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MIT blogger CJ Q. '23

is leadership the same as management by CJ Q. '23

buzzword alert

the department in charge of student groups, sole, describes their role as

The Student Organizations, Leadership and Engagement Office provides an environment for students to test new ideas, develop leadership skills and create community at MIT.

and i,,, what? leadership skills? i’ve worn many hats with the student groups i’ve worked with, and i wouldn’t call the things i learned leadership skills. i learned things like:

  • how to delegate things. delegate is a fancy word meaning getting someone else to do it. in esp we have a saying, which is “your job is not to do things, it’s to make sure that things get done.” i’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be formal; it could be as simple as “hey do you want to pick this up?”
  • how to track deadlines. i’ve learned that if you ask someone “hey do you want to pick this up?” and neither of you put a date it won’t get done. i’ve learned how to poke people and ask them how things are going. i’ve learned that different people like different things, but people tend to be universally okay with using spreadsheets.
  • how to do things yourself. i’ve learned that even when i’m in a “leadership position”, whatever that means, i still need to do some things myself, for whatever reason. sometimes other people are doing the manage-y things, which is great, because that means i get to do actual work and not management.
  • how to be on top of your email. i’ve learned that mit runs on email, and that responding to emails quickly helps get things done faster. i’ve learned the wonders of email filters and how to split up my email into folders. i’ve learned many wording tricks to use in emails to get points across.
  • how to set up a meeting. i’ve learned that mit also runs on when2meet, or whenisgood, or whenufree, or doodle. i’ve learned that some meetings are good, actually, because coordinating people is hard.
  • how to keep a meeting going. i’ve learned that meetings can get filled with a lot of silence or random stuff or bikeshedding if no one keeps it going. some magic words include “let’s take this offline” and “we can table this for now”

these are all things i associate with management, not the nebulous idea of leadership.

you might say: oh, but leaders inspire others to do things. but managers do so too! a good manager recognizes that if they want things to keep getting done, they need to know the people in their team, and know how to motivate them to do things. this includes inspiring them, helping them grow, unlocking their potential, whatever buzzword.

you might say: managers manage tasks, leaders lead people. this is too reductive! if you’re dealing with tasks, you have to involve people, and get to know them and understand them and not burn them out. if you’re leading people, you have to know what tasks they’re doing, and how they’ll fit into the bigger picture, because that motivates people.

whatever title: manager, project lead, president, director, chair, head, idk, does it matter? think about a team of three people, sharing manage-y responsibilities between them. i think what matters more is that a team shares the goal of making sure things get done, and once that goal is there the manage-y things will happen.