Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Different Vehicles of Fraternity

If you haven’t read the latest entry on T.J. Sullivan’s blog, you may want to give it a tumble.  It’s an interesting read in which T.J. presents the idea of alumni members being able to join an additional/different fraternity later in life, one "that is more relevant to their adult lives, adult network, adult interests."

This post isn’t a response to T.J.’s ideas.  Since his post references service clubs, I saw an opportunity to bridge my love for fraternity with my love for these civic organizations.   It also occurred to me that many current undergraduates and fraternity alumni don’t quite understand these organizations.  I didn’t before I began working for one of them.

Bottom line: I believe that these organizations can provide the fraternity or sorority member with an outlet to express the values of his/her Greek organization after graduation.  

Service clubs might best be known for the logos you see as you drive into a city or town.  They have diverse names and histories, but also have a lot in common.  Each seeks to bring citizens together to serve their community.  It’s a very grassroots and democratic approach to social change.

As an example of what these clubs can offer, let me describe more fully one of them: Kiwanis.  I belong to Kiwanis and work for Kiwanis, and so I can speak best to this kind of experience.  

I guess the simplest way I’ve found to describe Kiwanis clubs (and service clubs in general) is to use the analogy of a road trip.  If you are a person with a heart to serve (the target market of service clubs like Kiwanis), then you likely want to make the world a better place.  That’s the destination of your life’s journey.  It’s the point on the horizon that you’re trying to reach.  The route to get there is service.  That’s the name of the road.

Many people will try to walk that road alone.  There is a heroic notion to the rugged individual walking an arduous path.  Fine.  But it’s a long journey fraught with exhaustion and frustration.

Like any journey, the service path is more easily traversed with a vehicle.  That’s what Kiwanis clubs are – vehicles to take a person along the road of service to their destination, to their vision of a better world.  It’s a vehicle large enough to accommodate lots of like-hearted people.

It’s not that Kiwanians are looking for a shortcut to get to their destination.  They just know they can go further – that they can achieve more – when they take the journey in a vehicle with others.  It’s also a heck of a lot more fun.  It’s like a road trip.  Members take turns driving based on their interests.  When you are feeling down or tired, someone else can take the wheel.  Laughter and fellowship make the journey easier.  Isn’t that what we have learned from our fraternity experiences as well?

Kiwanis Club of Lafayette (Louisiana) refurbishes a park.
Simply put, Kiwanis is a fraternity for men and women who believe serving others is a way of life.  Like a college fraternity, there are leadership opportunities and purposeful camaraderie.  But service is primary.  It’s the centerpiece on the table around which Kiwanians gather.

There is a great fraternal aspect to organizations like Kiwanis.  Because we rally around a shared purpose – service – we are able to build deeper friendships. 

If you came to my Kiwanis club meeting, you would feel fraternity.  There is love for each other in the way we joke with, laugh with, encourage, recognize, and push each other.  But now comes the caveat:  my club experience may be very different than the Kiwanis club experience in your community.  Each one – like each fraternity chapter – builds its own culture.  The best way to know if it’s the club culture and environment you want to is to visit and spend time with the members.

Fast facts…Kiwanis is for men and women…service focus is children with programs that covers all ages…perhaps best known for sponsoring youth service clubs including Key Club (high school) and Circle K (college)…worldwide with clubs in over 80 nations…almost 100 years old.

How do you join such an organization?  Track down the local club in your community (see below for link), and invite yourself to a meeting.  See how it feels.  See what the members are like.  When you’re ready to join, the club can walk you through the process.  These aren’t secret or exclusive clubs.  If you have a heart to serve, then I can say with confidence that you will be welcome as a member.

Josh Orendi of Phired Up Productions wrote a great blog post about visiting a Kiwanis club, which you can read here.

I strongly urge you to consider a service club when the time is right for you.  As members of fraternities and sororities, we are called to give the best of ourselves to the world we inhabit.  I have found that an easy way to live out the values of my fraternity, and to answer the call of leadership, is to ride in a vehicle called Kiwanis.  Simply put, I know that I can achieve more for this world in a Kiwanis club than I could alone.

