Wednesday, August 30, 2017

If You Always Look for Problems, That’s Always What You’ll Find

The time is upon us when thousands of fraternity and sorority members will return to campus and begin another year.  Many of those groups will do the smart thing and have a retreat to plan out the year and set goals.  At the minimum, almost all fraternity and sorority leaders will think about questions like: what do we need to do to reach our potential?  To achieve excellence?

This post isn’t meant to answer those questions, for each situation is unique.  Rather, let me offer you some thoughts on how you get to those answers.

Fraternity and sorority life is a “problems-based” industry.  We are constantly talking about problems.  We seem to always be focused like a laser on what’s wrong with us and what needs to be fixed. 

It can be depressing.  I only have my hunches to back this up, but I think one of the reasons there is so much turnover in campus Greek advising is that individuals just get sick and tired of the constant negativity. 

I don’t believe that we can ignore our problems, especially the ones that could jeopardize our future in an instant.  But, what if we focused on our problems just a little bit less?  You might ask, well what would we focus on instead?

We would focus on what’s working.

You have a choice for where you put your energy.  You can put it towards finding problems (and if you look for them, you will find them), or you can put it towards finding the life-giving forces that make your organization thrive.  When you do the latter, you likely increase the exceptional stuff you want and overwhelm the negative stuff you don’t.

This whole approach is called Appreciate Inquiry.  There are scores of books and articles on this very scholarly topic.  I invite you to investigate it further, but here is a quick summary in terms of fraternities and sororities:

Appreciative Inquiry means that you ask questions of each other in order to unlock what is often hidden from view: namely, the parts of our organizations that are working and should be emphasized.   But, we tend to do the opposite.  At a typical fraternity or sorority event, we might ask questions such as:
·         What is holding us back from success?
·         What are the biggest challenges we face?
·         How do we fix our problems?
The answers to these questions would come from the standard fraternity/sorority problem index: poor recruitment, risk management, brotherhood/sisterhood issues, member apathy, Senior member motivation, etc.  We would then try to develop 3-5 targeted solutions for each of these problems.  Sounds reasonable, right?  

The only thing is it’s not very effective.  If it were, we wouldn’t still be as stuck with these problems as we are.  

What if instead, we focused on what’s working?  Maybe your chapter has an awesome calendar of service projects.  Why do your members get so excited about service?  After investigating that question, maybe you find out that members see it as a great vehicle for camaraderie.  Now we know that members hunger for opportunities to work together on significant things.  Can this new knowledge be applied to chapter academics (which haven’t been very good)?  Could this lead to more collaborative and social study sessions at the chapter house?  Let’s try that.

If you had instead started by asking “why does our chapter GPA suck?” you may never have reached the idea of building camaraderie.  You probably would have designed another unsuccessful points system or something like that.

Appreciative Inquiry sometimes is as simple as re-framing the questions that we ask.  See below:
Typical Questions
Appreciative Questions
Why aren’t we getting the number of recruits we want?
Why do we have the recruits we do?  What did they see in us that compelled them to join?  How can we use those reasons to our advantage?
What’s wrong with our brotherhood/sisterhood?
When in the recent past has our brotherhood/ sisterhood felt the strongest?  What was going on that made that happen?
How can we force members to follow our risk management policy?
What was the last social event we had that felt really safe and really fun?  What made it so?
Where did all the Seniors go? 
Who have been Seniors that have been really engaged?  Why did they stay involved?
How do we stop our downward slide?
What is the best thing we did last year?  What made it the best?  How can we apply those lessons to other things we do?
Why do we suck as a chapter?
In what areas do we excel as a chapter?

Do you see how simply re-framing those questions makes them much more exciting and positive?  By using appreciate inquiry, you are learning from your successes, not your failures.  You’re putting a spotlight on what works, not what’s broken.  And yet, in doing so, you are making repairs.

Appreciative Inquiry is based on several principles, some of which are particularly germane to fraternity and sorority life:

The Constructionist Principle says that “words create worlds.”  In other words, how we talk about something helps to create it.  For fraternity and sorority, this means the more we talk about ourselves as endless problems, the more likely we are to become that.

