Although an academic analysis of leadership is often an effective mechanism in understanding the skills we as students are trying to acquire, interacting with and interviewing current student leaders is also effective—seeing these principles in action enhances our appreciation for what we learn in class. In my discussion this week with Paul Kania, President of the Off Campus Students’ Association (OCSA) at Rutgers, I saw three very important facets of leadership exemplified: he, with his organization, effectively identified issues, used prior experiences and talents in a move to resolve those issues, and networked with other leaders to enhance the capacity and efficacy of both their organizations.
Communcation: OCSA’s issue.
One of Paul’s initial issues (and, subsequently, successes) was with communication. He found that his organization had several problems communicating: because of the disjointed nature of the students OCSA represents (that is, they come from many different places and often do not have substantial interactions simply by way of being commuters) his organization was not able to gather all the individuals he sought to speak for, and was not able to effectively advocate for them because of it. Additionally, Paul sometimes had difficulty explaining to students (especially on-campus students) why OCSA exists. In his words, “Even though we represent over 50% of the Rutgers undergraduate population, I definitely think that we struggle to explain why we exist.” Because his organization (unlike, say, RUPA) does not provide a benefit to every Rutgers student, this difficulty is completely understandable. Finally, again due to the disjointed nature of the community OCSA represents, communication can be a real issue in times of crisis. As Paul notes, “with the Hurricane just hitting New Jersey, the issue of communication has come up a number of times, even more-so with commuter students.” The issue of communication, therefore, is an understandable one, and one that Paul (and the rest of OCSA) showed strong leadership in identifying. Indeed, in my mind, this is the first necessary step in strong organizational leadership.
However, it is not the final step; working to resolve the issue is also important. Paul has also done this well. On not being able to reach his physically distant constituent base, he has used his experience as a former webmaster of OCSA to substantially expand their presence in social media, creating and maintaining a Facebook page, Twitter Account, website, and e-mail address. This has greatly benefitted the reach of OCSA and thereby expanded the capacity of the organization to comprehend and resolve issues their members have. Additionally, OCSA has begun looking for ways to expand its programming with other student organizations—for example, Paul has expressed an interest in working with Matthew Brazza, President of RHA, in working to bring their members closer together. Finally, in interacting in times of crisis, Paul has reached out to individuals affected by Hurricane Sandy to understand their issues.
Problem solving in action!
Through this interview, we see all three of the principles I outlined above come into action. OCSA has clearly identified an issue- communication- and seems to outline the several ways in which it hinders their organization’s ability to effectively fulfill its mission—which, per Paul, is to “change the commuting mentality.” I have a very clear understanding of this issue and the ways it impacts their organization through our interview. Additionally, Paul used his skill set (as well as the skill sets of those who he works with at OCSA) to resolve issues- for example, he used his experience as a webmaster to resolve a communication issue he saw. That is strong leadership because it relates talents to solving problems—essential in the functioning of an organization. Finally, Paul networks with others (specifically leaders) to expand the capacity and efficacy of his organization. His interest in working with RHA, amongst others, as well as his interest in hearing the problems others had shows this concept in action. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, leadership understood in an intellectual manner is somewhat impotent without examples of leadership in action. I’m glad I’ve been able to better appreciate leadership in action by understanding what Paul does for OCSA and for Rutgers as a whole.