Thursday, July 31, 2014

Four Quotes That Every Student Leader Should Memorize

Most leadership enthusiasts, like myself, love quotes.  We pull them into presentations, articles, and day-to-day conversations.  Quotes are satisfyingly small nuggets of timeless wisdom.  They can speak volumes in their brevity.  I’ve been reviewing some of my favorite quotes recently, and rediscovered four that I think could be considered essential for any organizational leader to understand.

Jeff Cufaude introduced me to this quote over a decade ago.  It’s fairly conventional wisdom now that the best leaders are not the ones who rely on the “do it or else” technique.  We just don’t have the tolerance for strict authority in our leaders anymore.  Instead, we want to be driven towards achievement by the understanding that our work matters, and that we are not the only ones who want the group to succeed.  When a group of individuals unite around shared purpose and objectives, it is a group that will find a way to win.  When that doesn’t exist – when we don’t share a common purpose with our teammates – then what devices are left to the leader?  As Dee Hock states, “command and control.”  A leader who tries to command their group to perform, or control their activities, is one that has lost them.  So, when you return to campus this fall, ask yourself: how can I ensure that our members understand and believe in the mission we’re trying to achieve?  By reaching that point, your team will almost drive itself.

One idea is to take the first meeting of the year, or even better, find a time for a retreat, and do nothing more than review the mission and purpose of your organization.  Ask members to reflect on how they can personally support that purpose, and what needs to happen collectively in order for the purpose to be realized more fully this year.  Every group needs to get re-centered now and then, and the start of a new year feels like the right time to do it.

Organizational culture is a powerful thing.  Peter Drucker found a way to personify it as perhaps the strongest thing living within an organization.  You can spend months or years creating visions and plans, but your success will be dependent on the capability of the culture to accept and implement those ideas.  You may wish for your organization to become the strongest and best on campus.  Yet, your culture may be one that rewards and encourages mediocrity.  You may wish for your members to have the highest GPA on campus.  Yet, your culture may downplay academics in favor of parties and alcohol.

So how do you change or affect culture?  It’s the tallest task leaders can face.  The most effective way is to remove the cancerous cells.  To cut out those who most negatively influence the culture you are trying to build.  At the very least, stop providing those individuals with forums and outlets by which to be so influential.  For example, don’t take a slacker and make him new member educator. 

If you are writing goals and plans for your organization (good) then add a column entitled “culture.”  Reflect on what kind of culture you have right now – is it one that takes a person and lifts them up, or tears them down?  Does it seek opportunities for the organization to be its best, or to be its worst?  Expect that what you write in that column will need to be addressed first.

This quote is probably the most succinct explanation of contemporary leadership that I could find.  Keep in mind, as you take this journey of leadership, that you will be remembered more for who you were than what you did.  That’s not to minimize the expectation that all leaders and organizations are forward-moving and achievement-oriented.  However, the best leaders understand that without attention and care for others, lasting achievement isn’t truly possible.  You can be the kind of leader that very few people experience in their lives – the one that makes them want to be better and want to do more. 

So, take the extra time to provide feedback to someone that deserves to hear how great they’re doing.  Take the even more time to provide feedback to someone who’s getting off course.  And take the most time to simply sit and listen to someone else, for that simple act can be the most significant of all.

The essential question is, when you engage with those you lead, how do you make them feel?

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are notorious for getting caught up in things that just don’t really matter.  Whether it’s personal drama, minutia, or small ideas, we are all susceptible to be being distracted away from the big stuff.  What is the big stuff?  Mission.  Vision.  Values.  As a leader, you will be challenged to keep this front and center, and not get too caught up in T-shirt colors, gossip, and colossal wastes of time.  

You may want to start this year with an audit of how your organization spends its time and energy.  Are you focused on the right things?  As I’ve written about before, if historians were to judge this period in your organization’s history, would they give you high marks for focusing on significant issues?  Imagine you were putting items on a scale.  Which item would weigh more (meaning it’s a greater focus)?  And, is that the way it should be?  For example, what would the balancing scale read for:
New Member Education vs. Greek Week
Initiation vs. Annual theme party
Service Projects vs. Formals
Recruitment vs. Intramurals
It’s not that you can’t or shouldn’t have small things (e.g., intramurals) as part of your fraternity experience.  That’s the fun stuff that can fill in the gaps.  But the big ticket items should never suffer because of those, or ever take a back seat.  

So, to summarize the lessons that these famous quotes provide, focus on things that matter such as the people you lead and the shared purpose that unites the entire organization.  Doing so will create a culture that embraces excellence.  That sounds like a great start to the year. 