The Poetic Principle simply says that whatever we focus on, grows.  If we focus on problems, they may only get bigger because we are elevating them.  Likewise if we focus on positive elements.  One of the primary tenets of Appreciative Inquiry is that by allowing the positive forces to grow, they will overtake the negative ones.

The Anticipatory Principle says that “what we believe, we conceive.”  If we put in our minds-eye an image of our organization as vibrant and dynamic, that vision will direct our actions.

I think these principles can be a stretch for analytical thinkers who only want to diagnose
problems and prescribe solutions.  There is still a time and place for that.  However, too often  we let that “fix the problem” mentality dominate at all levels of our organizations – all the way up to boardrooms.  Save that for the small stuff.  For the big things – vision, goals, future – focus instead on the best of what you are.  Let those discoveries determine the course you take.

It is a maxim of Appreciative Inquiry that in every organization that exists, something is working.

And it’s there for you to find.





This post was originally published in July 2011 and has been updated

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Chapter President’s Guide to Starting the Year Off Right

The chaos of August is about to set in on college campuses across the land.  And you, Mr. Chapter President, are about to lead your troops for another few months.  Don’t make it a weak finish!  The following ideas can make the difference between your year being just another ordinary one or a truly impactful one.  It’s all about paying attention to the details and how you start a new semester. Here are some tips to help you start right:

1. Prepare a chapter retreat.

World-class athletes get themselves “into the zone” before they take the field.  That’s what a retreat can do for your chapter.  Retreats are not just all fun and games.  Good ones have a purpose, and I suggest the purpose be twofold: (1) assess the previous year and (2) set goals for the coming year.  Did you attend your organization’s convention or leadership conference this past summer?  Here is a good chance to summarize some of the best of what you learned.  See this post for more ideas to help you prepare a successful retreat. 

Power tip: Invite your advisors and campus staff to help facilitate this retreat.  They have the skillset to do this and would be honored to take part in something that’s so positive and forward-thinking. 


2. Get the team back together.

Huddle up with your officer team as soon as you can to review early plans for the year.  Likely there are some immediate needs in terms of finance and recruitment.  It’s also a way to make sure they are as invested in the remainder of this year as you are.   

Power tip: If you have the means, treat them to dinner (or coffee or ice cream) as part of this meeting.  Show them how much you value their commitment and leadership.


3. Visit with your Greek Advisor.

Schedule a time early on to reconnect with your Greek Advisor in person.  They remain your greatest supporter and advocate on campus.  Besides just catching up, use this meeting as a way to update him/her on how you assessed the previous year and the goals you have for the coming year (great way to pass along the retreat output if you had that first).  Be sure to thank the Greek advisor and ask him/her for any thoughts on how your chapter can perform strongly this year. Listen as much as you speak.


Power tip:  Bring along a small token of appreciation.  Maybe a food product from your hometown – nothing too elaborate or expensive.  It’s just a nice courtesy that your advisor will appreciate.  Also – be sure to compliment him/her on how tan and well-rested he/she looks!


4. Greet your brothers/sisters.

This one may be a challenge for the very large chapters, but it’s not impossible.  Can you stretch yourself to personally say hello and shake the hand of every single member within the first two weeks of returning to campus?  There is no greater show of leadership than personal interaction.  It trumps any speech you can give or any decision you make.  Perhaps tie this to an invitation to the first chapter meeting of the year, so that you can get some brothers/sisters reconnected who have drifted away.  It’s easy to dismiss an email or phone message.  It’s difficult to dismiss a personal greeting and invitation.  Plus, it shows that you care about the most important thing any chapter president should care about – the members. 

Power tip: If you have a chapter house, move in early so you can be there (and your other officers too) to help move in your brothers/sisters.  Plus you can say hello to the parents and make sure they know who you are.


5. Hug your house manager.

He/she may need it this time of year.

Power tip: Don't let it linger.


6. Meet your chapter advisor for coffee.

For many of the same reasons you want to connect with your Greek advisor, now’s a great time to build the relationship with your chapter advisor.  The reason I suggest coffee or some other way that feels less procedural is because it immediately makes it a more relational conversation.  It also shows maturity because that’s how many modern meetings are conducted between colleagues these days. 

