Women Are Owning Student Leadership

In student leadership, women are stepping forward and men are fading into the background.

My middle son, a few years ago, was a crazy fan of the Wiggles.  He knew all of the words to the songs and all of the moves to the dances.  I learned to somewhat accept the Wiggles because…well…they weren't Barney.

And you’ve got to respect these Aussies.  According to their Wikipedia page, The Wiggles have earned several Platinum, Double Platinum and Multi-Platinum records, as well as sold 23 million DVDs and 7 million CDs, and have performed, on average, to one million people per year.

For years, the Wiggles were four men: Anthony, Greg, Jeff, and Murray.  They retired and were replaced by some new members. My youngest son stumbled upon the new Wiggles performing their new songs on YouTube, and I was a little stunned.  They now have a female member!  And she actually seems to be the leader.  This is great – and she’s great – but it’s definitely a shift for the longstanding group. 

I thought about this for a moment, and it struck me that this is sort of like what is happening in the world of student leadership.  The only way it might be even more relevant to our shifting landscape is if the Wiggles re-booted with all women instead of one.

Not only is leadership more accessible to women in higher education today, on most campuses, they are OWNING it.  This isn’t really that new of an observation or occurrence.  However, what is making it more apparent isn’t the continued emergence of women, but rather the shrinking of men.  Men dominated the leadership landscape for a long time, but once women showed up for the party, it seems they went and hid in the basement.  

Before I am accused of not celebrating women’s rise in this regard, I see this is as a fabulous achievement in our society.  When women are involved, it creates a better overall leadership dynamic.  However, in solving one problem, have we created a new one?  In terms of student leadership, we blew right past that 50-50 gender equality statistic and landed somewhere closer to 70-30 in favor of women.  And, it seems like that ratio isn’t going to balance anytime soon.  Are we heading from one extreme to the other?

It’s not just college either.  I used to work with one of the largest and most prominent high school organizations – Key Club – and I noticed it there as well.

The problem is magnified even more when you take into account leadership drive and ability.  When I worked at the NIC and conducted UIFI or IMPACT sessions, it was clear who was in charge.  The Panhellenic Councils were the movers and shakers, the pace-setters, and the power players.  Many of the Interfraternity Councils were struggling to keep up.  Too many of the IFCs would have served their members better to just dissolve and let the Panhellenic Councils take over their governance. 

I’m not saying that in all cases the Panhellenics were effective – just stronger.  

Recently, I had to chance to address almost 1000 new members at a large university. As the room filled, I took note of what is now an expected reality: the men sat in the back, spread out and slouching. The women were at the front, sitting straight and ready to learn. The men wanted to be ignored and unseen, and they were.

While the overall societal affects haven’t been felt as strongly yet (in many industries, men still dominate the leadership), it’s coming.  More women are going to college, more women are succeeding in college, and more women are taking hold of leadership opportunities in college.  Men are being left in the dust.

How have we arrived at this problem of slacker men being run over by uber-achieving women?  Here are my guesses:

Leadership is becoming more relationship-oriented.  Whereas in our fathers’ time, leadership involved power, hierarchy, and tough-minded authority (think Mad Men's Don Draper), today’s conventional wisdom around leadership is that good ones make a solid human connection with the members of their team.  The leader of today listens well, understands emotion, involves others in decision-making, and motivates through recognition and support.  This is more natural turf for women.

The rewards have changed.
  Competitiveness, personal ambition, and high achievement used to be the things that set students apart from each other in a positive way.  Men thrive when these things are valued, and always have.  So do many women.  In seems that nowadays, these values are not only de-emphasized, but viewed negatively.  Someone with these values is seen as egotistical.  The values that tend to be rewarded now are cooperation, humility, and selflessness.  Again, men are capable of succeeding with these values but they are more natural for women. 

We expect less from men.
  In my current hometown, the local men’s suit store went out of business.  I assume that’s happening in a lot of places because men just don’t dress up like they once did.  This is a minor, but telling point about the state of men today.  They’re not expected to carry themselves like they once did.  When I walk on campuses today, the men look and dress like they were just yanked out of an underground bunker by a Navy SEAL team.  They drift slowly to class, staring at their cell phone, while groups of women blow past them talking with each other about how solve world hunger, or something like that.  Our society is just tolerating the slacker man right now.  It’s cute.  It’s funny.  But, it’s troubling.

