Life goes on for student associations despite the slow down during confinement. The handover between the former and new teams took place during the lockdown and the newly elected Presidents are taking up their positions. They are fully aware of their tasks they need to do and are rapidly developing new skills. Managing a student association in normal times is already a major experience for a student, but this has become all the more significant with the unprecedented health crisis.
Life goes on for student associations despite the slow down during confinement. The handover between the former and new teams took place during the lockdown and the newly elected Presidents are taking up their positions. They are fully aware of their tasks they need to do and are rapidly developing new skills. To find out more, 4 students talked to us about the skills they have developed and those they see as being essential as they assume their new role as association president.
Adapting to overcome uncertainty
The n°1 skill in times of crisis: flexibility. Without it, it would be virtually impossible to deal with the many difficulties as they arise.
Axel Bailly, President of the Rouen Sports Office says, "It's a question of adaptation. Communication, meetings with various partners and the organisation of future sports events are all being done remotely and personally I really miss the aspect of human contact. However, the biggest difficulty we are facing is uncertainty because we are working on events scheduled for September and it is still very uncertain whether it will be possible for them to go ahead. Psychologically, it was difficult to accept the cancellation of so many projects we'd already been working on for months. But, looking back, we managed to come up with alternatives and I think that this ability to adapt will be an asset for the future!"
Being organised to cope with online communication
Another key skill the association leaders unanimously agreed upon: organisation. Generally speaking, this is a key factor for achieving success in most circumstances, but being organised takes on a new dimension when you assume greater responsibilities. Clémence Perrissin-Fabert, President of Monocle (Reims) explains her situation. "I tend to put things off until later. But when you're President, you can't afford to do this. You have to set an example. I can't ask the other members of the association to be organised, if I'm not organised myself. Clearly, I am forcing myself to act differently to my usual self."
Léa Debaux, President of Atelier (Rouen), adds, "I feel overwhelmed very quickly. Suddenly I find myself with 3 e-mails and 2 meetings to attend and I don't know what to do to move forward. This feeling is even greater with the switch to 100% online communication. I force myself to answer and deal with requests immediately. For anything that needs more time, I write everything down on a board. Since taking on the responsibility of running the association, I've become much more organised and this method allows me to free up my thoughts. I'm no longer constantly stressed about forgetting something!"
Communicating to keep things moving
Positive and effective group cohesion depends on having a common and shared vision. This is not easy when the ability to communicate is severely limited. Axel Bailly, President of the Rouen Sports Office, says: "We can really feel the difference compared to a 'normal' situation. Regarding communication, information does not circulate in the same way and you need to adapt to ensure effective team cohesion. It is also more difficult to get everybody together with a videoconference meeting as opposed to face-to-face meetings. And I really don't think there will be a great difference between lockdown and post-lockdown because everyone is still very wary about the situation, so the communication habits we've picked up and developed over the past two months will more than likely continue and allow us to carry on working".
Adopting a caring management style to ensure that everything runs smoothly
Becoming president of an association implies accepting a new set of duties and responsibilities towards your peers. You have to quickly understand the implications of the position and be able to manage every aspect. This is a huge challenge and a task that has certainly not been facilitated in the current context.
"I really have a lot to learn when it comes to management," admits Emma Largon (Alive - Reims). "But I've already started to accomplish certain things: I need to be present when it matters, delegating tasks, knowing who needs to do what. I realize that if the members of the association aren't given a specific task to do, they tend to not take any initiative for fear of not doing the right thing. So I have to give out instructions as clearly and precisely as possible. Plus, when communication is only possible via a screen, everything is all the more difficult..."
For Clémence Perrissin-Fabert (Le Monocle - Reims) the challenge lies elsewhere: "Management is also completely new to me. You can learn a lot from others, but managing different people is complicated. Some people need guidance so they don't go off-track, or on the contrary, they need to be given encouragement and confidence. Without any physical contact, it's even more complicated. But for me, you shouldn't be afraid of accepting people with particular personalities, but who are skilled. It's a real challenge for a president: you have to accept adopting a complex management style at times and only think about what your members can do for the association".
Léa Debaux (l'Atelier - Rouen), sheds new light on the question of management. "Managing people who are the same age and who are also your friends is tricky balancing act! It's not like in a company where there is a hierarchy. It's much more complicated... I'm lucky to get along with almost everyone, but I had a hard time finding my place. At the beginning, I did a lot of things on my own because I didn't dare ask for help. Also, with the campus closures, we no longer had an office and no longer saw one another. I no longer knew what the team's timetable was and to complicate things even further, some of them are on internship. The distance doesn't help either: everything is even more complex when you're far away because online meetings are nowhere near as efficient or dynamic as when we meet face to face. But I'm coming to realise that I'm capable of making myself heard and getting people to do what they need to do, whilst still remaining friends and maintaining good relations with everyone. I've been getting positive feedback from the team members".
Having the maturity to discover yourself
For many students, being part of an association is an experience that really helps bring out their true personality and also a way of asserting their convictions and gaining confidence. Working as part of a group and the ensuing relationships that are formed provide an opportunity to learn as much about yourself as others and to take a step back and see things from a different perspective.
Clémence Perrissin-Fabert (Le Monocle - Reims) states: "I try my best not to give up, but the situation isn't easy because we are so far away from one another and things are far from being normal. I've learned a lot over the past few months. I'm a very motivated and quite an inspiring person in normal times, but I do realise that actions speak louder than words".
Léa Debaux (l'Atelier -Rouen) says that she has been able to take a long look at herself: "I'm quite impulsive and I have a strong personality. Being President is a massive challenge: I can't allow myself to lose my temper or speak badly to people. I have to keep my feelings to myself a lot more. Sticking to the rules and being diplomatic is neither simple nor natural for someone with a character like mine. I need to make the effort every day because as president, I represent the association. I understand just how mature I have become when I return home to my parents' house. I find it much easier to take a step back and relax".
The kind of soft skills the students are developing are highly valued and sought after by recruiters on the job market. Although some have spoken of this as being the sacrificed generation, NEOMA prefers to talk about the emergence of a generation with the agility to escape the constraints of a general lockdown and build, develop and project itself into the future.
Bravo to you all for your efforts and congratulations on taking over the School's associations!