This past Thursday, I had a really great time keynoting my alma mater’s executive forum. What made the event truly awesome was that a bunch of students trekked down to Boston from New Hampshire to be part of it (which, BTW, had a 7:30am start time – and it was Valentine’s Day).
I spoke about the profound impact that my mentor, Don Harley, had on me both as a student and in life after graduation and how he expressed, at the time, that “now” (as a student leader) is the time to take risks as the consequences of failure are nil. As students we didn’t have mortgages to pay or families to feed – so we could be that much more daring, bold, and courageous – and in the process learn and grow more in a short concentrated burst of time than we would at any other stage in our lives.
If there was one take away that I hope everyone left the event with was that being actively involved in student run organizations (in my case the Student Senate) and having a mentor as a trusted guide was, for me, an incredible jumpstart into the world I’d be facing beyond campus – it was essentially leadership boot camp.
Back in 2003 & 2005 I shared some of my lessons learned at UNH’s Student Senate orientation. I didn’t speak about these on Thursday but dug them up off my old laptop. Here they are:
It’s not about formal power - It’s about influence.
We spend so much time and energy agonizing over organizational structures, reporting relationships, job descriptions, and titles. But the only power that matters is the ability to influence others. And the power of influence can only come from you through the relationships you foster. While your title might open a door or two, people ultimately follow leaders who they truly believe in.
Money is always limited - Get used to making tradeoffs.
Getting things done requires constant compromises. Resources are always scarce and “bandwidth” is always low. Those who are tenacious, can creatively think quickly on their feet, great at triage + prioritization, and can stay focused on the ultimate goal are usually the ones first to the finish line.
Politics are everywhere - Learn to be politically savvy.
In every organization, there are those who will say or do anything to further their own agendas. Take the high road, stay far away from organizational gossip, don’t assume trust – and constantly deliver outstanding work. Your career will be that much more fulfilling if you have a mentor who inherently believes in you and always has your back.
There is no autopilot - “Drivers Wanted.”
Getting things done requires an entrepreneurial spirit. Ambition doesn’t always equate to action. Leaders are inherently wired to want so badly to get things done that they’re willing make the sacrifices necessary to reach the goal. You’re not going to look back on your college days and wished you’d partied more.
Student Senate isn’t a resume builder - It’s a skill builder.
Some students join organizations to bolster their resume. Employers don’t care about what student clubs you belonged to; they care about the skills that you can offer them. Use every moment as a learning opportunity to grow your skills so you can demonstrate leadership at the entry-level.
Of course it’s tough - That’s what separates you from the rest.
From Don Harley: “Leaders always work harder and longer; they endure more frustration; they receive more criticism. Harry Truman said: ‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.’ The beauty of [UNH Student Organizations] is that they begin (only begin) to teach you how hot it can be in the kitchen.”
Updated 2/18 - After I spoke, UNH students Aidan King '14 and Sam Nute '13 asked a couple (really good) questions for this video they produced (also embedded above). It was Aidan's question (after the fact) that prompted me to write this post in the first place. And the more thorough answer to Sam's question (which really got me thinking) could be a whole other blog post in itself. Challenge accepted! Stay tuned... ;-)