Chapter Five

Leading a Small Campus Organization

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"It is one thing to show a man that he is in an error, and another to put him in possession of truth."
- John Locke, Essay on the Human Understanding.

On many a campus the right-to-life group fizzles out soon after the founders graduate, because the transmission of leadership was neglected. If a college right-to-life group is to succeed in the twin goals of sustaining a pro-life presence on the college campus and educating future pro-life leaders, it must give some thought to the teaching of leadership skills.

Why Do You Need Leadership?

What does a symphony orchestra, a professional football team, and the grocery down the block have in common? Leaders. Each of these organizations have leaders. How often do you see an orchestra without a conductor, a football team without a quarterback, or a business without a boss? To be successful every organization needs leadership; so also is it with your college right-to-life group. Individuals, like a violinist, can from time to time perform amazing solos, but a group, like an orchestra, needs a leader to assure that every member performs harmoniously.

Leadership is no peculiar activity reserved solely for the officers of your group. It is of concern to every member of an organization. No successful group is led by just one leader, though a group may have no more than a single designated office. On occasion many your members will be called upon to assume the tasks of leadership.

Who steps in when your president is too busy studying for his upcoming organic chemistry examination to organize workers to construct your group's float for the Homecoming parade? Someone must, or the float won't be built. It should be apparent that leadership skills are of concern to each member of any small campus organization. At the very least, members must be ready to chose able leaders from among their ranks, and at the best, they should each strive to become better leaders themselves.

Do not slide into the common misconception that some people are simply "born leaders" and the rest of us are simply hopeless "followers." We all have the potential to become competent leaders. While I cannot deny that some people have natural leadership talents, I will insist that anyone who is willing to try can learn to be a better leader through the development of certain skills. Mediocre leaders remain mediocre leaders precisely because they lack the imagination to buildup their leadership skills.

What Is Leadership?

Quite simply, leadership is the process of getting things done through people. That's a two-part definition: accomplishing an objective and getting people to work together. The workman who operates a jack-hammer is not practicing leadership, but the foreman of the crew which paves a new street is. The crowds watching a baseball game need no captains, but the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Cincinnati Reds do.

Leadership is not the secret manipulation of others, and it is definitely not the coercion of others to do someone's will; these actions are more properly entitled deception and tyranny, respectively. Nor is leadership a science; there is no set formula, no hard-and-fast theory for good leadership. Rather, leadership is the art of getting real, free people to cooperate, and assuming the responsibility to get the job at hand done together.

The Tasks of Leadership

So, you've just been chosen to be the vice-president of your college right-to-life group, and you have never been a leader in a campus organization before. How do you learn the skills of leadership?

First, you must remember that leadership is not a skill restricted to designated office-holders, and it is not magically bestowed upon you at the moment of your election. Some people inherit offices, some are chosen, and some just happen to be in the right place at the right time. You do not have to be born King. Leadership takes skills, but these skills can be learned - slowly - and as you begin to work in a leadership position you will have to work on your leadership skills. Learning to be a better leader is any leader's first task.

You can apply experience gained in other positions in other organizations, even if you were only an assistant patrol leader in the Boy Scouts. Often, leaders progress from positions of lesser responsibility to those of greater responsibility - from errand-runner to secretary to president. But you must be patient with yourself as you learn.

Next, you must begin to think in terms of the group. Do not ask yourself "What should I do to get this lecture off the ground?" but rather say "How are we going to divide up the work necessary to make this talk on infanticide a really earth-shaking presentation?" You, as a leader, must be enthusiastic about the group and its abilities. You must be conscious of the fact that it is the group that must do the work, not just a leader, or one or two others. You must be sensitive to group spirit. If folks are beginning to look run down you must think of ways to get them perked up. A leader's first concern should be for the group he or she leads.

For the college right-to-life group, because of the nature of the pro-life movement, someone aspiring to a leadership position must be personally committed to working for the ideal of ensuring the right to Life for all people. The pro-life leader must make pro-life work a priority in his or her life. He or she must be willing to make sacrifices - give up free time, bear lower grades, even forgo dates on occasion - to make the group work. Commitment is essential.

