What I learned through my student leadership position

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When I was elected as vice-president of communications for the McGill International Student Network (MISN), I was told that my role would be akin to a part-time job. I’d be putting in 20-25 hours a week and would have a sizable portfolio by the end of my term.

The VP communications was second-in-command to the president. I was responsible for answering all emails (or forwarding them to the right person), served as editor-in-chief for the newsletter and was responsible for regular MISN executive duties such as holding office hours and going on MISN-sponsored trips (1-2 executive members needed to accompany each of our planned excursions).

This was the job on paper. In reality, my role was so much more. My fellow executives had very different personalities with individual approaches to work and work ethics.  Regardless of this, we spent a great deal of time together and I became used to working on an extremely close-knit team.

In addition, I learned to manage volunteers. There were several general volunteers within MISN, as well as those that fell within my specific area. The biggest group I had under my wing was the newsletter committee. This was another diverse group of people that I had to work with, so I had to implement different motivation and feedback strategies for each of them.

A third aspect of my role as VP communications was basic customer service.  As with any organization, we encountered our share of “difficult” customers. No matter if it is the customer who is right or wrong, you learn that while you do what you can to cater to these individuals, you will never be able to make everyone happy.

While these situations in no way completely prepared me for the management challenges that lay ahead of me in my future career, the lessons I learned the most from were those which involved working with different types of people.

In the end, what I learned made me more flexible in the work environment.  For some, this is an attribute that could be seen as a curse because I was often selected to work with “challenging” people. On the other hand, it can be viewed as a blessing because I could always see another point of view.  The position as VP communications gave me a lot of great skills for future success.

Photo credit: YGL Dalian Summit 2009 by World Economic Forum on Flickr
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About the author

Mira Saraf studied psychology and English at McGill University. When she graduated, she wanted to pursue journalism but somehow ended up working in Montreal's garment industry. From there, she moved to New York to attend FIT. She worked there for a year before moving back to Toronto to work for Winners. Two and a half years in she took over a year off to pursue writing education and a career in freelance writing. She has since returned to the industry and now works for Loblaw/Joe Fresh. She continues to write on a part time basis.