Power tip: If you don’t already have a system in place, be sure to use this meeting as a way to establish a regular communication pattern with your advisor.  And then stay strict to that – another sign of leadership maturity (don’t let your advisor ever wonder if you’ve vanished).


7. Prepare extra hard for the first chapter meeting.

Many times, this first meeting of the semester is the one of the most well-attended.  Spend time preparing so that it comes off as professional, efficient, and effective.  Don’t shy away from a little humor and fun in this meeting as well.  If you want members to come back, they need to see value to the experience. 

Power tip: Start the meeting with an open forum for members to share the best thing that happened to them over the summer.  Don’t be too cautious with what’s shared and how – let the personality of the group take over.  You’re likely to find laughs and applause as a result.


Best wishes to a great start to the year, and thank you for accepting the role of chapter president.  If you spend the time to do those things above, and be rigorous in your preparation and planning, then you will find yourself more relaxed and able to enjoy this experience.  Ready, set, go!

 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Retreats that Work

Man, I love retreats. In terms of team dynamics and organizational flow, there may be nothing better. My staff team probably wishes I didn't love them as much as I do.

In an environment that is constantly shifting and changing, retreats are needed more than ever. They allow us to refocus on our mission and objectives. They can also unplug us from the gadgets that rule our lives. There is something about an easel pad, markers, and honest eye-to-eye conversation that is just simply healthy.
 
Now, retreats can also be a phenomenal waste of time. They require thoughtful planning in order to be effective. Below are five points I’ve learned about retreats over the years, and I encourage you to add your own.

Point #1: The retreat needs to be productive.
A retreat should never be all about play. A retreat can be fun, but it’s a work day. Going to the local amusement park is not a retreat. If your supply list includes bathing suits, koozies, and suntan lotion, it’s also not a retreat. A retreat is a learning activity, and should be treated as such. It’s out-of-the-classroom learning, so it is indeed different in many ways. But it’s still generally an intellectual exercise. 

A brotherhood- or sisterhood-building social activity (such as rafting, camping, theme park, etc.) is fine, but “social activity” describes them accurately. Reserve “retreat” for the times in which participants are focused, ready to roll up their sleeves, and prepared to chart a better future for the organization. This doesn’t mean you sacrifice the teambuilding aspect. Don’t assume that brotherhood or sisterhood is built only through social events. In fact, the greatest teams are forged through collective action towards shared objectives. In other words, your “working” retreat will build greater connections and teamwork than any social activity could.

Point #2: It’s called a “retreat” for a reason. Go someplace different.
Brain science has proven that a change in venue can lead to a change in perspective. Retreats work best when participants feel that it is a special event, worthy of a different level of participation and thinking. A different venue can contribute to this feeling. Stay away from your chapter house, a classroom, or a meeting room in the student union. These are too ordinary. I personally encourage you to consider camps or other settings that incorporate nature. These types of venues can add a layer of calm and peacefulness to the event.
Any of the following are good options: Official retreat/conference centers, Boy Scout/Girl Scout/FFA/YMCA/Kiwanis camps, church facilities, restaurants with a unique feel, state parks, etc.

Cost might be a concern, but planning well advance will give you more options. Camps and parks are typically cheaper. Also consider distance and transportation when selecting a site.

Point #3: Your retreat needs a purpose.
Why do you need a retreat? Why is it being considered? What do you need to accomplish?
  • Identify and get problems out in the open.
  • Promote communication among all members.
  • Establish common goals and objectives.
  • Identify and relate the philosophy of the organization.
  • Transition new officers into their positions.
  • Have the members get to know each other on a deeper level.
  • Motivation; re-centering on purpose.
  • Discussion of values/Ritual.
Thinking about this beforehand will help you organize a retreat that best suits the members' needs. You could also plan a retreat that concentrates on one critical function of the organization, such as:
  • Recruitment Preparation - Educating members on effective recruitment and setting group recruitment goals.
  • Values Clarification - Helping participants understand themselves and others.
  • Leadership Development - Developing leadership skills to promote better committee members, committee chairs, or officers.
  • Risk Management - Teaching, clarifying, and gaining agreement on policies and procedures.
  • Scholastic Goal Setting - Giving members an opportunity to set personal and group goals in the area of academic achievement.
  • Pre/Post Initiation - Offering an opportunity for members to fully understand the impact of the oaths they are about to or have just taken.
  • Alumni Relations - Setting goals for improved alumni relations and programs. Gather suggestions from alumni or invite alumni to participate in this program.