It’s academic.  
According to the U.S. Department of Education in Fall 2017, women comprised more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women enrolled in college that year.  By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women. Studies have also shown that women are doing better academically than men while in college.  So, if women are succeeding in the classroom, they are likely to succeed in other places as well.

It’s easier for advisors to work with women. Simply put, women are more reliable
than men, tend to listen and work with adult advisors better, and are more coachable. Again, it’s about their strengths in building relationships. Because of this, they may get increased opportunities and support in their leadership efforts.

There are many other factors as well. For example, some argue that our K-12 education system is designed more for female learners. Also, the video game factor is real, and shouldn’t be dismissed. Media portrayals of young men certainly favor the slacker lifestyle. It's a multi-faceted issue.  
As I’m apt to do, I see fraternity as a primary solution.  There are few men's-only experiences left in our world today, and if handled correctly, fraternities can become supportive environments that rebuild men's leadership potential.  

We can learn a lot from sororities.  A sorority is still a place where a less-confident, less-skilled, and less-motivated young lady can go and emerge four years later as a savvy, confident, and inspired woman.  Can we say that for your fraternity today?  Does your fraternity take a slacker and make him a man who is ready to take on the world?  Or is it actually the reverse?  

It starts with making leadership development a signature priority for your organization.  There are many criteria by which to measure your fraternity’s success, but one of the biggest should be how many capable leaders you graduate each year.  The answer is not easy, but it’s simple: we need to raise expectations for how men in our organization engage both inside and outside the fraternity.

We can reclaim the confidence and swagger that made us compelling leaders before, and match those qualities with the relational leadership skills that the world now expects.   We can still command a room, but yet find depth in conversations.  We can bring a spark of ambition along with an ounce of humility.  And yes IFC men, we can also bring an occasional (and much needed) dose of calm flexibility to a Panhellenic world that can get too heavily controlled and structured.  This is what balance in the leadership universe looks like. 

In a world where we keep asking about the relevance of fraternities, we have yet another answer: to reverse the tide of diminishing men and turn them instead into eager, committed, and strong partners with women in leading our world forward.  

It’s a good thing that women have emerged as leaders and are here to stay.  However, that doesn’t mean that men need to vanish.   Gentlemen, the women around us have issued a challenge.  They are standing in front singing their hearts out.  What are we going to do?


This Wednesday, September 12, the North American Interfraternity Conference is asking all fraternity men to tweet, using the hashtag #myFraternity, about the impact of their fraternity experience. The goal, as I see it, is to fill the twitter-verse and beyond with positive reflections of an institution that often faces disparagement.

Okay, I’ll play. 

Here are some initial thoughts about what I might say...
#myFraternity taught me that being a fraternity man is not easy. But nothing in life that's worthwhile ever is.

#myFraternity provided me with countless real-life leadership lessons and experiences. 

#myFraternity was the best way to live my college years.

#myFraternity occupied a house that was often a pit, and made my mother cry whenever she left me there and drove away. But it was home. And when I drove away the last time, I may have cried too.

#myFraternity didn’t shy away from shenanigans. And I’m smiling big right now thinking about one in particular.

#myFraternity has a very compelling Ritual. Which is better than a beautiful one. Because I still think about it.

#myFraternity looked out for each other. My brothers were a constant and daily force in my life back then, and still are today.

#myFraternity wasn’t just a club. It was an education.

#myFraternity taught me the difference between the big things that matter and the little things that don’t.

I appreciate how self-governed #myFraternity was. Sure, we made plenty of mistakes, but we lived to tell the tale.

I love #myFraternity because we basically looked the opposite of those posed, well-coiffed, smiles and shoulder-grabbing stock-photo pictures of fraternity men. 

#myFraternity showcased how tough and relentless men can be when they go at each other, and yet how accepting and forgiving they can be when they come back together.

#myFraternity gave me a set of ideals and values to hold up against my actions and decisions. It's a timeless roadmap.

#myFraternity was a gift to my life. Not a gift that ends up in a drawer or on a shelf...but rather a gift that is always displayed, cared for, and treated as though it's as precious as any possession could be.

#myFraternity led me to a career in higher education, which led me to pursue a graduate degree, which led me to meet a sorority woman who was on the same path, and she became my soul mate, and my wife. 

#myFraternity made me laugh. At least twice as much as it made me mad. That’s a good ratio if ever you can find it.
#myFraternity opened my eyes to all the dedicated professionals devoted to #myFraternity experience. Thank you.
The last place I stood on campus before I walked to the graduation ceremony was #myFraternity house.
#myFraternity stays with me as I journey through life.

