Thursday, February 27, 2014

What's Your Squirrel?

I have a dog named Snickers.  She’s a 50-pound Labradoodle that we adopted several years ago.  She’s the first dog that I can remember owning.  My parents had a Siberian Husky – a wrecking ball of fuzz – when I was a young child.  I never really knew him, but I do remember that he ingested half of our bathroom door.  I’m not sure why my parents expected more out of a dog they named “Goober.” 

Snickers is a lovely dog.  She has her quirks and bad habits.  She likes to express her jubilance at meeting new people by either (a) jumping up on them or (b) peeing on the floor.  She also likes to chew up plastic hangers.  A couple each day – or about a pack a week. 

The best part about Snickers is how gentle and sweet she is with our kids.  They can do just about anything to her (and have), and she shrugs it off.  I’m actually a little surprised that she has any fur left at all.  Or any ribs.  Or a backbone.  Or a tail.  Or any shred of dignity.

She just takes it all, because that’s her job – to be the family dog.  To be our protector and our pet.  She does it with grace and ease.

That all changes when squirrels or cats walk past our front window.  When that happens, it’s as though an earthquake wrapped inside a hurricane strikes our house.  Snickers barks, scratches at the glass, and begins tearing through the house.

It’s not as though she wants to eat any of these small creatures.  She has met neighborhood cats many times on our walks.  Typically, she’ll sniff at it and then be on her way.

For her, small animals are her trigger.  It’s what gets her excited.  She transforms from a docile, languid dog into a driven, inspired canine.  Sometimes, squirrels and cats are the only things that rouse her from a lazy day on the couch.

For some people, the fraternity/sorority is that squirrel.  It’s the thing that brings out the fire inside.  It’s their passion.

Other members may look at those ├╝ber-invested fraternity/sorority addicts and think they’re nuts.  Who has the time to do all of that?  “I love my fraternity, but I don’t want to eat, drink, and sleep it every day,” they’re thinking.

The ultramember may not understand this attitude, because it doesn’t match their mega-commitment.  Unfortunately, for as noteworthy and profound their passion and commitment may be, it may also be causing the thing they hate – apathy.  We must be careful not to have an all or nothing approach to member engagement.

There will be some members for whom their fraternity/sorority is number 15 on their list of priorities.  Perhaps they have a job, or a heavy academic load, or a strenuous extracurricular commitment like sports or student government.  They may not be at 100% of the chapter meetings, or every service project or social event.  They may follow the bare minimum of expectations on their time commitment to the organization.  I personally am okay with this – given that they do one thing: answer the call when their squirrel walks by.

In other words, contribute in those times when their passions and convictions connect with the needs of the organization.

It’s like a football team.  The coach is invested in every play of the game.  Most of the players are as well, although there are times when they will be on the sidelines instead of the field.  What about the field goal kicker?  He comes out 4 or 5 times a game, does his thing, and then virtually disappears.  I’m sure there are a few kickers who work hard to cheer on the sideline or contribute in other ways, but most of them probably retreat to the bench to play Minesweeper on their I-Phone.  Until they are called again.

Fraternities and sororities have many members who spend most of their time on the sidelines.  Again, I have no problem with this as long as they step on the field when needed.

As a leader, you may need to help these individuals find their squirrel in the fraternity – the thing that will get them off the couch.  How do you do that?  The first thing you can do is simply ask them.  The other thing you can do is observe.  Pay attention to those moments when a member’s eyes light up, or when you hear more eagerness in their voice.

Not every member in your chapter is going to be as invested as you.  It is true for any organization – some people devote their life to it, while others devote only a part of their life.  And that’s okay.  The goal shouldn’t be to get every member to match your intensity – but rather to find their own.

If you are a “bare minimum member,” I invite you to determine one more thing that you can be doing for your organization.  Reflect upon those moments when you felt most inspired and enriched as a member.  What was the “squirrel” in those moments – the cause for your higher engagement?  Where can you find that squirrel again?

God bless those members for whom fraternity or sorority is their chief devotion.  They are the heart and soul of the fraternity movement.  But, they are not alone.  They are joined by legions of members who, at first glance, may not seem very passionate.  Just wait until their squirrel walks by.

[Originally published on the RISE Partnerships blog in September 2010]

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