Leadership lessons learned in college

10 years ago today, I accomplished one of my great goals in college. I became president of the Bowling Green State University Interfraternity Council (IFC). When I was elected, there were 16 fraternities and a few hundred fraternity men.
When I was in college, I loved being in a fraternity. They’re still the memories of college I most cherish (let’s face it, I certainly didn’t love college for the classes and homework.) It was being part of something, having a group of brothers – many of whom, I’m still close to.

The year before being elected, I ran for vide president. And lost. A couple days before that, I had run for vice president of my own fraternity. And lost (because the guys thought I was going to be on IFC and wouldn’t have time to focus on both).

So there I was. Really involved in Greek life, a go getter. And “unemployed.”

I learned some things from that setback.

Don’t quit pushing your goals.

If you have a setback, don’t give up or quit. If you do, then it’s not truly a goal. If you really want something, you’ll work for it and keep working for it.

I learned that when “at first you don’t succeed,” you need to keep your eyes open for opportunities.

And one came to me a few weeks later. One of my best friends had been elected as one of the vice presidents on IFC and he had a cabinet position that he appointed. I became the scholarship chairman.

That first semester, I got involved in any way I could. There was a Greek Week committee. Volunteered. There was a Greek newspaper. I wrote for it. I got involved in other student organizations to broaden my horizons.

The following fall semester, one of the vice presidents (there were 4) had to vacate his position because of a failure to make grades. I ran uncontested and found myself on the executive board.

Towards the end of that fall semester, I detailed my goals and plans for what I wanted to do as IFC president. I sought out individual fraternity presidents and met with whoever would listen to me as I explained why I wanted to be president. And in November, I defeated, among others, the person I had lost to the year before.

It was a great experience.

Looking back, much of my philosophy on leadership is still shaped by that leadership role as a college student.

I learned you have to trust people.

I don’t believe in micromanaging. I think it’s good for a leader to be in the loop and be supportive where he can. But I think it’s important for individuals to know their role, have goals and then have the freedom to go out and make those things happen (while maintaining good communication with me). Obviously it was a college organization. So any mistakes we could have made would not have been catastrophic. But even in other settings, I think that if the leader is paying attention and communicating with people, mistakes happen and are ok. And it’s not the end of the world. I think micromanaging is often times the result of a leader’s own vanity. That they must have a hand in everything happening.

But that’s not always necessary.

One thing I still look back to with pride is the fact that we never had one of our council meetings go past 45 minutes. If we had a guest speaker, I gave them a time limit. We liked to bee organized going in and to run efficient meetings.

I still am of the belief that people who like getting things done do not like sitting in meetings. (Obviously some meetings are necessary).

I think it’s important in an organization or business, for leaders to feel free to disagree and stand up for their beliefs. But once the leaders are going in a certain direction, I think it’s good to be unified. Gossip and infighting are the scourge of so many types of groups. That toxicity is counterproductive.

I think for anyone, no matter the age, if given an opportunity to lead, it can be a chance to hone skills that can last for years and decades. I know I continue to be grateful for having had that opportunity as a college student.