John Pemberton is a name many of you have never heard of; in full disclosure I had never heard of who he was until I got to college. For a brief history lesson, John Pemberton was a pharmacist who lived from 1831-1888. The reason he is no ordinary pharmacist is that John Pemberton is responsible for inventing Coca-Cola. While returning from the Civil War, he set out to find an opium-free alternative to morphine to ease the pain and addiction that he, as well as many other soldiers experienced. By trial and error, along with temperance legislation, he stumbled across the formula to what many of us still drink today.
The reason many of you have never heard of his name, is that soon after Coca-Cola hit the market officially, John Pemberton became ill and bankrupt, all while still addicted to morphine. He sold the rights to the formula to Asa Candler for a very modest sum; such a lopsided deal that even Donald Trump would blush. John Pemberton died shortly thereafter, succumbing to his morphine addiction, while never seeing the fruits of his invention. John Pemberton predicted that Coca-Cola would be the national drink of choice, but he was short changing himself; daily servings of Coca-Cola are estimated at 1.9 billion globally.
So what does this story have to do with student organizations?
Our students have great ideas, but oftentimes lack the intentionality to see the idea through. Our students are presently concerned about their near term, not so much about who comes behind them in organization leadership.
In a figurative way, we have more examples of John Pemberton in our student organizations than we do Coca-Cola. One had a great idea, the other took the idea and grew it.
In a presentation I conduct frequently, entitled “Leaving Your Legacy”, we explore the various ways that students can leave a mark on their present and their futures. I believe the same principles and intentionality can be applied to our student organizations.
Make broad organizational goals initially; nothing should be off limits. Organizations, especially newly created, must be able to dream their possibilities to possibly understand where they’re headed.
Simplified goals are amazing. Often times we put the cart before the horse; goals that are simplified open themselves up to detailed objectives.
Assess the path to each prospective goal. An example I see often are new organizations that wish to grow their numbers. I always ask them to consider, “why do you want to grow your numbers?” as well as “have you thought about what a larger organization would look like?” Often times our students aren’t assessing the paths they want to travel down.
Can the goal be achieved by yourself? This is nearly the most important aspect of goal setting; the realization that organizational goals will not be achieved by just one person. Often times the reason organizations don’t show retention is that the organization fell on the shoulders of one student. When the student graduates or moves on, the organization is left scrambling; organizations need to understand the power in divided power.
Surrounding the Organization with Good People
Organizational longevity has very little to do with the individuals, but on the overall strength of the organization.
Individuals need others in the organization to bring out their talents and abilities; they truly serve as opportunity providers. Organizations should be beneficial to the mission of the organization but also serve to provide opportunities to leaders.
You cannot positively impact yourself. I suppose that’s a subjective stance, but the sooner your organization humbles themselves and understands that they’re not individually oozing with awesome, the better. Strong organizations understand that they collectively impact one another, good and bad, and that their collective experiences together will hold the greatest impact.
The saying “Nice Guys Finish Last” may be applied to organizations; while we have many examples of success in society from “tough” “cut throat” “great” individuals, organizations also need good people to balance out the “drivers”. Organizations solely made up of “drivers” may be headed for burn out, whereas a balanced organization with students tethered to the ground may be able to sustain for longer.
Who you are as an Organization Matters
We know of many organizations that on paper look fantastic. They have great recruitment, very involved officers, and active participation. Is what we see on the surface really what exists in meetings or when no one is watching? Congruency is so vitally important in personal leadership, but I think organizational congruency is crucial. If we are to create buy-in from a group of people, if we as an organization are supposed to be strong, it cannot be open for interpretation.
When times are tough, will the organization fold? Many student organizations aren’t equipped to handle strife or periods where participation is low. If the mission of the organization is solid, it shouldn’t matter if you’re only getting 20% participation. If you give up on the mission then you’ll have 0% participation; the key is to point to the mission of the organization at all times.
Is the organization resilient? As I noted above, organizations will go through peaks and valleys; how our organizations handle those times is what really matters. Success of organizations can’t always be predicated upon results; the process progress is the true measure. Organizations will fall short often, organizations need to rebound often.
When it comes time to transition officers, are they handling it with professionalism and gratitude? Officer experiences can be a mixed bag; some feel they’ve made a great impact, others come away feeling very frustrated. In either experience, it’s important to depart with a plan. Officer transition should be efficient, objective, and honest; I often see transition met with so much emotion that the transition doesn’t actually happen. Organization leaders need to think a bit more broadly, that the future success of the organization hinges on smooth transition.
Are we selfish? The quick answer is yes, we all are. The key is that hopefully their intentions for their involvement within the student organization has more to do with what they can add to the organization than what they are hoping to gain from it. As studied and noted, involvement produces great individual outcomes, but the overall mission of the organization should always come first.
Create a FOUNDATION. Build COMMUNITY. Focus the MISSION.
Now, that’s a strong formula.
All of this Coca-Cola talk has left me thirsty. My question to you is “who are you going to share your coke with?”
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About the Author: Dan Goodwin was born and raised in Illinois. He received his Bachelors and Master’s degrees in Recreation Administration from Illinois State University. Prior to his start in the field of student affairs, Dan spent 3 years as a golf professional in the Chicago, Illinois area. Dan presently works at The University of North Texas. Prior to UNT, Dan worked at Illinois State University (2009-2011) and Tulane University (2011-2014). Dan’s professional interests lie within leadership education and development and preparing others for life after college. He loves spending time with his wife, Kristin and their beagle, Bailey. He loves all things music and most things about Chicago sports. He once ate a 5LB gummy bear. Connect with him on Twitter @NewFoundGoody.