I will forever be thankful for #myFraternity.

Join in and follow the hashtag #myFraternity on September 12. I encourage you to avoid the glossy brochure-speak and be real and authentic in what fraternity has given you. 

Reality Fraternity

A big hat tip to Ellen Shertzer and her colleagues for a lunchtime conversation that inspired this post. It's their idea I have expanded upon.

I am a fan of reality TV for two primary reasons:  (1) as an observer of human nature it’s fun to watch some of these shows as a social experiment, and (2) escapist trashy TV can be fun.  

My wife likes The Bachelor, and every once in a while I’ll catch some of it out of the corner of my eye as I’m passing through the ro...ahh...I admit I love it too.  It’s good TV.  Lots of drama, heroes, villains, and suspense.  Don’t judge.

The interesting thing about The Bachelor is that the relationships formed on the show rarely work
out.  Most crash and burn.  But, it’s very obvious as to why.  When the "bachelor" and his female suitors go on dates on the show, it’s the stuff of romantic fantasies.  Helicopter rides.  Dining on rooftops.  Walks on the world’s best beaches.  Floating on yachts under tropical sun.  Everything is hyper-romantic and simply perfect.  And then, the season ends with a hilltop proposal and dancing until the sun comes up.  

A few months later, the perfect couple shows up again to reveal their status, and you can tell from their faces that it has gone South.  A big dramatic breakup typically comes shortly thereafter.  

The show creates impossible expectations for a romantic relationship.  Anyone who has been in a marriage or long-term partnership knows that it’s tough work sometimes.  There are no helicopter rides or moonlit dinners.  Those are replaced by the stuff of regular life.  It doesn’t mean that romance isn’t there - you just have to dig through reality to find it.

Perhaps there are lessons for fraternities here, especially in regards to how we promote and present ourselves to potential members.  Do we oversell the fraternity experience and our own organizations?  

I remember recruitment when I was an undergrad.  Every fraternity I met with claimed the best parties, and the strongest brotherhood.  Each one had the best house, greatest alums, and the tastiest food.  Strangely, each group had also won the previous year’s Greek Week (must have been a 15-chapter tie).  There was no shortage of trophies and awards to display.

And what about the chapters that rely on big splashy events for recruitment? They take recruits to amusement parks, sporting events, or turn their chapter houses into a Hooters franchise. Just like The Bachelor paints love as wine and roses every day, these fraternities are painting a picture that fraternity life is a constant party. 

We have an apathy problem in fraternities and sororities.  We also have a lot of dropouts.  I wonder if some of that can be attributed to the mismatch of expectations and reality.  If we create a lofty vision of the fraternity experience, but don’t deliver, why should we be surprised that people break up with us? And what's more, we're likely not attracting the right members by selling the superficial aspects. We get the party-lovers and then expect them to roll up their sleeves and work.

It’s about being authentic.  Represent yourself honestly, and you may be surprised by what you get in return.  Perhaps if The Bachelor had a few episodes when the couples had to live for a few hours in a house with a screaming baby, or got lost on a stressful drive together, they might be better prepared.  Perhaps if you weren’t shy about your faults as a fraternity, your new members would more likely embrace the experience.  Maybe your recruitment pitch should sound something more like this:

I want you to be a member of this fraternity.  But before you decide, there are some things you need to know.  We have a strong brotherhood, but not because we’re always laughing and having fun.  We fight sometimes.  We argue.  We disagree with each other a lot.  We are a strong brotherhood because we work through those things.   

You won’t like every guy in here.  Some you may actually dislike a lot.  But I can say with great confidence that there are a few future groomsmen and best friends in here as well.
We win Greek Week sometimes.  We lose more often.  Same with intramurals and homecoming competitions.  We don’t have as many trophies as the other guys, but I think we play a little harder.

You’ll need to work.  This house doesn’t clean itself.  There aren’t elves who show up in the middle of the night and cut the grass.  We do those things.  There will be dozens of times in which the state of this house will piss you off.  There are other times when you’ll be too lazy to do your duties, and that will piss us off.

Many of these guys will let you down.  They’ll make stupid decisions and leave you hanging. Many of us will disappoint you from time to time.  You may want to quit.  Or punch someone.  

But, if you find the lessons in each of those moments, you’ll be better.  If you learn understanding, then you’re on your way to mastering the greatest of leadership skills.  If you can learn to hold people accountable without being a jerk, then people will want to work for you some day.  

