So a few weeks ago, I became president of my THON org (Springfield). And almost immediately, I had to start making decisions regarding the selection of the other nine chairs. Now, I’ve been making decisions about Springfield for the past year and I decided to apply knowing it would mean I’ll be making decisions for the next year. But the thing in, I got to talk through those decisions for the past year with nine other chairs (some of whom are my close friends), and I will get to talk through our decisions for the next year with the nine chairs we just chose. The decisions I had to make in between being chosen for Executive chair and choosing the other nine chairs were on my own, were about our process of handling chair selection, and in many ways affected those close friends I wanted to be talking through everything with.
I have always known that I value listening in leadership, but I don’t think I realized the full extent of that until these past few weeks when there weren’t multiple opinions for me to listen to. All I had was my own thoughts and opinions, and my predictions about what my friends might say if I could talk to them about it. It was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, in large part because I knew how my decisions could affect my friends. On the one hand, we were friends before I became president and I sure hope that we will be friends in a year when my term is done, so I want to prioritize that friendship. But on the other hand…I know that I need to make the decisions that are right for the board and Springfield as a whole, not just my own personal life. There were many times early last week that I called my mom and just talked through everything because I needed to tell somebody the thoughts that kept circling in my head and knew that I couldn’t tell anybody at Penn State (and definitely couldn’t tell anybody in Springfield).
I am discovering just how independent I will need to be in the next year. I had a co-chair for THON 2017, and we made a point of coming to a consensus on all of our family-related decisions before talking to the rest of the board about them. Knowing that there was somebody to back me up and who had helped me think through every possibility was a huge confidence-builder for me, but I don’t have a co-chair this year. That is something I know I will need to keep working on and reassuring myself that it is okay to not have back-up as long as I believe what I am saying. I have a pretty good idea what we will need to discuss in the next year, and I already have opinions on many of those topics, and I know that they are far less personal than the decisions I had to make in the past two weeks, and I know that I can talk through them with other people (including some friends). And all of those things give me the confidence that it will be just fine. It just makes me wonder how people forge into the unknown all alone and without advisors or co-workers to discuss with. To me, that just doesn’t seem smart—there are so many things you can overlook if you don’t have input from more voices, and it is so easy to fall into a loop of circular overthinking without somebody to pull you out. That’s a dangerous trap that I nearly fell into, and the idea of it happening on a wider scale than my own friends and my THON organization is disconcerting. Listening truly is key in making the tough decisions. I have always thought that listening was important because I have learned so much by listening, but just a few weeks into my tenure as executive chair I am already learning just how true that is.