Please feel free to share your favorite quotes below.  What words of wisdom drive you and your leadership experience?


Monday, June 30, 2014

Fraternity is a Lightning Strike

Thunderstorms are powerfully beautiful, especially when the lightning is so fierce it lights up the sky.  Lightning is a force to be reckoned with – mostly for the negative destruction and mayhem it can produce when it strikes the ground.  But there is also a poetic quality to lightning, as a provider of energy and life-altering clarity.  When harnessed, it provides power unlike any other natural force.  Ask Benjamin Franklin, or Marty McFly.

My favorite rock band is Pearl Jam, and one of their latest songs, Lightning Bolt, has a great lyric:

Always something and never nothing,
Isn't that the way we're taught to be?
Flipping through the worn out pages
And stages when you knew not who to be,
Until the lightning strike sets you free.

“Until the lightning strike…sets you free.”  A lightning strike can personify a moment of extreme significance  - one that hits you so hard, you are forever changed.  As the lyrics state above, our lives can take on a very routine, comfortable quality.  But then, as the old adage says, life happens.  In fact, life can probably be described more in terms on the number of lightning bolts that strike, not the rarity of them.  Lightning strikes all around us all the time.  What’s rare is that we are directly hit by one of these strikes – these life-altering bolts of energy – and answer their call; or allow them to set us free.

A fraternity or sorority can be a lightning strike, in two senses:

In the positive sense, imagine a young undergraduate whose life map is seemingly carved in stone already at the age of 18.  Each step along her educational path has led her to this college, to a certain major, and a certain career destiny.  And then, she meets a sorority woman.  She attends a function and begins to understand what sorority is and can be.  And then the bid card is delivered and ZAP.  Lightning strike.  Her fraternity experience introduces her to different perspectives, different people, different career paths, and the power of service.  She discovers new things about herself that she never realized before, and a sense of calm clarity falls over her as she charts a different course (now with sisters standing by her side).  “Until the lightning strike…sets you free.”

Perhaps the longevity of the fraternity/sorority movement can be explained by the fact we continue to be one of the few entities that can offer lightning strike moments.  So much of our involvement and activities in our young lives are too narrow these days.  We tend to now pick one sport to focus on.  Or one after school activity.  For better or worse, a lot of childhood years are spent building deep capacity in one endeavor instead of light capacity in many.  

Fraternities and sororities are enterprises that provide many diverse opportunities and ways to engage.  In that way, they can be life-changing.  

Our organizations can be the things that inspire someone towards greater self-discovery, and open doors never before considered.  We can enable individuals to find their ability to work collectively towards something that matters and understand the influence of relationships.

Or, in the other sense, we can be the lightning strike that brings harm.  The lightning strike that takes an individual and shocks away his dignity and self-worth by hazing him.  The lightning strike that forever disrupts a person’s potential by surrounding him with apathy and debilitating choices.  The lightning strike that kills or maims through a culture of drugs or alcohol.  A lightning strike that burns and scars forever.

Which lightning strike – today – is your fraternity likely to be for the new members you invite in this Fall?

While there is no way to completely control a member’s experience, or how the fraternity impacts his/her life, there are conditions more favorable for a lightning strike that’s charging and life-giving instead of one that’s destructive:
  • Does the fraternity accept diversity and independence of thinking (instead of strict conformity)?
  • Does the fraternity allow members to engage with their strengths and at their desired level of involvement?
  • Does the fraternity offer rich opportunities for learning and education?
  • Is the fraternity as comfortable (or moreso) with interactions that are alcohol-free as it is when alcohol is involved?
  • Do older members offer their experiential wisdom with younger members?
There are other conditions as well, but exploring these questions might be a good start for you and the leaders of your organization.
Any organization that provides lightning strike moments is one that is eminently relevant.  People, whether consciously or subconsciously, seek these out.  Deep within us is a desire for our lives to be disrupted – to let go of routine.  If your organization is just another sunny day in an already sunny existence, then what value are you adding?  

Lightning strikes in nature are serious business, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.  In the figurative sense, do not be afraid of lightning strikes in your life.  Your fraternity experience may be that for you, or you might be surprised as to when they come.  Look up and embrace their arrival, for this next lightning strike may be the one that sets you free.

(and by the way kids, THIS is rock and roll)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Could This Be the Most Important Study on Greek Life Ever Done?