There may be a fraternity up the street that has only perfect parties, perfect meetings, and perfect sorority relations.  But perfect isn’t a very good teacher.  And, it’s an illusion anyway. 

If you’re willing to be vulnerable, to make mistakes, and to work hard, then you are well-suited to be in this fraternity.  Being a fraternity man isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile in life ever is.  Just because we may not be the ideal fraternity doesn’t mean that signing this bid card won’t be the best decision of your life. 

And besides, if we were perfect, then we wouldn’t need you to make us better.
Highs and lows.  Joy and conflict.  Success and disappointment.  Terribly frustrating and tremendously fulfilling.

That’s the reality.

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?


Beware the Trough of Disillusionment

Thousands of recently initiated first-year students have closed out their freshman years and have started the all-too-short summer march towards sophomore status.  Getting that first year under your belt is a significant achievement.  My worst year academically was the first year.  New experiences and new friends plus over-indulgences in things like food, beverage, and campus activities can be exhilarating, but can also take a toll.  If you made it through, then the wisdom you’ve attained will serve you well next year.

Fraternities and sororities also have to balance the desire to take a much needed break over the summer with the need to keep momentum.  At least keep your fraternity house lawn mowed.  Your summer orientation staff will appreciate it.

There is a lot of research and attention being paid to the sophomore year experience.  As described in Belmont University’s Sophomore Experience Plan, “many sophomores experience anxiety and feel pressured; some panic while others withdraw or begin to fail in response to the overwhelming reality of college. No longer are they in the freshman bubble, focused on making friends, learning campus life, and reaping the benefits of freshman experience courses, programs, and other support systems.”

This concern for the sophomore year reminds me of something I learned about just recently: the Gartner Hype Cycle.  Have you heard of it?  It’s a graph that illustrates the common public response to new media and technology.  Here it is:

Here is a summary of the points along the cycle:
Technology Trigger: A potential technology breakthrough kicks things off, especially thanks to media interest (think newest Iphone).  
Peak of Inflated Expectations: Early publicity produces a number of success stories—often accompanied by just as many (or more) failures. Basically, it’s time to decide if the product lives up to the hype. There is really no way it can.
Trough of Disillusionment: Interest wanes as experiments and implementations fail to deliver and because the technology did not live up to its overinflated expectations. 
Slope of Enlightenment: More instances of how the technology can provide benefits become clearer and more widely understood. Second- and third-generation products appear.  
Plateau of Productivity: The real-world benefits of the technology are demonstrated and accepted. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology has broad usability or only benefits a smaller niche market.

I’m most interested in the trough of disillusionment, because we all can relate to the let-down that follows an over-hyped experience.  If you are a techie, or a gamer, or even just someone who can’t wait for the next summer blockbuster movie, you’ve felt the highs of anticipation and the lows that always come afterward.

Can this graph apply in any way to the Greek experience?  I see a few connections.

Imagine the top of the graph – the peak of inflated expectations – to be the moment you hand the bid card to a new recruit.  At that moment, especially if it’s accompanied by cheering, hugs, chants, and celebration, the recruit feels euphoric about this opportunity.  They are on top of the world.  Their mind is filled with a highlight reel of all of the best thoughts of fraternity or sorority they’ve ever held.  So, of course there will be a downward slope.  Once you reach the peak, there is no other choice. 

However, the fraternities or sororities that can use their pledging period as a chance to harness this enthusiasm will push through the trough of disillusionment into a more productive phase.  These are fraternities and sororities that see the spirit and joy of a new member as an asset to the organization, and not something to quell because the new members “need to be taken down a notch.”  The new members begin to see how the fraternity can benefit them and how they can benefit the fraternity.  Those who don’t reach this enlightenment probably disengage and move on. 

Those Greek organizations that haze their new members and intentionally make pledging a negative experience are basically sending those new members on a greased sled equipped with a jet engine rocketing down into the trough of disillusionment.  And then those fraternities and sororities sit and wonder why they have a motivation problem in their membership.

Another fraternity connection to the hype cycle: new colonies.  New colonies are ripe for the trough of disillusionment because the amount of time and effort it takes them to reach the peak.  Campuses and headquarters alike love new colonies because they are a glimpse into our pledging-free, values-based, Ritual-driven core.  Colonies are the closest we get to our origins.  It’s too bad that often doesn’t last.  Newly-charted groups, in their effort to fight the doldrums of the everyday fraternity experience and to regain the electricity they once had, think the answer is to start doing what the other chapters are doing.  But that leaves them actively trying to be average.