How Does a Leader Work?

The leader works with two things: the job at hand, and the people who will do it. You can tell that a leader is successful when you see that the job gets done and the group stays together.

Take, for example, the president of Students for Life at Mythical State University. Bing Bradley is the soldierly type and tries to run things with an iron hand. At the first meeting under Bing the group had thirty-five members present, but a semester later only six would show up for meetings. What happened? Well, at the fall car wash, Bing strode around criticizing his folks for sloppy work and general laziness. Many newcomers to the group thought they'd signed up for the Army ROTC by mistake and went AWOL; now the older members call him Bing "Bad" Bradley and hope that the group survives until the next elections.

The important thing to note here is that the best leaders aren't bossy; they are willing to listen and learn for their members. The bossy leader soon alienates those who would follow him. A good leader patiently asks for assistance and gets it.

It is also important to note that a leader cannot always be a perfectionist. If you are an art major and you get a electrical engineering major to volunteer to draw up a poster for you, don't gripe if he doesn't do a perfect job as long as the end result is workable. A leader must be able to let things go at times.

Leadership is a skill, and the practitioner of leadership must be sensitive to the character of the group and the demands of the situation, as well as his own abilities. For instance, if most of the members of your group are uncomfortable with picketing an abortion clinic but your group does want to do some type of direct action, perhaps your leaders should propose a different course, such as doing instructional leafleting at a local high school, or helping one of the many "problem" pregnancy agencies.

There is a whole spectrum of leadership talent. Some folks are very comfortable speaking in front of groups, others are not. Some are keen judges of talent, some are clever organizers, and others are hard workers. Most of us fall into the zone of modest abilities. But there is no reason for not improving - the pro-life movement always needs more and better leaders.

How will you know if you are improving? You'll enjoy your role more. Plans will be made, and carried out more smoothly. Folks will work together, and they'll stay together even if your bake sale doesn't earn a cent. And most of all, they will be happy.

The best way to learn to be a leader is to hold a leadership position. But if you are to avoid the stagnation and mediocrity that so many fall prey to as leaders, you must consciously strive to sharpen your leadership skills. Remember: you learn by doing. The following sub-sections describe the skills of leadership and offer hints as to how you can gain mastery of them.

Skills of Leadership: Communication

Communication, the getting and giving of information, is the single most important skill a leader must master. Far too many battles are lost because one or more persons did not get the right message. You've heard the old saw, "For the lack of the horse the man was lost, for the lack of the man the skirmish was lost...." The reason why the crucial horse was lost may well have been that soldier's stable boy did not get a clear message as to precisely when and where the horse was wanted. Clear communications are the determining factor in many a battle.

The key facets of good communication are: getting attention, giving clear verbal instructions followed by precise written instructions, and giving feedback.

How many times have you made announcements at a gathering only to have half of those present approach you afterwards to inquire "What's going on...?" Realize that if the person you are addressing is distracted and bemused, he may seem to be listening (that is, he will nod his head from time to time), but he really doesn't hear what you are saying.

Thus, before you can even begin to communicate, you must capture your subject's attention. If you are making announcements to a crowd, this means waiting until they are silent and watching you. Never attempt to give specific instructions to an individual while talking to a crowd; it only bores those who are not involved in the interchange.

Announcements should be made to groups; instructions should be given to individuals. You can say, "We are bringing Dr. Smith, a well-known gynecologist, to campus next month to talk about the medical aspects of abortion," to your whole group, but if you want to give instructions such as "Jim, I would like you to take charge of reserving the auditorium for Dr. Smith's talk," talk to Jim on a personal, one-to-one basis; then you are assured of his attentiveness.

Once you have attention, you can proceed to speak. Instructions given must be clear and precise. Approach the giving of instructions as you would the writing of a newspaper story: give the who, what, where, when, why and how. "Jim, I would like you to check with the Registrar's Office to reserve the main auditorium for Dr. Smith's talk on the 14th of October." If you neglect even one of these essentials, you risk having your plans misfire.

After stating exactly what you require, enumerate the ways in which the person who will be carrying those requirements can act on his own initiative. This reinforces the initial message, makes the assignee feel some responsibility, and encourages him to use his imagination; the net effect of which is to build group spirit.

