Monday, December 12, 2011

Answering the Call

Hi, is this Doug?
Yes.  Who’s this?
This is Leadership.
Excuse me?
No seriously.  Quit fooling around Dave.
No. Honestly, this is Leadership. 
I’m speaking to an abstract concept?
Indeed you are.
Why are you calling?
It’s time.
For what?
For you to lead.
This is really strange.  I’m going to hang up now.
That’s your decision, but I would advise against it.
Because, I don’t like to call back.  Especially to someone who’s been ignoring my calls for years.
I haven’t been…wait.  Are you that strange caller ID I’ve been hanging up on?
Likely yes.  Why did you answer this time?
It felt different.
Then I’m glad I called.  Again.
Why did you call?
It’s time.
Okay – enough of this “it’s time” stuff.  If you don’t tell me…
Fine.  Let me be plain.  Right now, as a human being, you’re just wasting space.  And time.
Boy, this conversation is going great.
The problem is – you want to do more – but you don’t.
Like when?
Remember during rush when that guy in a wheelchair came by?
Yes, Josh.  You talked with him.  You liked him.
Yeah – he was a great guy.
The rest of the chapter didn’t think so.  They didn’t vote to give him a bid.
Well, I think…
They were uncomfortable talking to him.
Yeah, maybe but…
You weren’t.
Yeah, so?
Why didn’t you speak up on his behalf?
Remember last year when Mike went in front of the standards board for doing drugs in the house?
They gave him probation – whatever that means, and the chapter went along with it.
Yeah I remember.
You hated that decision.  You wanted him removed, didn’t you?
I saw you squirming in your chair when the decision was shared at the chapter meeting.  It looked like you wanted to stand up and shout.
Yeah, I felt…
Why didn’t you?
Mike’s only gotten worse since then, hasn’t he?
Yesterday, it was just the two of you in the lunch room.  You wanted to confront him.  To tell him to get help.
How do you know that I...
And instead you talked about sports.
I was scared to say anything.
That seems to be a recurring problem.
I need to get going.
Do you like where this chapter is heading?
No, not really.
You have some ideas don’t you.
Why are you keeping them secret?
I’m just not sure…
…that they will work?
That they will be received well?
If you will look like a fool?
Yeah.  No wait, I mean…
I like fools.  Those who dare.  But with a purpose.
Well I’ve never been called daring.
What exactly have you been called?
A good guy.  A good behind the scenes guy.
Translation: mostly invisible.
That’s not fair.  Groups need behind the scenes guys.
Wrong.  They need guys who can work behind the scenes.  They don’t need guys who live there.
So what are you saying?
Come out of the shadows.  Step up more often. 
I just don’t…I mean…I don’t get it.
Remember – this is Leadership.
And I’m calling you.
Are you making the connection?
No.  Wait…yes...but why me?
Why not you?
I don’t know.  I don’t like stirring up controversy.  I’m kind of a quiet guy.
Stop with the excuses. Why are you a member?
I like the people, and the ideals.
They both need help.
But nobody has ever told me that I am a leader.  I’ve never been given the chance…
Listen, if I wanted to go to a pity party, I would have called someone else.
I don’t want to be the President.
Leadership is not about position.
What is it about?
Influence.  If you don’t want a title, that’s fine.  Support those that are elected and lead from within. 
I just…well, what do I do?
Simple.  When you feel that desire to speak up, do it.  When you feel pressure to shrink backwards, step forward.  There are critical moments in every day in which a person can choose to lead or choose to be silent.  Notice those moments, and make the choice to lead more often.
I doubt it’s that easy.
You think those things are easy?  If they were, I would never have to call guys like you.  
What’s the catch?
Catch?  If there is one, I guess it’s that you do have to pay with your life.
Excuse me?
I’m sorry- that sounded ominous.  I mean, by answering this phone, you have agreed to let your life change.
Simple.  You’ll be noticed now.
What if they don’t listen to me?
Some won’t.  Find the ones who will.
I’m nervous.
I never call anyone who wouldn’t be.
I probably will screw up.
We all do.  At least this time you’ll have good reason for it.
I’m not sure what to do.
You’ll figure it out.  The hard part is over.
What’s that?
I called.  And finally, you answered.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What Will the Historians Say?