The newly-chartered groups that achieve the realization that their differences are what makes them successful find that enlightenment that leads them back up.

A final application of this for fraternity takes us back to the start of this essay.  Just as universities are concerned about the sophomore year experience, so should you.  It could be argued that the sophomore year is the most critical year in the undergraduate Greek experience.  It’s really when a member makes the determination for how much they want to give to the chapter.  Those who vanish in their Junior and Senior years likely started to drift away as sophomores.

How do you support your sophomore members and help them keep stay motivated?  A few ideas:

  • Don’t build your pledge program to be a grueling sprint to the finish line (initiation), because a finish line is how they’ll view it. 
  • If you have a big brother or big sister program, the sophomore year is the time to really use it.  Pull together all of the big brothers/sisters for the newest pledge class early this Fall.  Ask them to pay lots of attention to their littles at the start of the semester, including things as simple as having them make sure the new members attend chapter meetings or get involved on committees.
  • Chapter presidents/officers can do a lot by just sending emails or letters to the new members over the summer months.  Help them remember their pride of membership, give them goals to look forward to, and thank them for their decision to be involved.

Hopefully this gives you something to think about over the summer months, especially if you have identified member involvement as a issue to address.  The point is to be aware of the trough of disillusionment, to understand that it’s part of any significant experience, and to not get stuck there.  There are ways you can make it easier to fall faster and harder into the trough, so be careful.  Instead, as you consider your members' experience, how can you make your fraternity or sorority one worth staying invested in, one worth working for, and one that creates enlightenment over disillusionment?

What if Pledging Programs Sounded Like This?

Check out some of these clips of Steve Kerr (head coach of the defending NBA champions the Golden State Warriors) talking to team superstar Stephen Curry.

Coaching. It's not just for sports anymore.

Coaching is a term that is readily used now to describe any relationship in which someone with knowledge or understanding imparts that knowledge or understanding to someone who needs it.

Coaching is a term in the modern workplace. Good managers no longer just manage, they coach.

Coaching is a term in leadership development. To train and prepare an emerging leader is to coach him or her. Executives of Fortune 500 companies now routinely have personal coaches with whom they can seek advice and be pushed to improve their leadership and strategies.

In fraternity and sorority life, coaching can play a large and present role each and every day. But perhaps there is no more apparent place for coaching than in the new member education / pledging process. Here we have young men and women for whom fraternity life is a new concept (or one pre-loaded with incorrect assumptions and expectations). On the other hand, we have those with experience and knowledge (albeit maybe only a year of experience) and can now pass those learnings along.

Many fraternities and sororities use a big brother or big sister program as part of pledging, which can become a built-in mentoring relationship even after the new member is initiated. Like many things in Greek life, it seems to me that the truly powerful opportunity of a big brother / big sister relationship is being squandered. It is mostly seen as "cute" extra connection between brothers or sisters resulting in gift-giving and little else.

So what could be done instead of or in addition to that reality? Feedback.

The best thing a coach can provide to a "player" is feedback. There are two kinds of feedback: developmental and appreciative.

Developmental feedback is for those times in which a person needs to be confronted or provided with constructive criticism. While there are many examples in sports of coaches that do this is an attacking way, in productive mentoring relationships this is done in a way that builds up a person, and not tears them down. Some phrases a good coach might use would be: have you considered doing it this way, or what do you think the impact of that choice had on others, or what decision might have created a different outcome? Truthfully, developmental feedback is the hardest for me and it turns my stomach into knots. I don't like confrontation, but I've also realized that it's essential if I want to get the best out of others. I'm still getting better at it, and a few tips I'll pass along:
1. Prepare ahead of time. Do not go into a developmental feedback conversation without practicing how you phrase your comments, and without considering what kind of response you'll get.

2. Focus on the behavior, not the person. You are providing feedback on a choice or decision they made, not on their personal character. This makes it easier for the person to receive the feedback, plus you can remind them that you too have made dumb or wrong choices before.

3. Do it in private and do not embarrass the other person. Developmental feedback is private and the goal is to help the other person. Being publicly shamed or humiliated (even if the coach has good intentions) can create anger and defensiveness.
And now...for my favorite. Appreciative feedback. This is the stuff leaders live for. This is an opportunity for you to make someone's day and in turn, make your own spirit brighter. Appreciate feedback is noticing an action or behavior, praising it, helping the other person make sense of it, and encouraging him/her to do more if it. The video above is full of appreciative feedback, and it's truly what makes that coach get the most out of his all-star player.