Point #4: Beware the curse of the comfy couches.
Your retreat location should be comfortable, but that doesn’t mean you should sit all day. Full-day retreats commonly suffer from group malaise after lunch and as the afternoon carries on. Do as much as you can to make the retreat interactive, instead of a just a rotation of talking heads. Here are a couple of common tools for adding interactivity to a program:
  • The Partner Share: Instead of discussing a question or idea with the full group, ask participants to first talk about it with a fellow participant. This gives the quieter members a chance to share their ideas. After a few minutes, open it up for a larger discussion. You’ll likely get more and better responses.
  • The Small Group: Having ideas discussed in smaller groups of 5-8 participants works for many of the same reasons given above for the partner share. However, you can ask the small groups to accomplish more, such as solving one component of a larger question. For instance, if you are discussing academic achievement in the organization, you might assign smaller groups each of the following issues to discuss and make recommendations for: (1) recognizing academic achievement, (b) revising chapter academic standards, (c) utilizing campus resources, (d) programs to encourage academic success. You could also use small groups to teach a big topic, such as risk management policies. Assign small groups portions of the policies to review and teach back to the larger group in creative ways.
Breaking into smaller groups is also a great way to split up pledge classes, age groups, cliques, officers, new members, etc., which can add to the teambuilding element of the retreat.
Although they are often a target of complaints and groans, teambuilders and icebreakers can be effective for setting up a positive learning environment as well. You may get some evil glares from the participants, but weigh that against the boredom and lethargy that comes from inactivity. There are thousands of books and websites with ideas for teambuilders. The NIC resource “Brotherhood Building Activities” is one to add to your library, if it’s not already there. Also, your advisors and headquarters staff likely have a lot of options to share with you.

Point #5: You don’t need to do this alone.
The life of a Fraternity/Sorority Advisor can often be a constant deluge of negativity. They are always putting out fires and reacting to unfortunate incidents. Imagine a chapter leader walking into their office and inviting them to help facilitate a proactive retreat intent on building a stronger future for the fraternity or sorority. That’s the kind of work they want to be doing! The basic point is this – you have several caring individuals who would be willing to help you plan and implement the retreat. All you need to do is ask.

If you have a budget, there also many talented professional facilitators available to you.
I hope this has been helpful in some way. Leading, managing, and growing an organization like a fraternity or sorority is hard work. Going at it every single day can wear down even the greatest chapter. The strongest organizations know that in order to keep up their strength for the fight, on occasion, it’s necessary to retreat. Good luck!


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Advisor's Lament

Only 2 weeks left…

June cannot come soon enough.

I’m…so...tired...

Tired of the constant traffic in my office,

Tired of sorting through 100 e-mails a day.

I’ve had enough retreats, meetings, and programs to last me

The rest of my career.

I can’t remember what life was like

Before 9pm meetings,

And working Saturdays.

Ugh that freakin' end of year report!

Whew!

It’s finals week!

The students won’t bother me now.

Only five voice-mails this morning!

Did I remember to send those cards to the graduating seniors?

Time to start on those 10 rec letters that were due last week.

It’s graduation day!

They’re almost gone!

“It’s nice to meet you Mrs. Johnson – your son was an outstanding president.”

What?? A blowout party where?? They destroyed what??

Can’t they just go home!

Finally.

They’re gone.

Summer has begun!

The traffic in town is so much better.

Starbucks is calm.

At last it’s quiet here.

Only 10 e-mails today!

It’s so relaxing…so serene…so…

Empty.


It just doesn't feel right around here.