Gallup just released a study on Greek life in partnership with the North American Interfraternity Conference and the National Panhellenic Conference.   You can read a summary of the study here, and the results tell an impressive story of the impact of fraternity and sorority membership:
"...fraternity and sorority members are more likely than all other college graduates to be thriving in each of the five elements of well-being (purpose, physical, social, financial, and community). Thus, fraternity and sorority members are more likely than their non-Greek counterparts to find fulfillment in daily work and interactions, to have strong social relationships and access to the resources people need, to feel financially secure, to be physically healthy, and to take part in a true community."

This could be the most significant study on fraternity and sorority life ever conducted.  I say could be because I don't know all of the studies that have ever been done, but of the ones in most recent memory, this study stands head and shoulders above the rest.  Here's why: this is a study that aligns most closely with the broader societal purpose of Greek life.  Do we really matter to our members and the communities they live and work in AFTER they leave our halls?  We need to keep checking on that, because if we fall short on that measures, we might as well pack it up.

Sure, it's fine to know that Greeks give more financially back to their institution.  And yes, of course it's important to know that retention of Greek-affiliated students outpaces other students by an impressive margin.  But studies like that are directed towards institutions of higher education to prove that Greek organizations offer value to the college/university experience.  That we deserve to be there.  Studies like these are meant to justify our relevance to the contemporary college campus.

Frankly, I'm tired of begging higher education to believe in our relevance.  Especially when it's so blatantly obvious.

This Gallup study looks beyond the college campus and justifies our relevance to the greater society, which hasn't been so obvious because we don't talk about it enough.   

It's also important to note that this is Gallup, which is much more accessible and well-known to the general public.  No offense to the doctoral dissertations or journal articles out there that provide great wisdom, but those studies don't typically find their way to places like the Wall Street Journal.

It's time we take our case directly to society at large, and show them that a fraternity/sorority experience can improve lives.  Here is some research that backs us up.

If the mission of the Greek experience is the prepare individuals for society (matching our designation as "social" organizations), then this study shows we're on the right track.  This study shows that fraternities and sororities make individuals, homes, workplaces, and communities better.  Incoming first-year students should take notice.  Parents should take notice.   This study should make every mayor hope that its citizens are fraternity members.  It should make every employer strive to attract them to their business.  

The results can be interpreted as a challenge as well.  In the five elements of well-being that were measured, it's true that Greek reported higher than other students.  But each still only reached about 50%.  

All studies are imperfect, and this one does leave room to wonder if Greek organizations simply attract people already destined to be better off.  I tend to think the results are significant enough to say that the influence of Greek life on the outcomes cannot be dismissed.  

Bravo to the NIC and NPC for seeking to undertake this study, not knowing what the result might be.  Let's do more studies that examine the broader life experiences and contributions of those who took our oaths. Studies that tell us if we're achieving our greater societal mission.  Studies like this.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dear Advisor: I Can Do This

Dear Advisor-

I can do this.  Really.  Please let me try.

I know you mean well, and I know the fraternity holds a special place in your heart.  But it’s no longer yours to lead.  

It’s true that at last night’s meeting, we spent too long discussing a pretty bad idea.  But you didn’t need to correct us.  Or scold.  Just before you stood up to tell us how terrible the idea was, I matched eyes with one of the senior members who was going to say the exact same thing.

And trust me, it would have been better coming from him.

I like that you attend our meetings, and generally are present for most of our activities.  But I invite you in those moments to be the Yoda to our Luke Skywalker.  The Merlin to our King Arthur.  Advise and mentor us.  Coach us.  But please don’t fight our battles for us.

When you met with the Greek Advisor to argue our GPA ranking, it wasn’t heroic.  It was kind of embarrassing.  I had a meeting scheduled with her the next day to explain how a couple of our members were left out of the calculation.  We would have been fine. 

Speaking of embarrassing, perhaps we could hold your Homecoming alumni gathering at a hotel instead of the chapter house?  We can discuss this more at the next officers’ meeting.

Also, I’d like to invite you again to our annual chapter goal-setting retreat in August.  However, please be willing to let us develop our own goals and plan.  Yes, we need your help to clarify, synthesize, and refine the ideas, but I would suggest not bringing a 10-page manifesto with you like last year.  

We can do this.

This past year was a struggle because nobody really believed in the goals you pushed us to adopt.  Frankly, they were your goals.  We had no ownership.  It was as though you handed us the keys to a rental car instead of our own car.  

We really don’t care that much about Greek Week anymore.  I know that’s hard for you.  Please come to the retreat to listen to our reasoning.  We think we can achieve so much more in terms of philanthropy and community service without distractions like that.  I know you will understand once we explain it to you.

