Q: Our group is already small. Can we afford to enforce penalties in an accountability system and risk losing members?
A: Great question. To borrow a line from the great American philosopher, Forrest Gump, member is as member does. If people in your group aren’t pulling their part of the weight, chances are, you have probably been doing their work for them anyway. So, if they leave, will you really be losing anything? The moment that you value your numbers over standards, you open the door to excuses and attitude problems. You are also demonstrating to them through your actions that you don’t fully mean what you say about consequences. You can’t complain about what you allow. At that point, it’s not about them, it’s about you!
Additionally, you need to sit down and ask why your group is so small that it can’t afford to lose even one person. Generally, groups that have been chronically “member-challenged” are either A) not meeting people’s needs or B) meeting the needs of an audience that is so small that you must have 100% of the people in that segment to bring your group up to a respectable size. If your organization is formed to serve a population of six people and three of them quite because they would rather play PlayStation, maybe you should broaden your scope. If that doesn’t work, consider dissolving the organization or joining forces with another group.
Here are two quick questions to get your creative recruiting mind working:
- Which students at this school value what we value?
- What students are pursuing what we are pursuing?
These are the people that you want to target. If you can not find a group of people that would fit in these two categories, you may have created the #1 marketing mistake-creating an organization then finding people join it. Instead, start with the people then create the programs around them, not the other way around. Give them what they want, and you will find much more success.
Q: Everybody is so apathetic! People complain about not having anything to do, but when I ask them what they want, they can’t give me any straight answers. Is there any way to fight apathy?
A: I hear you and I feel your pain. Sometimes, trying to please the insatiable is like hitting a moving target. I used to have that problem until I truly learned what it meant to hone in on a specific audience based on them having the qualities that I needed for my organization. Apathy or a complaining spirit were never one of the qualities that made my list.
Stick with me on this. If I you were a short-order cook and I came up to you with a plate and said, “I don’t know what I want, but I want you to cook something for me right now,” you’d look at me crazy like I said that I was Halle Berry was the mother of one of my twins. There is nothing that you could cook for someone that isn’t hungry.
My response to this dilemma is to find those that are active, enthusiastic and appreciate your efforts and to focus on them. Give them incentives to bring their friends and their friend’s friends. Before you know it, you will have grown your “warm market” (people that you get through previous relationships) such that your events will fill up again, but this time you’ll have the good people, not the headaches. And guess what—when those old apathetic people see how much fun you’re having, they will see all that you are doing and get hungry for your organization again.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes that you made as a student leader?
A: My mistakes were too many to name. My two biggest regrets, though, were not taking more time to network with other student leaders across campus and not leaving a detailed account of how we ran our organizations.
It pains us to talk to current students that are still struggling with the same problems that we went through back in the day. Had we simply taken the time to record the detail and best practices of the year, we might have been able to save future students a lot of headaches and cut their learning curves sharply. Also (very selfishly I might add), it would have given me solid material to give to people who were writing me letters of recommendation. Several years later, I am very passionate about writing everything down—everything! My first comment when I saw them was always, “Where are your notebooks?” I refused to make the same mistake twice.
On the networking issue, I still wonder how my life could have been different had I connected with the top five leaders and kept in contact with them. Just think about it, they were all spark plugs, so success was nothing new to them. They were probably doing great things since birth and are probably doing great things now. Moreover, spark plugs know other spark plugs. The connections could have been awesome.
Note to anyone that ever went to school with Jonathan Sprinkles:
If you are now rich, famous, or know some in the first two categories, please give me a call. I really want to be your friend.
Q: If I had to choose just one or two skills to develop within myself to become a better student leader, what would they be?
A: For sure, the two top qualities that I would choose if I had to set the others aside would be having great articulation and being a finisher. I say articulation because it is through our expression of the written word and the verbal conversation that we convey our feelings, emotions, directions and desires. Our communication is the bridge that connects the gab between our thoughts and their understanding. The more proficient we are at communicating these thoughts, the easier we can create shared goals and common vision. Conversely, those that do not communicate well suffer a fate worse than death. They struggle through countless arguments and misunderstandings. They have extremely tough times getting people on their side and rallying their team around them.
One day, I sat back and thought the radical leaders from the beginning of time until now. The one commonality that bound them together was that they were all very well-spoken. People make it seem like all that Dr. Martin Luther King ever said was, “Free at last, free at last,” but have you ever read that entire speech in its entirety? It reads like poetry. It was beautiful! That speech alone was a classic example of how the power of words can change the world.
The second quality that I would select is being a finisher in a world of starters. There are three types of people: talkers, starters and finishers. We all know people in the first two categories, and rarely do they get our respect. I used to wonder why success seemed to find certain people repeatedly, but then I realized that these people enjoy great victories because they stay in the game until they win. They don’t quit! When they leave home, they don’t come back until they have in their hands what they left to go get.