Lessons from a Student Leader during a Global Pandemic and Beyond
by Margaret Poltorak
Being the president of my sorority has taught me about ways to thrive as a leader. I’ve learned a lot about myself in regard to my leadership strengths and weaknesses. Being a student leader on campus is not easy, especially when faced with unexpected events such as COVID-19. But here are the lessons I have learned since gaining my position.
Expect the unexpected
This has been especially relevant for all student leaders during COVID-19. No matter how much planning and thought goes into every decision, there are still going to be events you cannot control. Whether it’s something as large as a global pandemic or as small as a member asking a question you weren’t expecting, know the only thing you can do is your very best. With every decision I make, I say “I’m making the best decision with the information I was given.” Especially in times of uncertainty, knowing your limits is extremely important as a student leader.
Have people you can confide in
Having people in your corner to seek advice from is key to being a successful student leader. My own support network includes: my executive board to support me with confidential information; my mother to vent to when being a leader takes its toll; and a friend not in the sorority that I can gain an outside perspective from. These people became the foundation that supports me and my greatest cheerleaders. When I first got this position, I tried to do a lot of the work on my own. Once I accepted that it’s okay to ask for help, I became a better leader.
It’s just a position
Remember you are a student and a human being before you are a leader in your organization. Your mental health and academics should still take priority, even when that seems difficult. This is something I reminded myself often. No act, task, event, speech, or any other responsibility is more important than your own well-being. Remember to take a step back every once in a while and keep your position and your experience in perspective. Remember that it’s okay to say “no” and turn something down. You’re still a student and a human.
Remember why you took the position
In every student leadership position, there are the great moments – the times when you begin to think you are leaving a legacy. However, there are also tough times. I have had several moments in which I question why I accepted this position. Whenever I feel that way, I remember why I ran for presidency in the first place. During elections, I wrote a letter to myself about what this position means, and I continue to look back upon it during tough times. Doing this has allowed me to approach almost every week with the passion I had in the beginning of my term. When faced with challenges, remind yourself of why you took the position.
Being a leader can push you to grow as a student and a person. Many students can learn a lot through their experiences of being a leader, but it is important to remember the things above in order to have balance between your position and other obligations.