Let's say your little brother in the fraternity arrives to a chapter meeting early and is spending time talking to each brother, shaking hands, and being friendly and conversational. You like this behavior and want to see more of it. Here is a formula to follow:
  • Observation: what positive action, behavior, or demonstrated quality did you observe?
    "I noticed that you went out of your way to give greetings to each of the brothers."
  • Acknowledgement: reflect back on your observation.
    "I think this was a great way for you to meet more of the members and to help create a good environment for the meeting." 
  • Appreciation: add meaning to the person’s behavior from your point of view.
    "I appreciate that you want to build relationships with the other members and be an active presence in the fraternity. This is exactly what will make this fraternity stronger."
Powerful stuff. And all you had to do was notice it and comment on it. 

Choose to be a coach to those younger members in your chapter. But not just any coach. Be the kind that gets the best out their players by giving life-changing feedback. You will be amazed at how rewarding it can be to help a young person grow and improve. And you might even by surprised by how much you grow and improve in return. 


Going for Gold (or actually, Green)

I absolutely love the Winter Olympics. Cool stories, a fun study in geography, and strange but interesting sports. When else does ski jumping, curling, and slopestyle become prime time viewing? 

I noticed something different during the figure skating competitions this time. While the athletes were skating, little green, yellow, and red boxes appeared by their name. These indicators measured how well the skaters would perform the technical aspects of their routines. Here is how the website Thrillist describes it: 

The technical score [of a figure skating routine] is determined by a panel of judges gauging how well things like spins, jumps, footwork, transitions, and other elements are executed in real time. Each element is worth a certain "base" score (the more difficult the move, the higher its base score), and essentially, judges assign an overall technical score by adding up the scores of all successfully completed maneuvers. 

So, how do judges know what maneuvers to look out for...Well, each competitor has to submit the plans for their skate -- sequentially -- ahead of time. Accordingly, each gray box you see before an athlete starts their program represents a technical element they intend to execute. The different colors indicate how well they pulled off a specific technical component.

If the skater has successfully completed a move, the box will turn green. If the skater didn't successfully pull it off, it'll turn red. A yellow box indicates that the judges aren't quite sure and will need to review it (if you notice, as you keep watching yellow boxes eventually turn either red or green). 

Part of me appreciated this as a tool for the casual viewer to know how a person was performing, but another part of me missed the suspense of not knowing how the scoring would come out. If you saw a guy with 2 red boxes, you already knew there was no chance, since the guy before him only had one. Anyhow, it’s like the yellow first-down line in the NFL - it’s probably here to stay.

I had a slightly humorous and mostly serious thought enter my mind. What if we, as humans living our day to day lives, had these green-yellow-red boxes appear whenever we made a choice or engaged in a behavior? What if others could see how we were scoring in terms of effectively living our daily lives?

Now, in order for this to work, we would have to be judged against something: a routine, a plan, a blueprint of sorts. Basically, we’d be judged against a standard for which we live our lives. Perhaps it’s a religious doctrine, or community norms, or at the minimum, laws and regulations. If you jay-walk, you’re definitely getting a red box. (or maybe yellow, since who really gets in trouble for jaywalking?)

In the workplace, maybe you are evaluated based on how well you perform your daily to-do list, or if you develop a new idea. In the classroom, you could get green boxes for paying attention and participating, and yellows for taking Buzzfeed quizzes instead. The guy next to you snoring, with his head dangerously close to laying on your shoulder, is off-the-charts red.

But what about fraternity and sorority life? For what would we earn green boxes next to our name?

The Ritual.

The Ritual is your routine, your plan, your blueprint. As soon as you are initiated, a series of gray boxes show up next to your name, and it's now your job to make them green. The Ritual will sometimes allow you to comfortably skate in a straight line, but will also ask you to pull off a quadruple axel on occasion. Are you up to the challenge?

For example, my fraternity’s Ritual asks me to be kind and generous to others, even strangers in need. That’s the foundation for the “Helping Hand” of Theta Chi. So, if today I was to walk idly past a person who has fallen down, that red box next to my name will be loud and obvious. If I was back in my college fraternity house, sitting across the breakfast table from a brother who is in clear emotional pain, what would my Ritual call upon me to do? Be worried but just walk away (red)? Say something motivational like “I’m sure things will get better” (yellow)? Or, clear my morning to spend in conversation with him so that I can get him the help he needs (green)? If I knew that a box would appear next to my name based on my decision, I might give it some additional thought.

