Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Road Warriors for Fraternity

I'm called many things.  Field staff.  Field rep.  Traveling consultant.

No matter what you call me, I know what I am in my heart.


Road. Warrior.


And this is my creed.


I will build a brighter future for fraternity, one chapter at a time.


I will learn to live out of a car.  And how to get through airport security with Olympic sprinter speed.  Just give me a month or so.


I will be terribly nervous.  I will probably care too much about what others think of me.  I will try too hard to make friends.  Give me a month for this one as well.


On paper, I am a cost-effective way to bring the office closer to the members. I make the finance staff smile. I was promised a terrible salary and that's what I got. I was also promised adventures and that's what I'll get.


I understand that on the org chart, I'm near the bottom.  Probably below the guy who comes in to fix the copier.  But on the influence chart, I'm near the top. I am the front line.


There are staff back at the office complaining about a certain "dysfunctional" chapter. They’ve
 seen their balance sheet, their web page, and their reports. I'll be standing in their living room on Tuesday. I will see them.

My fraternity needs me.  And needs me to be strong.


I will discover soon enough that truck stops have the best food, and that the world's biggest ball of twine is worth the 30 minute diversion.


I will speak and present dozens of workshops.  But, I know that the difference I will make will be through individual conversations.


Listening is my greatest tool.

I understand that a few encouraging words from me can be the difference between a weary president who quits and one who perseveres; between the member who becomes lost and the one who moves one row closer to the front; between the advisor who drifts away and the one who re-engages.

I will prepare for each visit like Peyton Manning.

I will allow myself several fist pumps after a successful visit.  And a big helping of ice cream after a bad one.  Actually, ice cream either way.


I will proudly represent my fraternity or sorority through my actions.  I am Ritual in motion.


People in the airport will be impressed by my kindness to the overstressed gate agent.  I will let people merge in front of me on the highway.  I will wave at construction crews and say thank you to every military person I see.


I will be a happy road warrior.


If I get pushed to the brink, I will call a timeout.
  They need me to be wise – not an exhausted jerk.

As Hunter Thompson put it, everyone needs psychic anchors in their life, and I will find mine.  Be it church, or Mad Men on Sunday nights, or the cheesy hashbrown casserole at Cracker Barrel.

I will learn to push and challenge.  I will develop the rare skill of being the “lovable tough guy.”  That may take more than a month.

I will work my tail off to move the needle.  Some days it will move a mile, and most days it will move an inch.  But it's moving.  My fraternity cannot afford a day in which it doesn't.  

And some days will be chaos.  No matter how stressed, emotionally spent, tired, or road-weary I am when I get the fraternity's front door, it's game-on when I walk inside.

I will be discounted for my age by university administrators, chapter advisors, and almost everyone else.  I will have to prove myself.  I’ll wear a suit to big meetings.

And I’ll remember that my age is an asset.  I’m not ready to be old and cynical yet.

I will forgo the chain restaurants in favor of the famous campus pizza parlor.  And places with names like "The Flying Gila Monster" in towns with names like “Bug Swallow.”

Even if I don't like a member I meet, I will believe in him or her.

 I will give each chapter a chance.  And they will get my best.

I will spend more time alone with my own mind than ever before, and will be better off because of it.


I will have lots of stories to share.  Like Buffett sang: "some of it's magic...some of it's tragic..."

My belief in the fraternity movement will be shaken, broken, rebuilt.  Daily.

I will say to the members: you can confide in me, but remember something important.  If you reveal something that puts you or others in danger, I will intervene.  Not because I am from the national office.  But because I am your brother.  Your sister.

I will not ignore my gut.  Or the butterflies.  Or the loneliness.  Or the spectacular feeling of winning. Or the handshakes, hugs, and “thank-yous” I didn’t expect.

I will trust my instincts, lean on my training, and make huge mistakes anyway.

I will say “I can do this.”  Again.  Again.  And again.