Brothers, what we do in life echoes in eternity.
– Maximus (Russell Crowe in Gladiator)

The work you are doing with your fraternity, organization, career, etc. may be interesting, compelling, invigorating, and inspiring.

However, would it pass the Historian Test?

I’ve been working with this idea of a “Historian Test” for a few years now as a way to measure the quality of my work at Kiwanis.  Any organization can use it, and it’s really quite simple.  The test is based on a very apparent, yet often forgotten notion:  you are living through a moment of your organization’s history.  How will this moment be described by those historians who will analyze it in the future? 

Here is another way to look at it:  Let’s say your chapter was to fold 20 years from now – in the year 2031.  If historians were to begin studying the reasons why, and researched back to the year 2011, how would they say you were spending your time?  What issues were you discussing?  What decisions were you making?  What were your priorities back then (er, now)?

Based on what they found, what would they conclude about this point in history for your fraternity?  Were the minutes of your meetings full of trivial matters (party themes) or core issues (recruitment strategies)?  Were you making healthy organizational decisions, such as holding annual goal-setting retreats?  Or, were you making high-risk, low-reward decisions such as hosting raging keggers?

Those who study dead civilizations, like the ancient Mayans, can usually find a turning point – a period of history in which the decline began.  In those periods, scientists typically find reasons that could have been averted had the people been paying attention to what was going on around them.  Are you familiar with the phrase “fiddling while Rome burns?”

Renowned business author Jim Collins studied several corporations who each experienced a severe downturn to  uncover the reasons why.  I wrote about them in this post.  He discovered rampant complacency.  These businesses assumed their success would always last and neglected  preparations for their future.  Enron is another example of a fallen corporation that has been studied at depth by analysts and historians.

What about the current situation at Penn State?  Do you think Joe Paterno is spending every day asking himself if he did all he could years ago?  When the graduate assistant informed him of what he witnessed in the locker room, do you think he realized at the time that his decision to do the bare minimum would likely lead to his ouster 10 years later?

It doesn’t have to always be negative either.  Historians also look at successful organizations in order to discover what decisions they made to catapult them to unprecedented heights.  See the recent books and articles about the success of Apple and Facebook, for example.

So, what will historians say about your period in history?  What will they say about all of us – collectively – who are concerned about the future for fraternities and sororities?  Are we doing the right things to sustain these organizations we love?  Are we having the right discussions?  Are we spending resources on the things that are moving the needle, or on distractions instead?

At conferences like AFA, NASPA, or ACPA, are the speakers and workshops addressing issues of significance?  How will the proceedings of these meetings be judged by historians in the future?

When historians study your organization years from now, the phrase you most want to avoid them speaking aloud is: what were they thinking?

This is only one moment in history for your organization, but it’s your moment.  Your actions now will be recalled and remembered.  When the great story of your time is told, will you be proud of what and how much you did?  Will history be kind to you? 

Will you pass the Historian Test?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

An Invocation

(perhaps for your next chapter dinner)

Dear God-

For the innocent and vulnerable children who are victims of abuse,

May You help us develop our members into leaders strong enough to protect them,

To never ignore them,

To always confront those who would do them harm.

In a world that desperately needs individuals with courage and integrity, may the members we develop lead the way,

To step forward, when others shrink back; To stand up, when others sit down.

To do right, when others do nothing.

And for those victims,

Should they ever need a family of brothers or sisters to lean upon,

A sense of peace,

A rock around which to build a stronger life,

A place that respects them and gives them the dignity that they deserve,

Then grant us the strength, the wisdom, and the compassion,

To be a fraternity that will forever welcome them.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Are Leaders Allowed to be Complete Jerks?

