Without a doubt everyone reading this post feels that they are advising students, groups, and organizations with the best interest of the students in mind. We enjoy collaborating with them and watching them develop. We take joy when they succeed and we are disappointed when things don’t go as planned.
Our memories want us to believe that we expend the same amount of energy and passion with everyone who crosses our path. As professionals, we surely follow the same policies and procedures with all. As long as what is presented does not violate any institutional or governmental laws, we are wholeheartedly committed. Playing favorites is not an option.
Unfortunately, we sometimes choose to play favorites without even realizing it. As humans we connect with some students, causes, and groups more than others. We must accept this fact and figure out how we can put our personal self aside to be our best professional self. Each student leader, group and organization we encounter needs to feel as if what they are working on means as much to us as it does to them. In all of my years advising student leaders and organizations, this has been one of my biggest struggles. I believe I have been able to (mostly) overcome this difficult challenge. Before I share the methods that have worked for me, let’s look at a few scenarios that should sound familiar.
Sunshine is the president of a large organization that is committed to a cause that you strongly believe in. She always meets deadlines, is a pleasant person to work with, and continually thanks you for all of your help. If/when Sunshine is faced with obstacles or challenges, you empower her to work through them and assure her that you will do all you can to make sure the organization reaches their goals. You genuinely want Sunshine to succeed and her organization to reach their goals. It will personally distress you if Sunshine and/or the organization are not as successful as they set out to be.
Trouble has just created a new organization on campus that stands for a cause you absolutely disagree with. Trouble has an abrasive personality, always tries to circumvent the system, and feels she knows how to do things without any help. Trouble can’t be bothered with policies and procedures and waits until the final moments on every decision. The only time Trouble engages with you is when she runs into roadblocks and expects you to remove them immediately. If you are successful in removing the barrier your hard work is not appreciated. You do what is required to help Trouble and her organization, but are not really invested in the successes or failures they may face.
Each of us has crossed paths with some variation of the scenarios above. It may be Sunshine running an organization with a cause you dislike or Trouble running an organization you believe in. In all cases the same challenge remains. How do you advocate and advise wholeheartedly when your heart is not in it? Are you truly able to be equitable in all scenarios? Hopefully your answer is honest and you realize you do your best to be fair and recognize the challenges in doing so.
In practice, to effectively advise student leaders and organizations with all my vigor I needed to find an internal motivation that made me want to see them succeed. The motivation I used was to move beyond the individual or organization and achieve satisfaction through my growth process. Demanding student leaders gave me the opportunity to refine my skills in dealing with difficult people. When an organizational cause went against my beliefs I was challenged to focus on the process and not the cause.
Using the techniques above positively impacted my relationship with Trouble and her organization. A day dealing with Trouble was a day I grew as a person. A day dealing with her organization was a day that I grew as a professional. By embracing these growth opportunities I began to look forward to working with Trouble and her organization as much as Sunshine and her group.
Sunshine every day would become boring. Sometimes we all need a little Trouble to keep us on our toes.
This post is part of our month-long series #OrgAdvising, an in-depth look at the different aspects of the student organization advisor role. This series hopes to bring front-and-center a role otherwise overlooked or forgotten in the discussion of “advisor.” For more information, see the intro post by Cindy Kane! Check out the other posts in this series too!
> BONUS <
Podcast With Darcy Kemp on Advising Student Groups