And please be willing to let us make mistakes.  We know that you won’t allow us to make decisions that harm us or the chapter, but there are actually very few decisions that fall into those categories.  Most of our decisions won’t spell doom if they don’t work.  

Let us try.

Please consider if a large, successful, award-winning chapter is much more essential than a chapter that provides a tremendous learning experience for its members.  Because the latter sometimes looks like a chapter that’s struggling, has ups and downs, and not so polished.  It can sometimes look chaotic.  It can also look like a chapter that has advisors who see their role as educators and are allowing students to lead.  

I know this letter seems harsh.  But, I guarantee that if you give us more empowerment, if you trust us to set priorities and plans, we will listen to you.  We think your fraternity experience and your life experience are remarkable.  We know we can learn a lot from you. 
In one of my education classes, we learned about Kolb’s experiential learning cycle.  It says that learning essentially happens when an individual or team has a concrete experience, and then spends time reflecting on that experience, making meaning from that experience, and applying lessons from that experience to the next go round.  But it all starts with the experience.  Please let us have that.  Please let us lead.  Please let us screw up.  And then be there to help us reflect and make meaning.  

Thank you for reading this letter.  And please remember that while I want you there, I need your guidance, and I will be better because of your advising, I want you to believe strongly as I do in a very simple idea – one that exists in the mind of the student member - one that has been at the center of the self-governed fraternity experience since it began:

I can do this.   

Please let me.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Brush Against the Walls of My Life

I was going through some old boxes, and found a stack of high school graduation cards I received many years ago.  I opened one and a slip of paper fell out that had this poem on it.  Back then, it probably only made me smile.  Today, with a little more life behind me, it means so much more.  I wonder how it makes you feel?  For those graduating this year, I encourage you to consider these words.  I encourage you to take that extra few minutes to acknowledge those who helped to write this chapter in your life; those who brushed "against the walls of your life."  Who knows when you will see them again.

 Fairy Tales
It seems wherever I go,
People come into my life, or go out of it--
            Touching me where I feel;
            Then leaving me only a memory,
                          Like the Gossamer fairy tales 
                                        of childhood -- easily forgotten;
And I wasn’t through knowing them.

How do I know
            whom I am seeing for the last time?
How do you halt your life 
            to gather and keep all those that 
            you’ve ever known?
            how do you keep 
                    Fairy Tales from losing their 
                                  m a g i c?

So come,
                  brush against the walls of my life,
And stay long enough for us to know each other,
            Even though we’ll have to part sometimes,
            And we both know the longer you stay,
                   the more I’ll want you back when you're gone.

But come anyway...

            For Fairy Tales are the happiest stories
                   we know.

            And great books 
                   are made of 
                                        little chapters.



Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Love Letter to Sorority

To my Dearest Sorority,

It has been a little over two years since you came into my life, which feels both like forever and like no time at all. I am sure, upon reflection, that it has been both. I walked a long walk with you during my undergraduate membership, some steps painful and some steps joyous, to be sure, but every step lengthening a walk that was every bit as worth it as I had hoped. And so far, it has been a strange but fresh walk, equally beautiful, as a brand new alumna. 

When I first pledged, I didn’t truly know what I was joining; I didn’t know the weight or longevity of your vows, or what they would come to mean to me. I was young- so young, and na├»ve, fresh from two years at a small, isolated college that had somehow succeeded in making me feel small and isolated, too. My parents had both told me stories of their own fraternity and sorority days, and I had so yearned for that at that small, isolated college where there were neither fraternities nor sororities.

Just receiving your bid changed me: you gave me confidence, assurance, pride in myself that others wanted me to be part of them- a pride and confidence in myself that I had lost in the two years at my previous college. Now I had not only friends, but sisters, and I promised myself wholly to you and to them just as my mother said she had done when she founded her own chapter years before. And soon, my sisters trusted and respected me enough to elect me to a position, even before I was initiated- and I was charged with making my sole duty as a sister to protect and uphold your very values I so loved.

Soon after that election came my Initiation. Your sweet, sweet Ritual I would come to love, take to heart, and strive daily to uphold. It meant the world to me, to be trusted with something so great and historical, and to know the women of my chapter trusted me with it, too. I had over a hundred years of your history in my hands- and what’s more, I was guardian, protector, of you, and that which you held dear. I was enthused, happy, on top of the world.