Like many of you, I spent the first day or so after Steve Jobs’ death admiring him and his accomplishments.  I did the obligatory tweet of praise, engaged in water-cooler chats about how visionary he was, and even liked a photo on Facebook of his silhouette inside an apple.   It was a really cool picture – look! -->

But after that first day, some other stories began to emerge.  For example, Steve Jobs Was a Jerk: Good For Him, Steve Jobs Was a Jerk and You Shouldn't Be, and What Everyone Is Too Polite to Say About Steve Jobs.  These stories formed a more complete picture of this industry titan.  While he was truly visionary, innovative, and entrepreneurial, he was often a world-class jerk.  One of those articles describes him this way:  

Before he was deposed from Apple the first time around, Jobs already had a reputation internally for acting like a tyrant. Jobs regularly belittled people, swore at them, and pressured them until they reached their breaking point. In the pursuit of greatness he cast aside politeness and empathy. His verbal abuse never stopped.” 

Given what is revealed in these articles, as well as the new book Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, emulating him fully may not be the best idea.   

Of course, I recognize that it is unfair to judge someone you haven’t met.  These books and articles could be extreme portrayals.  Suffice to say, Jobs leadership style was probably more Bobby Knight than Mister Rogers.

If you get results as a leader, is it okay to be a complete a-hole during the journey?  How much does the “touchy-feely” side of leadership really matter?  If you can hold the trophy for top fraternity at the end of the year, should you care if you pissed off everyone in the process?  “What that’s you’re saying about hurting your feelings?  I can’t hear too well with this big freakin’ trophy in my ear!”

To be fair, there can be quite a difference between being demanding and being a jerk, although sometimes it may look the same.  Being tough on someone is a coaching technique that will often produce results.  Sometimes, a person just needs to be told in a direct manner that their performance is lacking and that expectations are not being met.  I’ve had coaches and teachers like that in my life.   

But, I’ve also had raving egoists in my life as well.  

The difference lies in who the leader is centered on.  If he/she is centered on the other, then it’s more of a “tough love” kind of coaching.  The goal is to try and help the other person achieve what they are capable of.  If the leader is centered on self, then the goal instead is to prop him/herself up at the expense of the other person.  Based on what I’ve read, Jobs wasn’t too concerned with the other person.

And yet, he achieved marvelous good for humankind.  His products have helped usher in a new wave of technology, which in turn has improved educational and economic conditions in many places.  So what if he belittled and bullied some people along the way?   

There is a lot written on being a relational leader and on the importance of emotional intelligence.  However, emotional intelligence did not invent the I-Phone.  In fact, an intentional lack of it might have instead.  

But then again, does that mean we can’t be disappointed, or extra cautious in following the examples of very public leaders?  You may want your child to be just like Steve Jobs.  I’m not so sure about it.  

Leaders always have shortcomings, and the perfect leader is a myth…isn’t it?  Leaders are human, and humans are flawed.   

You can try to be both a hard driver and a kind soul at the same time.  I do, although the driver role is clearly not my strong point.  Regardless, I am fascinated by people like Steve Jobs, who seem to have no desire at all to be liked – only respected for their achievements.   

If you had to decide, what would it be?  To be the nice guy or the mean S.O.B.?  To be too gentle or too aggressive?  To shrink into the group or unabashedly take your position at the front of it?  To see your people or the end result as the most important?  To be seen as likeable or tough?

There are many different styles of leadership.  It’s your call as to which you use.  It may come down to your answer to this question: should the leader be judged more for the results that he achieved, or the person that he was?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

You Don’t Need Another Greek Council

A year or so ago, I wrote about the most unfortunate outcome of many Greek community retreats:  the desire to have an All-Greek BBQ.  Another idea that emerges almost as often is just as unnecessary: the All-Greek Council.

“Hey everybody, let’s create an All-Greek Council!”

Now, if you are a member of a small Greek community and only have one governing council for all fraternities and sororities, then this doesn’t apply to you.  I’m speaking to the campuses that already have an IFC, Panhellenic, and/or NPHC and now want to establish an All-Greek Council or Board as well.

You don’t need it.

Developing an All-Greek Council is like baking a third pie simply because the crust on the other two was just a little too flaky. 

You have governing councils already.  They are just not getting the job done.  