Written instructions are without equal in the world of communications. After verbal instructions are given, further reinforce the message with written instructions. I often use the following method of reinforcement:

Say, for example, that I wish to get posters drawn up and printed for a speaker. I know that there are certain essential elements that must go into the production of the poster, such as the speaker's name, the topic of the talk, the place, the time, how many posters we need, and so. These I write down in detail on a sheet of paper. There are several print shops in the area, and their prices change from month to month, so I will leave it for whoever volunteers for the job to select the cheapest one. Maybe I will include a few suggestions of shops to check. The design of the poster is totally up to the designer, so I simply make the note, "Please do your best." Finally, I write down the date by which I expect the posters to be ready for hanging.

Armed with these instructions in hand, I ask for a volunteer at the next general meeting. Immediately after the meeting I talk privately to my volunteer, explaining the above requirements for the task. I ask him questions such as, "When will you have the posters printed by?" to be sure that he understands the critical points. And finally, I write his name on the top of my previously prepared instructions and hand it to him.

It is important to note here that the leader himself keeps written notes of such things as who he has asked to do what by what date. "Even the shortest pencil is longer than a good memory." The best leaders never rely solely on their memory.

Because communication is a two-way street, feedback is important. A leader, in order to be a good communicator and therefore a good leader, must know how well his intentions are being understood. He must ask questions and make people comfortable with asking him questions. Answer questions reasonably; do not jump down someone's throat just because they dared to ask you what you mean.

Remember that the above skills are useful not only for sending out information, but also for receiving information. A skillful listener pays close attention when spoken to, dismissing distractions from his mind. He makes notes of vital bits of information, and he asks questions to check his comprehension of the message being sent. It should be clear that listening is as important as talking.

A properly run meeting greatly facilitates group communications.

How will you know if you are improving? Ask yourself: "Are people asking questions? Are there fewer mixed up signals? Are tasks being accomplished on time?" Reliable communication is the oil that makes a college right-to-life group run smoothly.

Skills of Leadership: Sharing Authority

Co-equal in importance with good communication skills is the ability to delegate authority well. The idea is simple; its practice is difficult. Shared leadership is the most efficient leadership, but in spite of an awful lot of talk about delegating authority, few leaders actually exercise this principle.

The sharing of authority is necessary for two reasons. First and foremost, the responsibilities most leaders face are well beyond the scope of their personal abilities, so they must be able to call upon the talents and crafts of other members of the group. This is the very essence of good leadership. Together, the group and its leaders accomplish more than the sum of their individual efforts; it is the ability to delegate authority, the ability to share leadership, which magnifies this effect.

Secondly, the sharing of authority builds group spirit. When leadership is shared, the members feel that the group is more than a one man show; they feel as though they have a stake in its well-being, that it is their group. More than any other factor, it is this spirit of belonging which causes an organization to grow, knitting it together as a team. And it is from among those who are permitted to share authority that new leaders come.

Given the above, how does a leader go about sharing authority? There is a spectrum of leadership styles which involve different degrees of sharing of authority. On the low end of the "degree of sharing" scale are the telling and persuading. On the high end of the scale are consulting and delegating. In the former, the leader gives direct instructions to those who will carry them out, pausing only to check that they got his message clearly. "Joe and Jim, I want you to go downtown to pick up some voter registration forms. Do you know where to find them?" This style involves only a minimal amount of sharing of authority.

Persuasion is the art of getting another to agree with your point of view. The leader who uses persuasive techniques gives his members a greater degree of authority than the one who merely orders them around. "Don't you think this is a good time for you to go to the County Board of Elections and pick up those voter registration forms we need?" Here the member has some input into the decision-making process, but is still primarily being told what to do.

Consultation - asking "Joe, do you think this is a good time to run a voter registration drive on our campus?" - gives the member still more input into the decision process; it allows him to exercise some authority: he can effect the course of the decision.

When a leader delegates a task to another member, he give that person the authority to see it through to completion. "Joe, how would you like to be in charge of our group's voter registration drive?" Given the authority to make decisions and take his own initiative, this member becomes, in effect, a new leader. With a single, clear objective in mind he can now forge ahead, bringing new experience and new enthusiasm to the group.

