You have the top position in some club or organization—let’s say your high school yearbook. You’ve been on the staff since 9th grade, climbed your way through the editorial ranks, and it’s finally your year to take control and be in charge of a whole group of people. Several of your friends are in yearbook too, some whom you met through being on staff together, and some whom you’ve been friends with long before high school. You all started out as staffers, then became editors. But only one person can become editor-in-chief—and your adviser chose you; that’s just how it happened.
It’s weird having to be your friends’ boss. You have to help them when they struggle, but more importantly you have to keep them focused and on track to make sure your whole team doesn’t suffer because of sloppy work. It’s tense at the beginning of the year—you can tell that your friends are slightly resentful of the fact that you’re in a position above them—but nothing that can’t be overlooked. And then your first deadline nears. You’re nervous about some of the editors’ content; they haven’t been doing much work lately. You warn them to stay focused and keep working, but things don’t seem to be improving. Your adviser recommends you put them on probation.
That would make for some awkward lunch conversation.
This, more or less, is the situation I’m currently in. And I have a hunch that similar dilemmas exist in other clubs that have established power structures. And it’s making my senior year a little awkward.
The concept of high school organizations can sometimes be problematic. You go to school with your friends, and at the same time you’re supposed to work with them in your extracurriculars. But even more uncomfortable is the fact that, if you become successful in these organizations, you will most likely have to command them. And the friends you have in these organizations will have to listen to you, and you’ll have to address any problems that involve them.
As much as we teenagers like to think that we’re always right, biologically we’re not developed enough to handle the dichotomy of organizations and friendships. We’re too irrational and apathetic to let things go, especially criticisms or punishments that go along with running an organization. So, what should we do? Should we avoid the awkwardness, ignore the problems we may have with our friends and let our clubs suffer? Or should we bring the hammer down and lose our friendships? As in most dilemmas, the solution involves a combination of the two.
We must set in place guidelines, whether they be through by-laws, ethics handbooks, or standard operations procedures, that explain, essentially, “what happens in a club stays in a club.” We need to ignore our tendencies to hold grudges and understand that, in order to have successful organizations, we need to put our feet down. But at the same time, we need to avoid making it personal. And those who are on the receiving end of all this should respect that, as leaders, we don’t mean it that way.
In the end, there’s always going to be some tension when you work with your friends. But if we attempt to separate our organization lives and our social lives when it comes time for tough decisions, we can strengthen both our extracurriculars and our friendships and, yes, avoid awkward conversations.