You probably want an All-Greek Council so that you can communicate better between all the groups.  The current councils can and should do that.  Maybe you want an All-Greek Council to improve inter-fraternity or inter-sorority relations.  Your current councils can and should do that as well.  Worst of all, maybe you want an All-Greek Council so you can plan the next All-Greek BBQ.  Nobody should be doing that.

Let’s be honest – there are two reasons you really want an All-Greek Council.  First, fraternity and sorority members are joiners and we can’t get enough of groups.  We just can’t help ourselves sometimes; it’s way too much fun to dream up new organizations to belong to.  Secondly, it’s easier to build something from scratch rather than fix something that’s broken.  

Plus, we have an addiction to the idea that if we just bring everyone together, all problems will be solved.

Here’s the reality: if you have problems of poor communication and poor inter-group relations, the All-Greek Council is not the magic answer.  In fact, it will likely become as irrelevant in regards to those issues as the councils you already have.  But hey, at least you’ll have a new one to complain about!

Inter-Greek relations are not built by grandiose events, big meetings, or new organizations.  They are built by honesty and trust.  Besides, when we talk about poor relations, we’re really talking about fraternity-to-fraternity and sorority-to-sorority.  Your IFC, Panhellenic, and NPHC councils need to be the forums where honest conversations between the groups are had.  

Communication issues are really about our inability as leaders to have good conversations with each other.  Those need to happen outside the council meetings.  An All-Greek Council would become just another opportunity for a talking head to go through a series of announcements and fliers about upcoming events, or lectures about how we should all just get along.  We’ve got Facebook to do that for us now.    

Your IFC, Panhellenic, and/or NPHC should be the place where you discuss collective needs and chart your future together.  And there are good reasons to keep them as separate councils devoted to organizations that have lots in common with each other.  Men’s and Women’s Greek-letter organizations are unique enough in their structure and philosophies to keep them separate in how they are governed.  

If you want to still want to have those feel-good moments of bringing everyone together, then schedule joint meetings of the councils once a semester.  Rotate which council “leads” the meeting.  However, taking the time and energy to build a whole new organization is ignoring the purpose of the ones that are already there.

“Hey everybody, let’s create an All-Greek Council!” 

Nah, let's not.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Footloose Leadership

Hollywood is running out of ideas.  Hence, the constant stream of remakes of classic 80’s movies.  Karate Kid, Clash of the Titans, Tron,  and now Footloose.  Why can’t they just leave well enough alone?  I am saddened by the fact that the world’s children may never experience the wonder of a Ralph Macchio crane kick, or Harry Hamlin fighting a sea monster made out of playdough, all because of shiny new retreads.  If they come out with some new auto-tune pop version of Kenny Loggins’ Footloose theme, I’m gonna scream.  By the way, I’m writing this as I smoke a corn cob pipe in my rocking chair.

Anyhow, before the new Footloose comes out and ruins that once glorious franchise, allow me to turn back to the original and find some lessons on leadership and fraternity.  After all, movies are visual stories, and stories are full of metaphors for life.  Some are obvious, and others are hidden.  Here are six leadership lessons I found from one of the best movies of my youth:

1.  Sometimes a little defiance is what the world needs.
There are basically two camps in Footloose - the young people and their quest for self-expression, and the town elders and their quest for moral protection.  While being concerned with morals and values is important, clearly the adults went overboard in the movie - even to the point that they were burning books.  The whole town needed a course correction; a splash of cold water in the face.  The adults in the community had become so narrowly obsessed with protecting their young people from sin, that they were essentially killing each young person’s sense of self.  Enter Ren and his “radical” notion that there’s nothing wrong with dancing and listening to loud music.  He led small acts of defiance which eventually led to a revolutionary change for the community.

As a leader (and teacher, parent, etc.), the moments that drive you the craziest are those moments when those you are leading “act out” against expectations.  Sometimes it’s entirely right to correct them and remind them of why the expectations exist.  However, it’s also entirely right for a leader to stop and think about why that defiance happened.  Are your followers telling you something?  Perhaps they are showing you that the environment is too confining, or that decisions are being made too unilaterally.  Or, perhaps they are in fact leading you in those moments.  They are opening up a pathway that you could not see. 