As with many things in life, the mountaintop high became a bit more like a valley low as I was faced with challenges, within and without your sisterhood. I didn’t always respond with grace when pushed to my limits, and often I found myself frustrated with the women I had been so excited to join not months before. I sometimes found myself wondering why I had committed to a position, or committed to Sorority at all. I lost sight of our sweetness, baptized thoroughly into the challenges of Chapter leadership.

Rather than see the successes of my chapter- no matter how large, I saw almost exclusively the shortcomings and failures of the sisterhood, no matter how minute. I began to lose faith in you, and in my sisters, and in myself. I lost myself for you for a long, long time, once again isolated to only a select few who held me close and kept me afloat. I had my sisters, of course, and those lifelong friends and friends from world travels, but yet daily I was consumed by protecting you, protecting my sisterhood, in what advisors and Presidents who had come before would call the hardest term in my chapter’s history. I was anxious and sad, scared to let down a chapter and a sorority that had given me so much and contained such wonderful women, that I could hardly be worthy to serve.

As my term came to a close, after everything, my very best friend, my rock, as usual knowing me better than I know myself, asked me (perhaps offhandedly) if it had been worth it. Whether he meant leadership, or joining you altogether, I don’t know- but I began to look back and understand with great clarity just how great the gift you, and my sisters, gave me. I told him yes, of course it had been.

Just what did you give me, I wondered?

Well, first, it wasn’t just what you had given me, but also what I had given you. My leadership, my executive board, had seen incredible, outstanding, and recognizable growth - growth that would further you. Tangible growth, that had changed the name of my organization on campus and nationally.

What you gave me was not as tangible. I did not have a salary to show for the 40+ hours per week I had given you, though the resume boost was certainly impressive. Instead, I was far richer than that: the intangible gifts of obvious sisterhood displayed to me testified volumes to your true meaning. Because of you, I was stronger. Yes, I had grown and learned how to manage a small business with a sizable budget, overhauled chapter operations and learned much about leadership through trial and error (and certainly would be a better manager for it).

But I saw the sacrifices women made for me as I struggled: past Presidents who accepted my late night cries for support and would follow up with funny encouraging texts, and one in particular, who, to her own inconvenience, attended chapter every week and accepted an advisory board position, simply because she knew we (more specifically, I) needed her there. Advisors, who spent countless hours on the phone with me, helping me to set chapter operations straight and to guide me both in my personal and chapter life, giving me encouragement and validation where I needed it most. My pledge class, the last informal pledge class my chapter has seen, only the 5 of us, all of whom sent me encouraging texts and sat up late with me, reading through rough drafts and making me laugh.

With encouragement, I learned to stand firm in our beliefs: yours, and mine, following best judgment to protect you, and to utilize your values in my daily life. I learned what it looks like to stand up to a person in a position above mine, respectfully, but with the purpose of advocating for others and their rights. I learned what it looked like to have a steel will, keeping the needs of others in front of my own. I learned to manage my time and to juggle meetings, sometimes more than five in a day, and I learned to understand what it means to comfort someone when words are not an option. I learned to decorate a massive house for utilitarian rather than decorative purposes, and I learned that my perfectionism is the only reason I am good at crafting. I cherished the nights I spent in the house for the short time it was mine, and even learned to love the hours spent serving when they were most inconvenient or overbearing. Most of all, I learned to love, and accept love, and friendship, through both good times and bad, because you, my sisters and my organization, showed me how valuable that can be, and how much the better my life is for that.

I have no doubt that as an institution, Sorority is one of the greatest collegiate experiences a young woman can have. Certainly you were the best of my college years. Because of you, I am undaunted by difficult days at the office, or demanding schedules. Because of you, I am comfortable being on call for emergencies and understand what it looks like to work 24/7. Because of you, charity and philanthropy remain at the core of my being. And in accepting my post-graduation advisory position, I have learned that as of yet, I still do not know what it is like to be a sister without holding a leadership position, and though I am sure it is a wonderful and entirely different experience than mine, it is not mine, and that is not what you have given me.

And because of you, I have promised the world temperance of attitude, perceptive insight, and to be courageous in all situations. I have promised to seek and defend the truth, and to be a crusader of justice. I have sworn to continue to give graciously to others, to understand and appreciate where I can and no matter the setting, and to love steadfastly those with whom I am close. I have promised to challenge myself and grow my mind, practicing faith in you, in myself, and in others. And above all, I have promised to ever walk truly in the light of your flame, treasuring your values and striving daily to the goals you set before us.

So for the years I have given and will continue to give you, you are welcome.
For the years you have given and will continue to give me, thank you.
Without you, I would not be who I am, nor would most of the women I know and love. And that is truly the best gift of all.

Yours into the Flame Eternal.


