Until last year, the only time I was ever a President of anything was probably class Presidency in elementary school. I was not elected (since such democratic practices were not encouraged in the Turkish educational system at the time, and I doubt if they still really are), but was appointed by the class teacher. My job was mostly keeping order in the classroom at the end of the breaktime until the teacher walked into the classroom. And how exactly had I exercised my powers as the President? Well, basically by standing by the blackboard and writing on it the names of those troublemakers who would not behave. I was more of a cheater who spied on her friends than a President in this case. There are things that you need to unlearn after being schooled, and this one fortunately did not stick to me as a habit in my adult life.
Two years ago, during the IPRA General conference, I became the President of EuPRA. This time I was elected, well, I was actually asked if I would want to be the Prez by 2 former Presidents of EuPRA, was nominated by them, and then elected.
When I returned to work after the conference, I wrote my very first email to the Board. We had several things to be done. For example, the website of the association was shut down due to a forgotten and unpaid bill, the address stolen by some guy in Singapore, trying to take old traffic from the site by putting up an adverts based website. We had to do everything from scratch, and then I realized not only I was the President but also an editor, a writer and some sort of secretary trying to collect documents and pictures for the page. We also had to prepare for the next conference since we had only a year ahead of us to plan everything: the venue, the call for papers, accommodations, keynote speakers and more.
I remember how excited, motivated, and enthusiastic I was. I was happy to be trusted with something; the fact that my colleagues trusted me enough to nominate and elect me as the President gave me a very warm feeling. I adapted a participatory leadership style by instinct, but it proved to be the right choice for 3 reasons: Firstly, I was a rookie Prez and I needed to learn from the experience of others. Second, that style was closer to my personality. I like social interaction, and networking not for the sake of networking, but to really get to know peers in my field. Finally, being a part of a flat-hierarchy is the only fun and effective way of being in a decision-making position for a person like me who despises hierarchies.
I remember one day the Board members exchanged 19 emails. My then boyfriend, now husband, also a Board member and who thus follows all the communication, warned me about the level of my enthusiasm and advised me to stay grounded. I had already confessed to him that my commitment to my newly found position was mostly a way of overcompensating for the lack of challenge where I was in my professional life. The months ahead proved him both right and wrong.
He was right in the sense that soon this unsustainable initial speed of communication slowed down, given that all of us also had our jobs and personal lives. This natural winding down was very good and timely because it prevented a “communication fatigue” where people feel overwhelmed since they receive too many emails and do not even respond anymore.
During this time, I also realized that I could not do all the things I wanted to do for the organization, so my idealist self shook hands with my realist self, seeing the limits of my actions and made me adopt an attitude of “prioritize what is crucial and do your best about the rest”.
Yet, my husband was wrong in the sense that although the enthusiasm did not stay as high, it did not die down, it just leveled. This was probably due to the fact that not just me, but all of the other members of the Board were also motivated and that they seemed to like to be in contact. We kept the correspondence not only for professional purposes but for personal things like sharing news, recommending remedies for illnesses and even sharing songs.
The end result is that we had a great time and hosted a wonderful conference the next time we met. Something tells me that as a rookie Prez, I have done OK so far.