I…miss...them...

And need them to hurry back.


August cannot come soon enough.




This post was originally posted in June 2009 and has been updated

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Fraternity to Believe In

To be or not to be…excellent. That is the question. I invite you to enjoy this classic clip from Wayne’s World 2, featuring the late Charlton Heston, noted for being one of the best actors of all time:


This scene has great lessons for our organizations. We have just become too comfortable with mediocrity. Let’s face it, many of our organizations are striving to just reach mediocrity.

It’s easy to see in movies when actors or actresses are just “mailing it in.” The same is true for fraternities and sororities. It’s those groups that shuffle around from obligation to obligation, seemingly uninterested and lethargic. It’s the opposite of watching a master at work – someone who wants to, who needs to – be the greatest at their chosen craft. It’s whoever that first guy was vs. Charlton Heston.

It begs the question, however, what “being your best” or “performing at peak level” really means for fraternities and sororities.

Is being excellent as a fraternity winning campus competitions? That’s a pretty superficial measure I think. What about winning the highest honors from your national fraternity? I wonder if sometimes that is just a measure of one’s ability to write an application.

How about Ritual? Is living by the teachings of your Ritual achieving excellence as a fraternity? Yes – if excellence is doing exactly what’s expected of you.

Excellence can include all of these things, but they still don’t say enough. There seems to be an intangible quality to excellence, resulting in the old “I know it when I see it” test.

How about if excellence were this: getting others to believe in you. What if it meant performing in a manner that goes so far above an expected standard, that you become an aspiration for others?

Consider three sororities on a given campus. When interviewed about the first one, the university President states: “I like that sorority.” On the second, he comments “I trust that sorority.” On the third, he remarks “I believe in that sorority.” Each sorority is regarded as outstanding, but only one is excellent. It’s the one that changes the President’s perspective from “they simply exist” to “I want them to exist.” Or even, “I need them to exist.”

When someone like Charlton Heston steps in front of the camera, we believe in him. We know that a good performance will follow. In that scene, we wanted him in that role.

If you can get people – ranging from recruits to advisors – to say that they believe in you, then you know that you’re performing at a high level. And by the way, I can believe in a fraternity even if they don’t win a single Greek Week event, so collectively we need to adjust what excellence really means.

So, what are you doing as an organization that would cause someone to say that they believe in you? Is your performance worth watching? Imagine the audience is filled with your founders, great alumni of the past, campus administrators, parents, etc. Would they stand and cheer for you? Would your performance move them to tears? Or, would they rather yank your fraternity and find a better stand-in?

When you believe in something, you protect it. You share it with others. It becomes a rock for you. It’s the same for how we cherish our own Rituals. What if others regarded fraternities as the “Ritual books” for the rest of society? As the place to turn to for leadership, scholarship, service, and other values.

That’s more than taking home a trophy. That’s knowing that you matter. Undeniably.

How much better would the fraternity movement, our organizations, and our members be if we no longer sought to just be tolerated, or liked, or accepted? What if we sought to be an aspiration for others? To do so much good that those around us could not avoid the desire to believe in us and what we’re doing. That would be, as they say in Wayne's World, excellent!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

As Universities Grow Soft, Fraternities Must Stay Tough

Some headlines within the last couple of years:
SFGate: UC Berkeley orders cancellation of Ann Coulter speech
I’m worried about what’s happening to colleges and universities and their missions to prepare students for a productive and consequential life. I know it’s easy to react to headlines and think it’s a systemic problem, when maybe it’s not, but regardless, it’s worth discussing.

For me colleges and universities are places in which people should be toughened, strengthened, and their skin made thicker.  They are not places in which students should emerge softer, scared of their own shadows, or unable to deal with difficult conversations.

After all, college is what stands between a high school “kid” and a real world “adult.”

This is not to say that eyes should not be opened or that a wider view of life should not be unveiled. I believe firmly that colleges and universities fulfill an essential role in our society if their graduates emerge with a greater understanding of and appreciation for human differences. 

But why then, is a speech by an environmentalist or a human rights advocate in the campus setting okay, but a conservative political thinker is not okay?