Amanda Jane Saunders is a double-legacy to the FSL world, in love with Delta Zeta and the Greek community from the moment she accepted her bid. During her undergraduate career, she served her Sorority as Chapter President, Risk Manager, Head of Standards, and several other positions. She still seeks daily to live her organization’s Creed, and to mentor current collegiate members. She now serves in a Regional advisory position, and is a member of her area Alumnae and Panhellenic Alumnae Associations. Amanda Jane is a firm believer in personal growth through fraternal membership, and proud to be a part of such a dedicated and strong community!


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Meeting the "Administration"

There is a building on your campus that houses the "administration."  It is probably near the center of campus, looks fairly formal, and may have a storm cloud with lightning bolts directly above it and the sounds of cackling emanating from it's halls.  It is in this building that the "administration" plots against you, tries to make life difficult for you, and holds endless meetings on how to kill the Greek system.  Portaits of Dean Wormer and Napoleon Bonaparte adorn the halls.

Of course, this isn't the case.  But I feel as though this is how students instantly perceive the higher level leaders of their college or university, such as their President and Vice Presidents.  Their Greek Advisor is okay - because they have seen him or her in shorts running around smiling during Greek Week.  They've met that person and it seems like he/she is on our side.  But the administration is something distant, ominous, and uncaring.

The best chapters - the most proactive ones - understand a very important fact:  There is no such thing as the administration.  There are administrators.  With names.  With whom you can work to build relationships. 

New presidents should set up regular check-ins with their campus Greek advisor, with their chapter alumni advisor, their faculty advisor and any other advisor who works as closely with the chapter.  But really good presidents (and council presidents as well) find an hour to have an annual meeting with those at higher levels.  The summer may be a good time to do this.

Why?  Not only is it a good educational experience for you, but it's a great way to build a bridge that can be helpful later.  Be the president that's willing to make that meeting happen.  Here are some tips:

In preparation for the meeting:
  • Develop an agenda and then share that agenda with the administrator.  Not only does that ensure you have a purpose to the meeting, but it demonstrates your preparedness.
  • Be prepared to look nice and to be on time.  
  • Make sure that those you bring along can properly represent the fraternity.

Here is what I recommend for the meeting agenda:
  • Offer thanks and appreciation.  Start the meeting my thanking the administrator for what they do, and for hosting your chapter on the campus.  If you don't understand all that they do in their role, give them a chance to share that with you.
  • Summarize the state of your fraternity.  Share with him/her your achievements over the last year.  Brag a little bit.  What are you doing that should make the administrator proud to have you on this campus?  If he/she were explaining the Greek system to a colleague, what stories can you share that they could pass along?  Think about academics, service, leadership, etc.
  • Their thoughts and vision for Greek life.  Invite them to share their perspective on how Greek life can improve on this campus.  Listen very intently, because next you should...
  • Express how you think your fraternity can contribute to that vision.
  • Provide your own thoughts and feedback.  Here is a chance for you to offer your own opinions for how the university can better support Greek life.  Don't be adversarial.  Frame it with the vision that they shared with you.  If the university did ______ , then our fraternity can more easily meet your vision for Greek life.

While you are in the meeting:
  • Listen actively.  Come into the meeting willing to learn something new or to hear a perspective you hadn't yet considered.
  • Be open and friendly.  In that moment, you are an ambassador for your organization and for all of Greek life on your campus.

After the meeting:
  • Deliver a handwritten thank you note to the administrator.
  • Invite them to attend a meal or other function that would positively showcase your fraternity. 
A particular note on college/university presidents.  I see many of them get criticized for not being student-friendly or student-focused.  Of all the administrators, they can often seem the most distant from you as a student.  You know what - that's okay.  If your president is doing his/her job, they are keeping the institution open so that you can achieve your degree.  They are bringing resources to the campus to improve life there, and they are focused on the priorities that their board has laid out for them.  Because of this, they often cannot spend time attending every student event, or strolling around the campus shaking hands.  But that's why they have Student Affairs officers, such as a VP and/or a Dean of Students.  They should be ones focused mostly on your immediate issues.

It's not to say a President LIKES spending their time so distant from your experience.  If you talked to them, I'm sure they would say the good stuff about their job is when they can be with students.  That's why I am certain they would accept your invitation to meet, and would really enjoy the experience.

Spend time understanding the administrators on your campus, and striving to get to know them.  You will likely find that the formerly dark and foreboding administration building actually has a bright welcome mat at the front door.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yes, Leaders Are Born That Way

After years upon years of studying, observing, learning, and practicing leadership, I think I’ve arrived at the following conclusion:

Leaders are born, not created.

