-it-all, but being knowledgeable about the issues as they relate to students will be invaluable to you. And never be afraid to ask questions if you do not know about something! And if you are struggling with an aspect(s) of leadership, read a book or an article to learn something beneficial.


Never be afraid to communicate with your team and advisors. Whether it’s via text, GroupMe, or email, keep your team up to date with progress made in the day-to-day tasks of the organization. Not knowing what’s going on can frustrate your team. Establish a form of communication everyone can agree on.

Don’t be a token

As a student leader, you represent an entire university. Never be afraid to speak up when meeting with administration or sitting in on committees. Sitting in on a meeting to warm a seat is pointless. 9 times out of 10, you are the only student in the room, and that is okay. You are there for a reason. Now, do you have to be the first to speak at meetings? No, but when you feel need to offer your opinion on an important matter, do not hesitate.

“Momentum is a leader’s best friend”- John Maxwell

You are driving the bus, and once you pick up speed in the student organization world, you do not slow down. Your tenure will be over before you know it, so move smart and swiftly.

How do you sustain momentum? Keep the organization four steps ahead

Never wait until the last minute to do anything in your organization. Waiting until the last minute is unwise and causes unnecessary stress. Strive to keep the organization two months in advance. Creating a master to-do list for the fall and spring semester will help with that.

How to measure your success

The main way to measure your success as a student leader is to reflect on the organization and ask yourself, are my members succeeding within their roles and with their endeavors? If you can confidently say yes, then you are succeeding. Creating concrete goals can reinforce member loyalty and give members specific examples they can speak to on resumes and in future professional roles.

Culture/Morale of the Organization

Always be mindful of the culture in your student organization. The culture is set by you and the other leaders. How are members treating one another? How are we treating other student organizations? How are executives treating one another? Culture makes or breaks an organization, so be aware of it in your organization. (Biggest tip for executives is to never disagree in front of the senate. Hash out any disagreements at exec meetings. Negative energy is highly contagious!) If you notice the culture starting to take a turn for the worse, involve your advisors to work on solutions.

“A good leader is an immune system for the organization. The leader has to guard the missions, guard the culture, guard the organization.”- Dr. Henry Cloud

Lead By Example, which basically means get it done

Being a leader of a student organization is not about looking good in business formal attire or smiling in a photo opp. Being a leader means being on the prowl and constantly pushing the envelope to ensure things get done. Your success depends on a “get it done” mindset.

Don’t forget, you have a team and advisors

Never be afraid to ask for help. Asking for help is not a weakness. If you need to rely on a teammate or advisor to get it done, do it.

Lead and think with selfless intention

Be selfless in the way you lead. Being selfish and having personal/hidden agendas is not leadership. There is nothing wrong with having your own ideas, but never get to the point where you’re not open minded and refuse to listen to others’ ideas.

If you need a break, take a break

From being bombarded with emails to calendar invites, you will feel overwhelmed at times. Nothing wrong with taking a break or a breather from your role. Leadership is not a sprint, it is a marathon. Not saying that you go ghost for days or weeks at a time, but if you need a “me day” or “me time” take it. Self-care is the only way to combat burnout.

Say NO, you will thank yourself later

You will be faced with many opportunities as a student leader. From speaking engagements to serving on committees, administration wants you everywhere. Reality is that you are a student and a human. You are not a superhero. Do not feel pressured to say always say yes. Remember that your organization is a team effort, so delegate opportunities to your fellow leaders and members.

Feeling unmotivated? Remember who’s watching

The greatest feeling of being a leader of a student organization is knowing that students and your members in the senate and freshmen council admire you. If you are ever feeling unmotivated, keep them in mind, they are always watching. You will face adversity, and failure will occur, but just remember you are leading an organization. Your members need the best version of you, and they are counting on you.

Keep the end goal in mind

Being a student leader is one of the highest leadership positions that a student can hold while being in college, and while that is an honor, it comes with moments of frustration. When the going gets tough, remember your purpose and why you wanted to become a leader. Even it if means writing notes to yourself or having subtle reminders, keep the glass half full.

Logic over emotion

In moments of inconvenience and frustration, strive to not get angry. Anger only makes situations more severe than what they really are. Strive to have a high emotional intelligence and lead with rationale and logic. The true power of being a student leader is being able to control your emotions in uncomfortable circumstances.

Their problem means your problem

Problems may arise in the organization that you did not create. You cannot let it slide. You must step in and help pick up the slack. Every piece of the puzzle matters, and if one piece is missing, it hurts the organization. You will be associated with the failure, even if it is not your fault. Problems and mishaps do not give you the power to point the finger or scapegoat others. They mean that you level up your leadership. Nothing wrong with a leader taking the blame for an organization’s problems he or she did not create. It shows unconditional accountability.

Embrace criticism, process it, and move on

You will be criticized at times. Do not take it personally. Understand why you are being criticized, process it, and move on. Criticism helps you grow as a leader, so embrace it. Taking things personally will cause you to unknowingly create a culture of animosity, and that can ruin the culture of your organization. This same principle applies to making mistakes, which you will make. Learn from the mistake and move on.