Whatever your choice for how you express the values of your fraternity/sorority beyond campus, when it comes to giving generously of your talents, just keep two words in mind: never stop.

You can learn more about Kiwanis at www.kiwanis.org and I invite readers to give their own testimonials of the clubs and organizations they belong to in the comments section (I'm looking at you Masons, Rotarians, Lions, Optimists, Toastmasters, Jaycees, Junior Leaguers, and others.)

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Best Leadership Strategy We Never Use


Once upon a time there were two sorority chapter presidents whose organizations were right next door to each other.  And each was dealing with a similar challenge.  Within each sorority, a handful of members had stopped attending meetings and other functions.

At the first chapter, the president stressed about this issue privately, trying to develop ways to re-engage these lost members.  The more she thought about it, the more frustrated she became about these members’ lack of commitment.  She pulled every leadership book she had and every binder from every leadership event.  She studied and thought and decided that she needed to take this issue head-on.  It's important for leaders to inspire action, right?

The next chapter meeting came and the president closed it with a speech about commitment and motivation.  She stood up and raised her voice, trying to use passion to deliver the message clearly:  this apathy would not be tolerated any longer!  Most of the members in the room nodded their head.  The missing members were…still…missing.

As such, things did not improve.  The disengaged members still did not show up to meetings and other events.  

A week later, the president took her frustration to the executive officers for their ideas.  After a long discussion, one of the officers brought forward the idea of fines.  “Let’s fine any member who doesn’t show up to mandatory meetings” she suggested.  The other officers considered this and decided this was a great idea.  Money talks.  If there is a financial penalty, then the members would start living up to their commitments.  A good leadership strategy is to hold people accountable, right?

And so, the president announced the new fines at the next meeting.

In the following weeks, fines were levied against the disengaged members.  But, there were other members affected as well.  Soon, fines were applied against not only those who never came to meetings and events, but also those who had to miss occasionally as well.  Soon, the fines started to become a source of anger and frustration in the chapter.  Good members were feeling the pain, and were not very happy about it.  Soon, a few of those good members pulled away from the chapter completely.

The executive officers reconvened and decided that the fining system had become too negative.  “Why not reward good behavior?” offered one officer.  "As leaders, shouldn't our strategy be to recognize the behavior we want to see?"  As they discussed it further, the idea of a points system began to emerge.  The members could get points for attending the events as well as doing other things, such as getting a good GPA, etc.  If a member's points were too low, then the fines would kick in.  

At the next meeting, the president introduced the points system.  There was some approval, and mostly skepticism.

In the following weeks, the points system seemed to be working okay.  But, the attitude towards the program started to turn negative.  Members became tired of keeping track of points.  It started to seem ridiculous that every action would have a point value.  The program became the butt of jokes, and soon good members started to rebel against it.  It ultimately became so confining, that some of the good members started to feel like the sorority wasn’t worth it any longer.  

And, the disengaged members who caused the initial frustration continued to be disengaged.

The executive board reconvened and realized that the chapter was in chaos, and much worse than a few months ago.  They were lost as to what to do.

Meanwhile, at the second chapter, the president was also frustrated by her disengaged members.  After some thinking and reflecting, the president also decided on a course of action.  Her decision led to many of these members re-engaging with the fraternity and some valuable information that the president could use to develop ideas for involving older and disconnected members.  It was a strategy that also incorporated inspiration, accountability, and recognition.

Word of this success traveled to the first chapter, and the president there ran over to meet with the president of the second chapter.  

“I’ve tried everything!” the first president exclaimed.  “How did you do it?  Did you give a big speech?”

“No,” replied the second president.  

“Did you use fines?”  

“No.”  

“Did you use a points system?” the first president asked.  

“Are you kidding?  Of course not,” was the reply.

“Well, how did you get the disengaged members involved again? What was your leadership strategy?”

“I had individual conversations with them.”

“Conversations?”

“Yep.  And I listened.”

[pause] 

“Hmm.  Wish I had thought of that.” 


The End 

“Let us make a special effort to stop communicating with each other, so we can have some conversation.”
~ Mark Twain