In higher education we talk a lot about “shared leadership” or that all people are leaders.  If that’s true, then the first thing that needs to go is the tight control that the Reverend in Footloose was exerting.  Don’t bristle at defiance.  Come to understand and accept it - and maybe even embrace it a little.

2.  Dancing around an empty warehouse may not be your thing, but you should take time to unleash your passion.
When I work with nonprofit executive directors, I observe an internal struggle they are contending with.  They started or joined up with the organization because they believed in the cause and wanted to “make a difference.”  As the organization developed and they were elevated to executive roles, the passion for the cause became overwhelmed by the mundane practices of running an business - budgets, benefits, board management, personnel issues, etc.  Those who navigate that shift well do so because they still find intentional ways to remind themselves of the cause that still calls their heart.

One of the most famous scenes in Footloose is when Ren (Kevin Bacon) drives into an old warehouse and does a burning solo dance routine (including some impressive uneven bar gymnastics on the pipes).  His dance is more a result of rage and frustration.  He just needed to let it out.  Sometimes leaders have to find ways to deal with frustration as well, but I would broaden it to include any opportunity to escape the day-to-day grind of your work and rediscover the passion that led you there. 

Read more.  Delegate more.  Spend more time in the trenches again.  For fraternity and sorority leaders, don’t stop having fun.  Laugh more.

As a leader, you are constantly with other people and dealing with the details.  Finding some private time to tear it up in a warehouse may be just what you need.

3.  Don’t play games of chicken with farm machinery.
Seriously, someone could have been killed! 

4.  If given the opportunity, people may surprise you with how well they dance.
A constant challenge for a leader is understanding the strengths of those you lead.  Sharing leadership means putting people in a position to succeed.  If you are tasking the abstract-thinker with the house manager job for example, be prepared for chaos. 

One of the campiest elements of Footloose is how the high school students - having their first school dance ever - could all of the sudden do moves that would make Michael Jackson’s jaw drop.  There was even a dude that could breakdance.  Anyhow, the lesson is that some people have talents and strengths that we never see simply because they haven’t been allowed to use them.

Perhaps their is a man or woman in your organization who doesn’t fit the typical mold of a leader, and so you’ve been hesitant to give him/her responsibility.  Let your impressions inform you, but don’t let them control you.  Perhaps that person is just one opportunity away from doing something extraordinary, such as a toprock that would make Paula Abdul jealous. 

5.  Stand up to the town elders, but do so with respect.
Some may regard Ren’s speech at the town council meeting as the climatic turning point for the community.  However, remember that after that speech, the council still voted to uphold the ban on dancing.  So the young people circumvented the law by holding the dance just over the county line.  This was an “in your face” move to the town elders, and most would have left it at that and went to the dance with their middle fingers in the air.

To me, the turning point in the movie was when Ren went to the Reverend’s house to try and personally convince him to allow the dance.  He went for an honest conversation, which included listening and finding common ground.  This showed maturity on his part and respect for the position that the Reverend and others had taken over the years.  His desire to make change, coupled with his respect for past decisions, produced better results. 

A couple of takeways from this.  First, a good speech can win fans but personal conversations win hearts.  The one-on-one conversation is the single-most irreplaceable tool that a leader has.  Secondly, almost all people have reasons for doing what they do and believing what they believe, and each person believes their reasons to be legitimate.  The adults in Footloose were not acting out of hate, but rather out of concern.  When you respect others viewpoints and treat them as legitimate, they will be more receptive to you when you want to change them.  For fraternity and sorority leaders, consider that the next time you go see your Greek Advisor (and vice versa).          

6.  Loosen up.
Everybody cut, everybody cut.  (Enough said)

So there - a few simple lessons and reminders from Footloose. Watch the new version if you must, for I assume similar themes will emerge.  But I will keep the original as my go-to source for a story about defiant leadership that can change a community.  

Remember, as a leader, to not be afraid to cut footloose every once in a while.  As Ren, the new kid in town, so famously shouted, "Let's Dance!"