But here’s the thing, we obviously do not have those boxes literally popping up for all to see. Our success and our mistakes are not always broadcast to the world. 

But imagine there is a panel of judges who can see them, and who would mark you up or down based on how well you perform. For fraternity, this panel might include your founders, your big brother/sister, your favorite alum, etc.

And most importantly, it includes you.

When you go to bed each night, look up in the sky and find your row of boxes. They are sitting there below your name. Was your routine - your Ritual - executed well? Did you deserve the yellows and reds you see, and can you make those green tomorrow?

Remember that in skating, a green box doesn't mean that a particular element was flawless...just that it was executed well. Your Ritual isn't calling upon you to be perfect, but it certainly will give your guidance on what will "score well." 

Let's go land those jumps.

Five Signs That Could Save a Life

Another horrible school shooting. 

Like you, I’m wondering why the hell this happens and what we can do for it to never happen again. Maybe like you, I also recognize it’s a complicated issue that will need to be addressed from several angles.

In the aftermath, it has been learned that the shooter demonstrated some behaviors and made some statements that were troubling. For many in the school, there is shock in what happened, but not necessarily in who the perpetrator was. Clearly, someone who acts in this way is unhealthy mentally and emotionally and likely has lived in that state for a long time before he opened fire. 

Now, this isn’t to cast aspersions on those who may have noticed some troubling signs but didn’t act upon them. Who knows what you or I might have done with similar information. In addition, no person who chooses to shoot up a school fits into a formula of detection. There are others (thousands more) in our society who struggle with what the shooter may have struggled with, but don’t lash out in such a violent way. 

Could he have been stopped by something as simple as a caring conversation some months earlier? Hard to tell. 

I’ll leave the discussions about guns to another blog. This blog is about organizational living, especially as expressed in the college fraternity and sorority experience. In that way, it is also about the dynamics that occur when we live in community with other people…be that a fraternity, or a school, or a workplace, or a family. Community life calls upon us all to take care of each other. 

If a brother or sister of yours were to clutch their chest and show symptoms of a heart condition, we’d call 911. If a brother or sister breaks their hand, we will get them to an emergency room. But, if a brother or sister is struggling with another organ – their brain – we don’t always act as quickly. Likely because we don’t understand the signs or are scared by ideas like depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, and suicide. 

I was recently introduced to a simple and effective tool that all fraternity and sorority members should understand and utilize in this regard. 

The tool comes from an organization called The Campaign to Change Direction, whose purpose is expressed as follows: 
The Change Direction initiative is a collection of concerned citizens, nonprofit leaders, and leaders from the private sector who have come together to change the culture in America about mental health, mental illness, and wellness. This initiative was inspired by the discussion at the White House National Conference on Mental Health in 2013, which came on the heels of the Newtown, Conn. tragedy. 

If you recall, Newtown is where Sandy Hook Elementary is, which was the worst school massacre in American history. 

The campaign has developed the Five Signs, which is a simple way to help us all be more observant towards the plight of those we are in community with. Noticing these signs can help deter the severe consequences of someone who becomes mentally and/or emotionally unstable.

The Five Signs and the description from The Campaign to Change Direction for each are as follows:
Personality Change 
Their personality changes. You may notice sudden or gradual changes in the way that someone typically behaves. He or she may behave in ways that don't seem to fit the person's values, or the person may just seem different. 

They seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody. You may notice the person has more frequent problems controlling his or her temper and seems irritable or unable to calm down. People in more extreme situations of this kind may be unable to sleep or may explode in anger at a minor problem.
They withdraw or isolate themselves from other people. Someone who used to be socially engaged may pull away from family and friends and stop taking part in activities he or she used to enjoy. In more severe cases the person may start failing to make it to work or school. Not to be confused with the behavior of someone who is more introverted, this sign is marked by a change in someone's typical sociability, as when someone pulls away from the social support he or she typically has. 

Poor Self-Care 
You may notice a change in the person's level of personal care or an act of poor judgment. For instance, someone may let personal hygiene deteriorate, or the person may start abusing alcohol or illicit substances or engaging in other self destructive behavior that may alienate loved ones.

They seem overcome with hopelessness and overwhelmed by their circumstances. Have you noticed someone who used to be optimistic and now can’t find anything to be hopeful about? That person may be suffering from extreme or prolonged grief, or feelings of worthlessness or guilt. People in this situation may say that the world would be better off without them, suggesting suicidal thinking.

