Last month, after three years on my league’s Board of Directors — with the last year as president — I stepped down and returned to the ranks of the skating masses. Serving in a leadership position proved to be one of the most difficult but rewarding things I have done during my time in roller derby, and really in my life in general. I learned so much about myself, people, relationships and organizational dynamics — things I will apply to my professional and personal life from here on out.

President

Here is me being sort of presidential at our end-of-season party, giving accolades to our coaches. (Photo by Junior)

For background: A few years ago, I never would have thought I would be president of anything — I can be shy, introverted, indecisive, and I sometimes lack confidence in my decision-making abilities. But serving on three different administrations in my league made me more confident and executive, and a better leader and decision-maker in my professional and personal life. I highly recommend this experience to anyone. You will find qualities within yourself you didn’t know you had.

To that end, I wanted to share some things I learned for anyone considering taking the leadership plunge! I certainly didn’t succeed at all of these all the time, but part of being a good leader, I think, is acknowledging your flaws.

 

Don’t make emotional decisions. So. many. emotions. You have to learn quickly not to get swept up in the emotions of people who come at you with problems. Some of them will be pissed off at YOU or your administration or your friends for reasons you won’t agree with. You need to take a deep breath and not take it personally when someone goes apeshit over the new attendance policy. (Even if you devised the policy!) If you feel angry or otherwise keyed up, take some time before you respond to someone who is pushing your buttons and make sure you’re proceeding with the rational part of your brain.

Make people feel heard. I read this profile of this writer I really like named Andre Dubus and one of his friends said this about him: “He led by listening.” I thought that was really admirable. I learned a lot about conflict resolution during my time on the Board, and part of it has to do with listening. Sometimes people who are upset just want a chance to vent, to feel like they’ve received an audience for their concerns. Just listen. Don’t try to argue someone down. Even if you don’t agree with what they have to say and aren’t going to decide in their favor, just listen and acknowledge their ideas and concerns with compassion.

Recognize that not everyone can be pleased. I went into leadership a little naïve — thinking that there was no problem that couldn’t be resolved with a little reasoning and discussion. Sometimes, though, you need to accept that after making a good faith effort, there are issues that won’t be resolved. Move on. Some people will leave your league, some will decide they don’t like you personally. They will defriend you on Facebook, etc. It sucks, but it’s also life.

Be a Jill-of-all-Trades. Until you step into a leadership position, you’ve probably been blissfully ignorant to the range of things required to make a roller derby league function. Working on the Board, it sometimes feels like you have to be a financial planner, business analyst, social worker, diplomat, liaison, public relations specialist, ethicist, human resources expert, brand manager, athletic director, janitor and motivational speaker all at once. The number of issues I’ve weighed in on range from the seemingly trivial (paint colors for the warehouse bathroom) to the momentous (whether to sanction someone for unsportsman-like behavior). I’ve written policies, approved budgets, had really difficult conversations with people, sat through meetings that lasted more than three hours, planned parties, evaluated poster designs, gotten keys made, analyzed weather patterns to decide whether to hold practice and on and on and on. And on and on.

Be transparent and honest. If you don’t know something, admit you don’t know it. Share what you can with the league about your decisions and decision-making process. Admit when you make a mistake. Maybe a policy encouraging people to volunteer at bouts needs to be tweaked, maybe a fundraising effort fell flat. Acknowledge it and move on. Get back to people in a reasonable amount of time. Be authentic. Be direct. People respect that.

Collaborate and delegate. You will have so many people flying at you with ideas for how to promote your league or plan an all-day scrimmage-a-thon. Just because you’re in a leadership doesn’t mean you have to do everything. If you’re unable to skate because of your administrative duties, consider scaling back. Motivate other people to step up and become leaders in their areas. Ask for help. Task your peers to run with their own ideas and take on projects that benefit your organization.

Remember who you serve. Your peers elected you to serve for the greater good of the organization. Don’t mistake your personal preferences for what is best for the league. If you have trouble untwining those two things, ask someone you trust or recuse yourself.

Stay organized. Very few, if any of us, are doing this as our full-time job, so keeping track of details and moving the ball down the court on the various issues at hand is paramount. Last year I set up a giant to-do list, and moved items into a “Done” section after they were completed. Simple, but effective. Too many requests, good ideas, and other miscellany fall through the cracks unless you stay on top of them.

Set an example. Do all the things you want other people in the league to do. Go to practice, volunteer, work hard, stay positive, be an evangelist for your league. Try to enjoy the responsibility you have instead of becoming overwhelmed. Don’t cast yourself as a martyr, and recognize how much you’re benefitting from your experience in leadership.

Don’t expect accolades. I’m underscoring the “don’t be a martyr” concept here. Don’t do it for the thank yous. Don’t complain about not getting recognized for your hard work. Do it for yourself. Do it for your league. Do it for roller derby.