I get this sense that our society is shifting to a K-16 education system, which is problematic on a couple of fronts. First, focusing on a college as a necessity leaves behind a big population of students. Secondly, it fools us into believing that college students should still live underneath the safe school umbrella that was held over their heads in high school.

It wasn’t that long ago in human history that 18 year-olds were managing an entire homestead, working in a factory, and/or dealing with life and death adult issues on a routine basis.  Even today, there are 18-year-olds that strap on the uniform of our country and go into the depths of hell on our behalf.

And yet, the 18-year-olds (even 22-year-olds) living in their well-manicured and heavily-resourced comfortable campus communities can’t be exposed to the ideas of Ann Coulter?

A caveat - in the real world, there are places in which people that feel persecuted or endangered can go to seek solace and support. Campuses should have these too. From what I've read (I accept that's not always the best research strategy) it seems that the safe place idea is becoming so wide and distributed, that it doesn't mean what it should and is open to being mocked.  It now means shelter from opposing viewpoints, as opposed to support networks for those who feel truly threatened. 

This world is tough. Living here on this rock takes resolve and grit and determination. If we are to solve our greatest social challenges, we need strength. The world overall is not a safe space, and it’s inhabitants must be able to operate within it.

Sure, it takes courage to voice an opinion.  But it also takes courage to live with and work alongside other human beings that think your opinion is wrong and be okay with that. 

So where does fraternity fit? I've said before that I believe fraternities to be the one remaining place on a college campus where real leadership is learned and practiced. Why? Because, for the most part, fraternities are still self-governed entities without a lot of micromanaging by advisors (although this is in jeopardy as well). In addition to being this practical, real-life laboratory of leadership, fraternities can and should remain places where free speech is allowed, opinions are freely shared, and personal animosities are managed through conversation and not heavy-handed silencing. A fraternity should be as free and open as the public square, consequences be damned.

But here's the thing...the goal of silencing certain speakers or creating safe spaces is to further acceptance and inclusivity.  It's a well-intentioned goal but the tactics are ineffective, emotionally-driven, and create the opposite result. However, the greater goal can still be achieved by actually fostering environments where issues are hammered out, debate is encouraged, new perspectives are awakened, and more. These are the environments that fraternities are ripe to produce.  They may not be safe spaces per se, but they will be educational ones.  

And, remember, education is the ultimate purpose for institutions of higher education.

To summarize, by being a sanctuary on the modern college campus for free speech and free expression of ideas, today's college fraternity can provide an important contribution to the goal of creating a more accepting and inclusive society.  Not a bad way to frame our continued relevance, huh?

Here are some quick ideas:
  • Open up your fraternity house doors for a series of conversations on important issues of the day. When I was an undergraduate at Miami, the IFC held "dessert and dialogue" sessions at chapter facilities.  We would invite two (or more) sides of an important political hot-button issue to debate it in front of students and then field questions.
  • This sounds terribly old-fashioned, but if you have a chapter facility, be sure you're getting one local and one national newspaper delivered. Throw in a few magazines such as Time, Newsweek, etc. You might be surprised at how access to materials like this can lead to simple (and impactful) discussions around the dinner table.
  • Before rush/recruitment season begins, devote time as a chapter to have a discussion around the importance of looking for diversity of all kinds in the potential members. Lay it out plain: we do not select members based on their political viewpoints, religious ideologies, race, sexual orientation, and so forth. We select them based upon their commitment to our values, and our belief in how much and in what ways they can make the chapter stronger.
  • Chapter leaders should stay observant of how dialogue and discussion takes place in the chapter. Acknowledge and show appreciation for those moments when brothers disagree (even if tempers flare) as long as they continue to respect each other after the fact. 
  • Be a leading organization on your campus for free speech. Support campus efforts to bring a wide variance of viewpoints by attending speakers, diversity awareness sessions, rallies and marches in large numbers.

