I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:
I’m a graduating senior in college, and last fall I became the head of a pre-professional organization chapter on my campus. I was the only reasonable candidate at the time (the only other eligible person was a freshman), and I thought I should challenge myself to do more.
“Challenge” it has been. I’ve had a lot of useful and wonderful experiences in this role, but one thing is a continual thorn in my side: managing my officers. On the one hand, I get that this is unpaid, all volunteer, and a peer group. I really do! I tell people all the time to ask if they need help, and try to be very approachable. But still, I have endless trouble getting things done.
People who volunteered for their positions won’t do their work. I try setting deadlines, I try giving directions, I try reminding. Nothing works. So I micromanage, and I do everything myself, and I lose sleep and my grades slip, etc. I get some clarity, realize it isn’t fair to anyone, try to distribute responsibility some more, and then have it go so bad that I would have been better off doing it myself! Then it’s more stress, less sleep, more catching up, “talks” with officers, and still no progress. I get accused of treating a project with a client as my own instead of a group thing – but the officer in charge sat on the information to our production team until AFTER he had promised a product, didn’t do anything himself, and then was too busy to go to the meeting with them where I had to explain why their product was late. Same guy told me after not to get too upset, since it’s a “team effort, and if something goes wrong it’s everybody’s fault.”
I try to give out responsibility – nothing gets done and, as the head, I am the one stuck explaining why. I try to manage it all myself – I fall behind on everything else, can’t juggle it properly, and still have to explain why. I try talking to my officers, it goes well, nothing changes, I talk to them again trying to be as cool as possible and am accused of talking down to them or treating them like children.
I don’t want to be a horrible manager who makes people feel terrible and is hated by everyone. I don’t want to micromanage or belittle. But: the people who tell me I’m disrespecting them are the ones I’m calling out (no swearing, names, yelling, trying to keep an even tone and listening for feedback) for failing -BADLY- to do their jobs and making my life harder, so how do I trust that I’m really the problem and they’re not just being defensive? On the other hand, am I just blaming everyone else for my problems? If I were a better manager, could I get my team to actually do the things they promised? Is my team bringing out the worst in my leadership style, or is my bad leadership bringing out the worst in my team?
I’m losing confidence in myself as this goes on, and I can’t wait for it to be over. I’m sick and in physical pain weekly from the amount of stress this has caused me, but I can’t seem to figure out a way out. What can I do to make sure the person after me doesn’t have to deal with this? How can I save them from regretting this and being stuck doubting themselves when they should be gaining confidence?
Readers, what’s your advice to rescue this letter-writer from student leadership hell?