And on those days that go terribly bad, when every conversation seems pointless, all my efforts seem worthless, and the future seems hopeless,  I will return to my car and take a few minutes to be upset.  Sit in silence.  Or blast the radio.  Or call a friend.  But I can't take long.

Because there is another small town to drive through.
  Another chapter up the road.  I need to get there by tomorrow, climb the stairs, ring the doorbell, and try again.   

Because my fraternity still needs me.   

The road is long, but warriors don’t give up.

Especially road warriors.
  Like me.


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Which Hall of Fame are You?

This past weekend, the National Football League inducted six players into its Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.  Major League Baseball did the same a few weeks ago in Cooperstown, New York - although they only inducted two. 

[2013 update - no one was voted into the baseball hall of fame]

In sports, reaching the Hall of Fame is a crowning achievement.  It means that in your chosen profession, you were the best of the best.  Halls of Fame are a way to separate the highest performers from the rest of the pack. 

However, they wouldn’t be as significant if they weren’t so restrictive.  If just above-average statistics and achievements were all it took to get there, then the Halls would lose their prominence.

Some Halls of Fame are criticized for being too difficult to get in - such as baseball’s.  On the opposite end, the NBA Hall of Fame is criticized for selecting too many and for criteria that seems to reward popularity over achievement. 

The criticism on either side results in this: the MLB and NFL Halls of Fame have stayed cherished, significant, and profound, whereas the NBA Hall of Fame is viewed with much less reverence. 

The MLB and NFL Halls of Fame seem to take pride in how difficult they are to enter.  Over the last three years, the NBA Hall inducted 29 individuals and 3 full teams.  The NFL Hall inducted 20 individuals.  MLB inducted 8. 

In fairness to the NBA, they induct more than just NBA players.  They have inducted collegians, international players, high school coaches, etc.  However, this also means they are criticized for not being focused enough.

It seems - from this outsider’s point of view - that the MLB and NFL halls put more time and rigor into their selection process than the NBA.  They seem to have unwavering standards that are almost never compromised.  Inductees are debated endlessly, and it may take years for someone the public deems worthy to be chosen for their Halls. 

Again, the result of this high attention to standards is that the public perception of these Halls is stellar.  Sure, every year the sports talk shows and fans yell and scream about the omission of their favorite players, but they never lose reverence for the honor.  Because that’s what it is seen as - a high honor. 

On the flipside, does anyone really pay attention to the NBA Hall of Fame in the same way?   

If you had to choose a model, I would suggest somewhere between the NFL and MLB.   The various sports halls of fame seem to teach us that being perceived as too lax in selection criteria has greater negative consequences than being perceived as too strict.  This means that you don’t just give a bid to anybody.  You select those who fit your high standards of character and achievement. You analyze and debate potential members based on their merit.  There will be some good men or women you turn away.  Because, they aren’t as good as the ones you want. 

By the way, there is a wide chasm of difference between having very high standards for recruitment (good) and making pledging so grueling that it weeds people out (stupid).  No Hall of Fame hazes its inductees.  They reward achievement and success that occurred before the person was nominated for the Hall.  You should study, analyze, and debate potential members as much or more than the selection committees debate potential Hall of Fame inductees.

Pledging - if you must use it - should NOT be used to help you discover if someone is worthy of your fraternity/sorority, but should be used to provide baseline education to those who are already worthy. 

You probably know the fraternities on your campus that are a little looser in their standards.  It’s clear to see.  You also know those that have high standards.  Those are the groups that you watch when issues arise, to see how they react.  Just like a good Hall of Fame, they can set the tone for success.  Which one are you?  If I spent a week on your campus, who would I say is setting the tone for excellence? 

A word of caution: with this analogy I am not trying to argue for highly-elite, super-selective fraternities and sororities.  Don’t become the Omegas from Animal House.  You need to define the standards for your group, and then live with the outcome.  My larger point is that when you demand and expect excellence, you earn respect from your peers and the public.  You become the Hall that people pay attention to, and that potential members want to join.