Be open minded and listen first

Respect others and their ideas. In meetings and when engaging in conversations with students, listen first. Students just want to be heard most of the time.

The Sandwich Approach

There will come a time where you have to criticize team members. No one likes to do it because it can be uncomfortable, but if done right, it can better them. Do not blatantly criticize them. Do it with the sandwich approach: tell them what they’re doing well, then what they’re doing wrong, then follow up with another compliment. Sounds weird, but it works. This should be done in a one-on-one setting, because you should not criticize in an open setting.

Love the process, because instant gratification is nonexistent in student organizations.

If you love the process of hard work more than the reward, you will accomplish more in your role. The day-to-day grind is what makes up the success of student leaders. Fixing issues may take months or even your whole tenure to complete, and that is why you love the process more than the results. Student leaders tend to get frustrated because they expect instant results for working hard on ideas and projects. Fall in love the process, and your organization will eventually succeed.

Complacency is your worst enemy

There is nothing wrong with celebrating the organizations’ victories, but PLEASE move on to the next project. Complacency is cancerous to leadership and organization growth.

Progress in student organizations moves at the speed of relationships

Get out of the office and stop by other peoples’ offices. Everyone has an open-door policy. You might as well use it to your ability. Now, that does not mean that you stop by every day, but when you do, you will unknowingly create a network that will benefit you in your role. And adults appreciate when students stop by. This same principle applies to the students you represent. Go speak with an organization, attend a sporting event, or just sit in the food court. Face time is invaluable and helps you gain respect!

Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call someone. Professional aggression helps.

Feeling like a project/fixing an issue is going stagnant and emails are not working? Pick up the phone and call someone to receive an update. Schedule a meeting if needed. Remember that administration is there to help you succeed!

Assuming is lowest and worse form of leading

Lead with facts, not assumptions (or personal opinions). Assumptions about issues only create a misinformed organization and student body. If you don’t know, you just don’t know. “I don’t know at this moment, but I can find out.” 9 times out of 10, your members receive all their information about student related issues from you. Be factual!

Don’t be afraid of failure, process it and move on.

Leadership is not perfect. Failure is a part of the game. Learn from the failure and move on. Dwelling on failures slows you down and has the same effect as being complacent.

Moments of insecurity/Lacking confidence/The lows/Nervousness

Whether it’s in ideas or yourself, there will be moments in which you lack confidence. It’s a part of the game and is not an abnormal feeling. Reality is, those feelings will never leave you. Having confidence cannot be taught, it grows on you. As you grow into your role, you will learn how to silence that “voice” in your head spewing insecurities. Remember that if it wasn’t meant for you to be president, then you wouldn’t be.

The blue-collar mentality

A combination of hands-on and hands-off leadership seems to work the best. Too hands-on leads you to unknowingly micromanage, which can annoy your members and burn you out. Too hands-off will create problems in the long run. Picture yourself as a blue-collar style leader versus being a white-collar leader. A blue-collar leader is present and is always willing to roll their sleeves up to help. White collar leaders sit back with their feet kicked up and don’t offer a helping hand. (As your tenure progresses, you will become less hands on because your team members become more acclimated with their roles in the organization, but always have a blue-collar attitude).

Appreciate your members and show that you care

Always offer a helping hand, and express gratitude to your members. When people feel appreciated, they will be twice as productive and will do more than what’s asked of them. Before a senate meeting is called to order, walk around and ask your team members how their day has been going. Little acts of kindness go a long way.

Deflect the credit

The organization accomplishes something? Acknowledge your members and give them credit. Shine the light on your team members and they will appreciate that. You don’t have to take credit!

Know yourself, know your leaders

Not good at something? That’s okay. Your leadership weaknesses will most likely be another executive’s strength and vice versa. You will most likely find out about your weaknesses/strengths through leadership assessments and as your tenure progresses.

The power to empower

As you get to know your members and their interests, give them opportunities relevant to those interests. Empower your members and they will thrive exponentially. And when it comes to projects (in reference to creating the vision) involve your team members. When a project comes to fruition, you want to be able to say that your members had a part in that as well.

Power of the evaluation

Want to know how your members feel about being apart of SGA? Evaluations do the trick. With evaluations, you can make improvements to the experience of being a part of SGA. Conducting an evaluation before leaving for Christmas break would be ideal.

You have great privilege, but stay humble

Nothing wrong with having pride about being SGA President, but never lose your humility. If you have the mindset that you are above no one, then you will be fine.

Nothing wrong with sleeping on pending decisions

Sometimes, you will be tasked with making decisions on behalf of the organization. Unless it’s an urgent matter, never be afraid to think things through or talk with your advisors/team before deciding. And remember, making a wrong decision is better than not deciding at all.

Don’t compare your organization to other organizations!

You will be tempted to compare your organization to other organizations. Reality is, the grass is not always greener on the other side. Comparing only leads to disappointment, when in reality your organization is winning!

Succession planning

When the time comes for you to transition out of office, you want to make sure that it is smooth as possible. Start thinking on a succession plan. The end of the semester will be here before you know it, and you want to make sure that your successor is prepared to take your place. A part of your legacy is how well the organization runs after you leave, remember that.

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