I know that it is now conventional wisdom to believe that leaders are made.  That every person has the capacity to learn to become a leader. 

Yes, become a leader.

But I don’t believe that anyone has to become a leader.  I believe they already came that way, straight out of the womb.

Leaders are born.  And since every person is born, every person is born a leader.

But wait – why then do we eventually see divisions between people – those who tend to be leaders and those who tend to be followers?  It’s not, in my opinion, because the leaders found the right education, books, seminars, etc., and followers did not.  It’s because while everyone is born a leader, too many of us opt out.

In summary, every person is born a leader and it becomes their choice to accept that (opt in) or refuse that (opt out). 

As a parent of three small children, I see innate leadership.  I see risk taking and creative problem-solving daily, which tends to drive me nuts.  But it’s there.  I see compassion and confidence, assertiveness and responsiveness.  All children are this way.  This is who they are, yet they didn’t attend a John Maxwell seminar.  They didn’t read a Simon Sinek book.

So, give this idea a chance and start with the premise that every child is born a leader.  What happens as they grow?

Psychologists tell us that babies are born with only 2 fears - the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.  Every other fear is learned. Every other aspect that affects our confidence comes at us, not from within us.

All throughout childhood we are told "no" WAY more often than we are told "yes."  No, no, no, no no.  Don’t do that.  Don’t try that.  That’s too dangerous.  That’s not appropriate.  No, no, no.  Hence, some of the qualities of leadership, such as taking risks, creative thinking, and discovery, might begin to diminish.

Then, we start to hear different versions of no, such as “that’s not really your thing” or “I don’t think you can do that.”  And we start to believe it.

Then, with good intentions, we begin to learn about leadership and are given books on Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.  And leadership begins to look like big charismatic earth-moving people.  It also starts to look like titles and positions.  To be a leader means to claim that you want to be president when you grow up.  

Slowly and methodically, our society begins to drum the leadership out of people by assigning only select traits and attributes to leaders.  You need to be a great orator.  You need to cast visions upon visions.  You need to be charming.  You need to be heroic.

And is it any wonder that after years of this, only a few people out of a hundred make it through the gauntlet feeling that leadership is something they possess?

One of the finest professional speakers/educators out there right now is Kevin Wanzer, and I love the message he tells about a child’s bowl of light, which is taken from Hawaiian culture.  I found a written version of this from the blog One Vibration:

In ancient times, in Hawaii and throughout the world, each child born was said to have a Bowl of Perfect Light. If the child was taught to respect and love his or her light, the child would grow in strength and health and could swim with the sharks, fly with the birds, and know and understand all things. 

If, however, the child got into pilikia, trouble, with thoughts of fear, worry, doubt, judgment, anger, resentment, envy, or jealousy, he or she would drop a stone into the Bowl of Light, and then some of the light would go out because light and stone cannot occupy the same space.
If the child continued to get stones in the bowl, the light would eventually go out, and the child would become a stone. Just like a stone, the child would no longer grow, nor was he or she capable of movement. However, as soon as the child tired of being a stone, all that was needed was to do kalana, forgive this aspect of himself or herself, and turn the bowl upside down to let the stones fall out. All the light could then shine again and grow even brighter than before.
Why does this matter?  It’s semantics after all.  The end result is that some people end up as leaders and some don’t, right?  It's no matter where it begins.

Well, for all of us who teach leadership and try to instill it into young people, what if we have been approaching it all wrong?  Our programs are based on the idea that in terms of leadership the students standing in front of us are formless lumps of clay that can be molded into leaders.

What if the student standing before you is already a fully-shaped leader that has been covered by the dust, dirt, and grime that comes from years of self-doubt and negative influences?  What if our task is to wipe that away? What if creating a leader out of a young person is actually reminding their inner being of the leader that has always been there?

I think our programs and their curriculums would be different.  I think the percentage of time spent in self-discovery and confidence building would grow tremendously.  Instead of approaching the workshops with the 3 or 5 or 10 steps/tips/qualities/characteristics of leaders, we would instead ask questions to help students dig deeper into their innate leadership qualities.

Let’s get even more interesting.  What if we scrapped leadership programs altogether and created programs for adults that teach them how to NOT throw rocks into a young person’s bowl of light.  If we diverted all of our time and resources there, might we end up with more people ready to opt into leadership?

It’s not to say there isn’t value in education that helps a person refine their leadership abilities.  We were also born with the ability to build, but we need training before we can make that skyscraper.