It is, of course, desirable that a leader attempt to move across this spectrum of leadership styles from merely giving orders to true delegation of authority. The watchword for the leader who would do so is patience. He must resist the itch to "do it himself." At first, it may well seem that he could indeed do the task at hand himself more quickly. This is an illusion. It is never easier to do it yourself. The leader must take a longer view of the situation, knowing that there is a limit to his own abilities and understanding that his main goals are to get more people involved and to cultivate new leaders.

The president of a group must especially be willing to share his authority with the other officers in the group. All the officers of a group can be expected to give a fair amount of time to group activities. At the officers' meetings, the officers should divide up the group responsibilities. They are collectively in charge of the group, and though the president may be the highest officer, they each must undertake some of the responsibilities necessary for the group to operate.

A note of caution, though. A leader delegates authority, but not responsibility. An officer may assign a task to another member, but that does not relieve the officer of his responsibility: the leader is still responsible for seeing that the task is completed. This means that after delegating a task and the authority to complete it, the leader must check back to make sure the task is being accomplished. If it is not being completed, the leader has the responsibility to see that it is. This may mean giving special assistance to the person to whom the task was originally delegated, assigning the task to a new person, or, in the extreme, accomplishing the task yourself. Only as a final recourse, however, should the leader reassume control of a task which he has delegated out.

Delegation of authority insures that more members than just one or two officers have a part in the group, and it gives everyone the possibility of participating in the planning of group activities. This way, everyone shares in the joy of accomplishment when a job is well-done.

Skills of Leadership: Utilizing Group Resources

College kids are talented - they have to be simply to survive college. Utilizing those talents is a necessary part of leading a college right-to-life group. If, for example, there is an art major in your group, could you not ask him to take charge of the designing of posters? Need a press release written? Ask a journalism major. But persons are often talented in many areas outside their major, too. Check your group's resources!

Refer to Chapter Eleven for details of the material resources that a college right-to-life group can develop. Since this chapter is concerned with the cultivation of leadership abilities, we shall discuss only the utilization of human resources here, but I should make the point that all necessary material resources depend upon people to make them useful. If, for instance, your group needs a computer to edit its newsletter, look for the man who knows how to use a computer. Chances are that he will have access to one. Find the right person, and you will find the right tool.

The important skill for the leader to develop here is that of identifying resources. Who can do what? The leader must train his eye and mind to notice talent. One aid is to have members of your group fill out a information form and an interest survey. The first of these provides basic demographic data on the members, and the second gives an idea of where the interests of group members lie.

Aside from information garnered from forms, a leader must rely upon past experiences. He should note - preferably in writing - who fulfills the tasks that are assigned to them and how well they do so. Rarely is a task so unique that a person cannot be found with some prior experience which is relevant. Much comes to him who seeks, so a leader must learn to seek out talent among his members. In casual conversation he can probe their strengths, it is true, but a leader can also ask a blunt, direct question: "Can you drive a 1967 VW microbus with a standard transmission?"

When the leader notes that a group member has a particular talent, the leader must exercise care in its utilization. He must not rely too heavily on a single person to carry the bulk of the workload of a large tasks; he must spread the work among the membership with an eye toward encouraging new talents.

Deborah Rogers became a member of Mythical State University's right-to-life group in the autumn of her freshman year. In early October, Jim Doe, then the president of Mythical State Students for Life (Bing Bradley's successor - the group survived!), asked her to attend a talk given at a meeting of a local pro-life group and to report back at the next group meeting. Noting that she had done well on this assignment, Jim sent her a thank-you card, and next asked her if she would like to oversee the coordination of workers for the group's November fund-raiser, a raffle. When the raffle was immensely successful, Jim once again took note of Debbie's abilities, sent her a letter of encouragement, and then, in December asked her to take on the much larger task of overseeing the preparation for the group's trip to Washington, D.C. in January. Later Debbie went on to become treasurer, and then president of the group.