By doing things like this, and ensuring that your fraternity chapter environment is not devoid of the true stuff of the real world - debate, disagreements, and tense discussions - then fraternity members all over will emerge from higher education as the most prepared to make it in this world...and make the world better too.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Do Strong Fraternity Stuff

I am a big fan of Dave Ramsey, who is a financial management guru famous for his radio show and bestselling books.  His style is to give tough love to people, not allowing them to make excuses for their financial situations.  His message is well-received because it’s simple: get debt-free, live debt-free, build wealth slowly, and after you’ve succeeded, give lots of it away.

One of his primary messages is a principle that is so simple, it’s profound:  If you want to be rich, do what rich people do (do “rich people stuff” as he says).  If you want to stay poor, keep doing what poor people do. 

Here is a great quote from his website:
If you are broke, you will become rich when you do rich people stuff with your money. Find out what the habits of rich people are and do them, and you will become one of them. How do I know this?  Seventy-eight percent of America's millionaires are first- generation rich. They started with nothing and became millionaires. If you do poor people stuff with your money, you will become poor people. If you are rich and you do poor people stuff with your money, you will become poor people. "Rich" isn't an amount of money; it's a mindset in how you live. I've been broke, but I've never been poor because when I was broke, I just had no money. It wasn't that I had no hope. It wasn't that I didn't believe I could win. It wasn't that I was unwilling to sacrifice.
What is “rich people stuff?”  He shares many examples that come from research and studies about millionaires.  They work their tails off to get out of debt, and then pay cash for everything.  They invest wisely and patiently.  They buy used cars with cash instead of new ones with loans.  And they live frugally.

This goes against conventional wisdom, doesn’t it?  Rich people either inherit their money or lie and cheat to get it, right?  Not according to the research.  They have very distinct behaviors and make very thoughtful decisions.

Stuff that poor people do includes things like living by credit cards, payday loans, adding debt upon debt, not saving, and frivolous spending. 

So, while our emotions may say that it’s unfair that rich people are that way, our logic should tell us that if we make the right choices and behave in a disciplined way, we can join them.

The same is true for fraternity success.  If you want to be a strong fraternity, do “strong fraternity stuff.” 

But, like rich people, we tend to demonize strong fraternities.  We hate them for all the awards they win, all the recruits they get, and all the attention they receive.  Instead of learning from them, we dismiss their success (yet secretly hope we have the same).

Let go of your envy or jealousy about the highly successful fraternities, and start observing what they do.  You can be right there with them.  One of the benefits of a Greek system is that we see several examples of how to do fraternity happening at once.  In any given Greek system, we see the range of success, from chapters that are failing completely to those that are knocking the ball out of the park. 

There is no cap on how many successful fraternities there can be.  The problem is, too many of us choose to just be mediocre, because like many people, we’re just waiting to win the lottery or for some other stroke of ridiculous good luck.  Wealth isn’t built that way.  Neither is organizational success.

It’s an old but true quote – don’t wait for your ship to come in.  Swim out to it.

So, what is “strong fraternity stuff?”  We don't have very detailed studies on this, but based upon years of observation, awards judging, and common sense, here are a few things to consider:
  • Strong fraternities are extremely discerning in recruitment.  So much so, that they have a very low pledge dropout rate.  They pick the right guys from the start.
  • Strong fraternities are quick and nimble.  For example, when a natural disaster strikes, they have tables set up within hours to collect donations and a van full of members heading towards the relief efforts.
  • Strong fraternities practice and perform the Ritual ceremonies with precision.  They treat membership initiation with the same reverence that new colonies do.
  • Strong fraternities care about presence.  They strive to look impressive and act confidently when showing their public persona.
  • Strong fraternities have high chapter GPA’s because they recruit high academic performers.  They realize that recruiting a low performer and thinking they can change him/her is unrealistic.
  • Strong fraternities do not take shortcuts in recruitment.  It’s person-to-person, time consuming, focused work.  They know it’s their lifeblood as an organization and they prioritize it that way.
The list goes on.  The main point here is that a strong fraternity is not something to ignore.  Or complain about.  Or hate.  It’s something to observe, study, and possibly emulate.  Fraternity success is not by accident.  Nor is fraternity failure.  Choose your examples wisely.


This essay was originally posted in August 2012 and has been updated.