For those who lead organizations (such as fraternities or sororities), what about those apathetic, non-leader members who we get so worried about?  What is causing their disengagement?  Is it because they just haven’t attended the right leadership seminar, or heard the right keynote speaker?  Or, is it because they have many rocks in their bowl of light?  You are in a great position – through words and actions – to help them remove those rocks.

I will continue to work with and explore this idea, to see how it might impact my work.  For now, if you’re asking me to help you be a leader, prepare to undertake a journey of self-discovery to find the one you’ve always been.  I'm going to ask you to opt back in.

After all, I now believe leaders are born.


Monday, March 24, 2014

A Big Decision You Probably Didn’t Hear About, Most Fraternities Wouldn’t Make, And Why It Matters

[This is a guest essay from an anonymous writer, not affiliated with Beta Theta Pi or Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity]

The last few weeks have been interesting ones in the world of fraternity and sorority life.   

Sometimes history is made by opening new doors, and sometimes its made by closing old ones.

On March 7 Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity announced publicly that they would be eliminating their new member program and initiating members within 96 hours.  This bold and courageous move echoed throughout the social media world, pinning members and observers on both sides of the fence.  After being (ridiculously) deemed the “deadliest” fraternity by Bloomberg, Sigma Alpha Epsilon made a move their board and staff felt was right for them.

Buried deep in another fraternity newsletter, released last week, a different approach was taken to address the organizational challenge of hazing.  The letter was written by David E. Schmidt, Beta Theta Pi Fraternity General Secretary.  Schmidt eloquently addressed the fraternity membership about the recent closing of their Alpha chapter at Miami University.

The letter described hazing allegations including coerced alcohol consumption, forced calisthenics, and line ups.  The organization invested in the chapter several years ago and reorganized the membership.  Still, the culture of the chapter persisted and as Mr. Schmidt writes, “the lack of honesty, transparency and forthrightness the last several years, as well as during the recent investigations, severely undercut the chapter’s credibility and standing with the university, house corporation and General Fraternity.”

Both Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Beta Theta Pi deserve credit for their decisions, and each will be better off for having made them.  However, of the two, it’s the Beta decision that may matter more.  I see this as a tipping point for our industry.  Yet most people missed it.

To close a chapter takes tremendous will and self-discipline.  It also usually takes a death or media nightmare.  I have worked for or with campuses and headquarters who gave problematic chapters only a sideways glance, even when they knew hazing occurred or was occurring.   

Whether this hands-off philosophy is due to the size of the chapter (potential loss of revenue), prestige of the campus, or backlash from members and alumni, too often we sit back and do nothing.  Throw in the fact that tradition plays a huge role in our organizations and Alpha chapters are usually deemed as “untouchable”.  The move Beta Theta Pi made was potentially transforming.

Most fraternal organizations have accountability and discipline processes chapters go through after hazing violations are brought forth.  After several years of double secret probation, membership reviews, life support, another round of probation, change in advisory support, etc. the chapter is in the same place they were 20 years ago.  Beta Theta Pi stopped the cycle.  Instead of investing more time and money into a chapter culture that wasn’t able to change, they stopped.   

What a stunningly simple concept. 

I was recently having a conversation with a fraternity executive about volunteer leadership in our organizations.  He said if our boards led with ethics, we would have a financial downfall because we know most organizations need to close 50 percent of their chapters.  A well-known hazing expert recently claimed at least 75 percent of fraternities haze.  

Sigma Alpha Epsilon approached their firestorm by addressing the undergraduate members and trying to compel them to stop a behavior that is pervasive in most organizations.  They opted for some structural changes to try and influence the culture.  I don’t know how many chapters they have closed in the last few years because of hazing incidents that didn’t result in a death or lawsuit.  Like most of us, they likely cycled the chapters through the discipline process or reorganizations hoping to make a difference.
Think for a minute…
What if more organizations took Beta Theta Pi’s example and stopped the cycle? 
What if we hesitated less to close chapters that, as Schmidt states, “are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their actions and commit as a unified group to re-align the chapter’s culture?”

For the last 10 years, our industry has focused on teaching the students to “live their ritual”, hold members accountable, bystander intervention, etc.  What if the answer wasn’t educating the members, but rather educating the fraternity and sorority decision-makers in the boardrooms? 
Thank you Mr. Schmidt and Beta Theta Pi for demonstrating ethical leadership.  Your quiet approach to a relentless problem was not overlooked.  You looked in the mirror and asked from your position, “what can I do to combat hazing," versus what do the members need to do.