Some of our fantastic committee members
As one of three student Directors of Relay For Life of UNC, a yearlong fundraising event benefitting the American Cancer Society, I have a lot of responsibility. Our overall committee is made up of over 200 students, all of whom are separated into 15 committees. Our executive team consists of 23 members who lead the 15 committees. The events we host can range from planning a benefit night at a nearby restaurant to our signature fall carnival that’s lovingly entitled “breasticle festival,” to increase awareness of breast and testicular cancer to planning a benefit concert that draws in hundreds of students. Our main event in the spring lasts 15 hours and the idea is that participants make teams, and at least one team member is walking around the track for the entire 15 hours. Planning these events, recruiting participants, and fundraising for almost the entire academic calendar is exhausting, but you’ll never find something so simultaneously rewarding.
Taking on a the primary leadership role in this organization has taught me so much, a lot of which you’ll be reading about later in this blog. But for today, I want to start with the basics: taking issues in stride. As you might imagine, with a group of over 200 students, you’re naturally going to run into problems and complaints. The force of these complaints can be shocking, especially when in your own mind, the complaints are focused on minute details. When you’re planning everything and anything, complaints about small things can seem insignificant and frustrating, but something I’ve learned is that they are 100% worth a listen. At the end of the day, people want to feel like their voices are heard and that they’re making a difference in bettering an organization, and that’s where the majority of these complaints come in.
Now, at first glance, an email filled with harsh complaints does just seem like hate mail written with malice. Don’t get me wrong, when I first read an angry email, I spend at least two minutes thinking of all of the angry things I could say back. I think that path of thought is genuinely human. If you don’t do it, please call me and teach me your ways, because I’d love to save some time. But at second glance, you start to realize something important is going on and you think: okay, this student is feeling overwhelmed and needs some help with time management...how can I help them prioritize their goals and keep them involved? I love that my role in this organization gives me the opportunity to help people in this way. You'll never switch roles from life coach to tutor to personal therapist to professional motivator as fast as you do in a campus leadership position.
Leadership, I’ve decided, is not about standing at the front of the room telling people what to do. It’s actually about listening, listening, and more listening, and then building the organization based upon what you hear. Ensuring that an individual’s voice is heard and helping them decide on a plan of action that’s right for them will do much more good than fixing the problem for them and pushing them in what you might think is the right direction. I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out, or that I’m a perfect leader, because I know that I’m not. But I love nothing more than celebrating a victory with the 200 students I lead, and so I’ll keep striving for improvement.