Jim put Debbie's talents to good use by following three guidelines: first, he started her on small tasks and then moved her up to more difficult ones; second, he noted what successes she had and what talents she demonstrated; third, he encouraged her as she progressed. This last point is the most important. A good leader always notes who does well and rewards that accomplishment, even if it is only a pat on the back. Because of Jim's careful utilization of talents, Mythical State Students for Life gained a new leader - one who otherwise might have gone overlooked.

People are the college right-to-life group's best resource - sometimes the only resource! So the leader must have skill in putting their talents to work.

Skills of Leadership: Setting an Example

Many a would-be leader undermines his own effectiveness by not setting a good example for the members of his group. If he is inattentive during a discussion, he encourages his members to do likewise because he is sending them the subconscious message "this is not important." He sends the same message if he is often late to meetings or lackadaisical in notifying the members of impending events. If he easily loses his temper, when arguing with pro-abortionists, for instance, a leader appears childish and immature. A leader is a model whether or not he likes it.

Think about your actions. A good leader must be enthusiastic about the group. He must believe that it can accomplish something positive, and he must be willing to work. Positive is the key word in describing his attitude. Nothing can put a damper on a group's enthusiasm more quickly than a leader with a negative outlook. Ask yourself, "Do I believe that our group can do good and helpful work?" Your answer should be a firm and hearty "Yes!"

Show this healthy attitude by being among the first to volunteer when there is work to be done. Show it by being present and on time for all meetings. Show it be being concerned for the personal well-being of your members. Show it by continuing to be cool, cheerful, and unruffled even in the face of vile abuse from pro-abortionists. Do these things and many of the burdens of office will be lightened as you find that your members are more prompt, more cheerful, and more ready to work. After all, it should be, as General Patton noted, "easier to pull a string than to push it."

Note also that a leader is an example for those outside the group. Be aware of your actions. Folks will judge you and the pro-life movement on your appearance, on how you walk, how you talk, how you write (for Heaven's sake, don't write illiterate letters to the editor); they cannot see what is in your heart.

As I have said earlier in this text, if you are kind and considerate of even those who disagree with you, you may yet convince them. At the worst they will say, "I don't agree with you but you've been so nice that...." Who knows but that you may be sowing the seeds of a change of heart that may yet come to fruit in the years to come. "We reap what we did not sow, and we sow that others may reap."

Skills of Leadership: Representing the Group

No college organization can long survive as a tyranny. College leaders must face the fact that their decisions must reflect the wills of those who support the group. A leader learns to represent well the opinions of these supporters, the members, in his decision-making processes even if only to placate them.

In the officers' council, a leader, be he president or other, offers opinions about what the group should attempt. Often members of the group who are not officers will have a preference for certain activities. Once the leader has become aware of these opinions, he is duty-bound to present them in the officers' council, and he must strive to give them a fair hearing.

Take for example, Ginny Smith, who is the vice-president of Mythical State Students for Life. Two days before a regularly scheduled officers' meeting, Joe Regular, a freshman member, approaches her with the idea of leading a bunch of people downtown to picket a campaign speech of a pro-abortion Congressman. Though Ginny is skeptical of Joe's ability to properly organize pickets and the value of picketing this particular politician, she doesn't throw water on his fire. Instead, she listens patiently, and carefully questions Joe for his opinions, encouraging him to think out his idea. (She doesn't dampen his enthusiasm even if his judgment is poor.) Even though she is still skeptical, she mentions Joe's ideas at the officers' meeting. Other officers are enthusiastic about Joe's suggestion, and Suzanne, the chairman of the political education committee, decides to take matters in hand and help Joe organize the pickets.

A leader should have this ability to represent even those opinions with which he or she does not agree, even in spite of the fact that the opinion may be that of only a small minority. The leader should first get the facts straight. What opinions prevail? How many people think this way? And finally he must be able to make a clear judgment on the validity of the opinion. He must weigh the opinion in light of his own knowledge, and he must fairly represent those opinions with which he can find no serious fault.