Let’s be honest: many of us walk the other way at such signs because we don’t want to create an issue if one doesn’t really exist. Yes, perhaps we get burned by reaching out to a brother who is showing these signs but it’s related to something else, or they are in denial about them. We might be judged as intrusive and it could impact the friendship we have with this person. 

But the consequences of inaction are far worse. 

Should they get mad, here is an easy retort: “I’m your brother/sister dammit, and checking in on you is my job.”

Knowing the signs is one thing, but then what? Very likely you are not a trained counselor or therapist, and you should NEVER try to be. Be with them and supportive of them as you help them find a professional who can help. If you are reading this from a college campus, stop right now and look up where you counseling center is located. Here are some helpful hotlines as well.

How much different could our history and current situations be if more people were willing to fight through the fear of reaching out and more willing to have the vulnerability to throw themselves in front of a person who is traveling a dangerous path and say “I love you and I’m not going to let you go there.” 

Thank you to the Campaign to Change Direction for bringing attention to this issue. I’m sure they would welcome a national fraternity/sorority (or several) to their list of sponsoring organizations. Mental health, depression, suicide, and all associated issues are all significantly prevalent in today’s fraternity and sorority. One of the outcomes of tragedy is that it tends to wake us up.

This is a call for all of us to stay awake this time, and truly discover what it means to help each other. 

The Place Between Places

Image result for trapeze artist
I recently experienced some changes in my life professionally and personally that had me somewhat flipped upside-down.  Life changes as a 21-year-old can be thrilling, as a 31-year-old can be invigorating, but as a 41-year-old can be downright terrifying. I was organizing some files, and found a favorite essay buried within my "inspiration" folder. Reading it as this point in my life made a deeper impression than when I first read it a decade ago. I thought I would share it, because I feel it's one of those beautifully-crafted passages that every person needs to read. Trust me, there is undeniable truth in what he is saying.

The author is Danaan Perry, is the passage is excerpted from the book Warriors of the Heart.
The Parable of the Trapeze
Sometimes I feel that my life is a series of trapeze swings. I'm either hanging on to a trapeze bar swinging along or, for a few moments in my life, I'm hurtling across space in between trapeze bars.

Most of the time, I spend my life hanging on for dear life to my trapeze-bar-of-the-moment. It carries me along at a certain steady rate of swing and I have the feeling that I'm in control of my life.

I know most of the right questions and even some of the answers.

But every once in a while as I'm merrily (or even not-so-merrily) swinging along, I look out ahead of me into the distance and what do I see? I see another trapeze bar swinging toward me. It's empty and I know, in that place in me that knows, that this new trapeze bar has my name on it. It is my next step, my growth, my aliveness coming to get me. In my heart of hearts I know that, for me to grow, I must release my grip on this present, well-known bar and move to the new one.

Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won't have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.

Each time, I am filled with terror. It doesn't matter that in all my previous hurtles across the void of unknowing I have always made it. I am each time afraid that I will miss, that I will be crushed on unseen rocks in the bottomless chasm between bars. I do it anyway. Perhaps this is the essence of what the mystics call the faith experience. No guarantees, no net, no insurance policy, but you do it anyway because somehow to keep hanging on to that old bar is no longer on the list of alternatives. So, for an eternity that can last a microsecond or a thousand lifetimes, I soar across the dark void of "the past is gone, the future is not yet here."

It's called "transition." I have come to believe that this transition is the only place that real change occurs. I mean real change, not the pseudo-change that only lasts until the next time my old buttons get punched.

I have noticed that, in our culture, this transition zone is looked upon as a "no-thing," a noplace between places. Sure, the old trapeze bar was real, and that new one coming towards me, I hope that's real, too. But the void in between? Is that just a scary, confusing, disorienting nowhere that must be gotten through as fast and as unconsciously as possible?

NO! What a wasted opportunity that would be. I have a sneaking suspicion that the transition zone is the only real thing and the bars are illusions we dream up to avoid the void where the real change, the real growth, occurs for us. Whether or not my hunch is true, it remains that the transition zones in our lives are incredibly rich places. They should be honored, even savored. Yes, with all the pain and fear and feelings of being out of control that can (but not necessarily) accompany transitions, they are still the most alive, most growth-filled, passionate, expansive moments in our lives.

From the book Warriors of the Heart by Danaan Parry.  www.earthstewards.org