In 1988 I ran for President… of my sorority’s pledge class.
I wasn’t planning to join a sorority, but my twin sister had joined one in our freshman year of college and she had the most amazing experiences helping others, having fun, learning leadership, and gaining dozens of new friends so I simply decided I wanted to be a part of it. I rushed and was accepted into Sigma Kappa.
Our pledge class consisted of 27 women. Our Plege Mother took us all to the beach for the weekend on a retreat, and this is where we held elections to see who would be President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, etc. of our pledge class. I had no intention of running for an office. I was shy, submissive, and more than willing to let other people run the show. Responsibility was something I was comfortable giving away to others.
So Friday night we’re all bonding and someone says, “Erin, are you going to run for President? After all, your twin is already a member and you probably know a lot more than we do about sorority life. You should do it.” I demurred, saying my schedule was too busy for that kind of responsibility. People seemed disappointed. Ah well, not my problem.
So Saturday morning rolls around and elections are upon us. Our Pledge Mother is encouraging us all to run for offices so that we can learn leadership. When she asks who would like to run for President, nine hands go up. Including mine. I’m figuring I won’t win but it will look cool if I run.
The procedure is for all nine women to give a 2 minute speech about why they should be president. Public speaking? Oh no! I was terrified of public speaking so I was really squirming in my seat. The first young woman who spoke from her seat tells us how involved she was in high school, serving on committees and planning events. Experience. The next young woman to speak, also from her seat, tells us she has a 4.0 gpa and served as her high school class president in her senior year. I figure she’s a lock! It goes on like this with every single person showcasing their various backgrounds and talking about how great they are and why they are qualified for the job.
Then it comes around to me. All of a sudden I realize I am in no way qualified to be president of our pledge class. I had no leadership skills or experiences. I just sailed through high school minding my own business and never making an impression on anyone. But I am so impressed with everyone’s backgrounds and how willing they are to lead. So now everyone is looking to me. I stand up (I don’t know what possessed me to stand, because no one else had spoken standing up but there I was). Here is what I said:
“You know, whoever becomes our president is going to have the easiest job in the world because she’ll have women like you all supporting her. I think you are all incredibly talented, committed, caring, and I would vote for all of you. I am honored to be a part of this pledge class.” That was it. I said nothing about myself. But everyone clapped at my remarks and people were looking at me funny. Votes were submitted and tallied. And guess who won? That’s right. Me. I was shocked beyond belief. I told the Pledge Mother that there must have been a mistake with the voting and she took me aside and said, “Erin, I’m not really supposed to discuss the votes, but I have to tell you that you won by a landslide. You are the one people want to be President. Don’t worry, I’ll help you.” I was terrified. Lead 27 women through an entire semester? Conduct meetings using Parliamentary procedure? Handle problems, arguments and disputes? Paperwork and planning? Lead? Me? No! I can’t do it!
But I did.
I took my job very seriously. All of our meetings began and ended right on time. I insisted on that. I told people that if they were late, they should just go home. And I told people if they didn’t let me know in advance that they needed to speak at a meeting, they could wait until next week. I submitted every piece of paperwork on time. I became a pro at Parliamentary procedure and loved it. I managed every other officer and the committee chairmen. One day our Pledge Mother says to me, “Erin, you are the best Pledge Class President we’ve ever had. You’re amazing. It’s too bad you only get one semester.”
My experience as Pledge Class President transformed me. I learned how to be a better speaker, manage my time, delegate responsibility, and I had fun doing it. I learned how to lead. I learned that leading is not about being the best at what you do, but about caring the most that it get done.
When I was initiated into the sorority, I immediately took on new leadership roles, only this time I had to start at the bottom. First I was intramural chairperson, then Treasurer, then Vice President of Membership. If I had pledged in my freshman year, I would have gone on to become President of the sorority after my VP year. Sometimes I wonder what that would have been like. Would I have been up to the challenge of leading 80 women instead of just 27? I don’t know, but I’m sure the next president had an easy time leading because the women in my sorority were all amazingly talented, compassionate, and wise.
Are you afraid to step up and take a leadership role? Are you afraid of the responsibility? Do you feel like you can’t possibly make a difference? I’m here to tell you that if you care about an issue or a club or an event, then you already have one of the most important qualities of leadership.