Aside from internal affairs of the group, officers are also the official mouthpieces of the group to the outside world. Leaders of college right-to-life groups must be courageous and outspoken. They should use their positions of authority to speak out for the right to Life in interviews, debates, letters to the editor of the campus paper, in any public forum. This is not to say, however, that they are free to claim to speak for the group on issues outside of those pertaining to the right to life, but that they should be unafraid to say things like "I represent college students who know that abortion is the killing of a human being." Without this courage the voices of college pro-lifers will go unheard.

Skills of Leadership: Planning and Control

Too often leaders neglect proper planning. Some assume that someone else will make the plans for an event, others think they can fly by the seat of their pants when the time arrives. No responsible leader can succumb to the temptation to take his responsibility this lightly.

Responsible leaders approach planning methodically. Having decided upon the objectives of their group, they first consider the task before them. "What do we wish to do?" A clear picture of the present task must be drawn up by the planners.

"Why are we doing this?" is the next question they ask. Will this project help us meet the objectives we have set for ourselves? Say, for instance, that you want to have a fund-raiser. You must have a clear view of your purposes: to make money and to keep the group working together. For educational projects a question to ask yourself is "Who is this project designed to reach?" If your group is going to begin advertising for an upcoming talk you must have a clear picture of who you want to come to the talk.

Next the leaders should consider their resources. Who is going to do the work? What do they have to work with? And they should examine the alternatives. Can your objective be better accomplished some other way? Maybe a plant sale would work better than a raffle at this time of the school year. But what happens to the plants if no one buys them?

Once the leaders reach a decision to act, they should commit their plans to writing. Not only should notes of meetings be kept, but the general membership of the group should be informed of the officers' plans. Some right-to-life groups send out monthly newsletters; some plot out a semester's plans at once and have a calendar printed up with key dates highlighted. Whatever method you choose, be sure that it communicates the officers' decisions to the group.

Exercising control wisely is another leadership skill, one that is closely knit to that of planning wisely. Getting the job done at the right time in the right way requires control. Upon observing the group at work, a leader must make a series of decisions. Are events progressing as planned? Is special assistance needed at any particular spot? During a bake sale, leaders must check to make sure workers show up to man the sales booth, and if someone is missing, it is the responsibility of the leader to see that the spot is filled. By himself, if necessary.

A leader should also provide feedback while a task is in progress. Encouragement should be given where merited, and criticisms, while necessary, should be subdued, muted. Make only those comments which can have an impact on the present task. Detailed criticism can wait until the proper time.

Skills of Leadership: Evaluation

After an event occurs, it is natural for a group's leaders to evaluate the event and the efficiency of the group in its execution. The biggest pit a leader can stumble into is to think that his opinion of an event's effectiveness reflects that of the rest of the group. The leader must truly search out his members reactions to make a fair assessment.

When attempting to get information from any group of people it is important to keep a couple of points in mind. People have their own personal rating systems, ones which reflect their values. Some folks interpret high attendance to be a sign of an effective presentation, for instance. Others place more value on audience participation. You have to know what people value in order to give meaning to their opinions of an event's effectiveness.

In order to get factual data, ask questions that will give simple answers. "What did you think of last week's speaker?" won't suffice. "Was Dr. Jones a believable speaker?" is better. But remember that a person seldom can express how he feels with short answers. To actually find out what a member is thinking and feeling, you must be prepared for some lengthy responses.

At the same time a leader must be aware that there are situations that prevent honest and open responses. For the member who was responsible for running it, a membership drive that failed to bring in any new members may be an especially touchy topic. The leader should broach the subject in private, being careful to note praise-worthy aspects of the effort, while searching for the reason why the drive failed.

Once a leader has gathered the necessary information about an activity, it should be presented to the group's officers so they may evaluate the event, with an eye towards better performance in the future. Did it go as planned? Why or why not? How could it have been better? Who did the work? Should there be any special recognition of their efforts? Your answers to these questions should be recorded and those records used as guidelines for future planning.

These skills constitute those most critical to good leadership. With an awareness of their nature, the leader will improve his leadership skills as he puts them into practice. And practice is the key to learning the art of leadership.

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© Copyright Andrew A. Siicree, 1985, 1997.

Permission is granted to any pro-life group or pro-life individual to copy this handbook provided that proper attribution is given.