What if Pledging Programs Sounded Like This?

Check out some of these clips of Steve Kerr (head coach of the defending NBA champions the Golden State Warriors) talking to team superstar Stephen Curry.

Coaching. It's not just for sports anymore.

Coaching is a term that is readily used now to describe any relationship in which someone with knowledge or understanding imparts that knowledge or understanding to someone who needs it.

Coaching is a term in the modern workplace. Good managers no longer just manage, they coach.

Coaching is a term in leadership development. To train and prepare an emerging leader is to coach him or her. Executives of Fortune 500 companies now routinely have personal coaches with whom they can seek advice and be pushed to improve their leadership and strategies.

In fraternity and sorority life, coaching can play a large and present role each and every day. But perhaps there is no more apparent place for coaching than in the new member education / pledging process. Here we have young men and women for whom fraternity life is a new concept (or one pre-loaded with incorrect assumptions and expectations). On the other hand, we have those with experience and knowledge (albeit maybe only a year of experience) and can now pass those learnings along.

Many fraternities and sororities use a big brother or big sister program as part of pledging, which can become a built-in mentoring relationship even after the new member is initiated. Like many things in Greek life, it seems to me that the truly powerful opportunity of a big brother / big sister relationship is being squandered. It is mostly seen as "cute" extra connection between brothers or sisters resulting in gift-giving and little else.

So what could be done instead of or in addition to that reality? Feedback.

The best thing a coach can provide to a "player" is feedback. There are two kinds of feedback: developmental and appreciative.

Developmental feedback is for those times in which a person needs to be confronted or provided with constructive criticism. While there are many examples in sports of coaches that do this is an attacking way, in productive mentoring relationships this is done in a way that builds up a person, and not tears them down. Some phrases a good coach might use would be: have you considered doing it this way, or what do you think the impact of that choice had on others, or what decision might have created a different outcome? Truthfully, developmental feedback is the hardest for me and it turns my stomach into knots. I don't like confrontation, but I've also realized that it's essential if I want to get the best out of others. I'm still getting better at it, and a few tips I'll pass along:
1. Prepare ahead of time. Do not go into a developmental feedback conversation without practicing how you phrase your comments, and without considering what kind of response you'll get.

2. Focus on the behavior, not the person. You are providing feedback on a choice or decision they made, not on their personal character. This makes it easier for the person to receive the feedback, plus you can remind them that you too have made dumb or wrong choices before.

3. Do it in private and do not embarrass the other person. Developmental feedback is private and the goal is to help the other person. Being publicly shamed or humiliated (even if the coach has good intentions) can create anger and defensiveness.
And now...for my favorite. Appreciative feedback. This is the stuff leaders live for. This is an opportunity for you to make someone's day and in turn, make your own spirit brighter. Appreciate feedback is noticing an action or behavior, praising it, helping the other person make sense of it, and encouraging him/her to do more if it. The video above is full of appreciative feedback, and it's truly what makes that coach get the most out of his all-star player.

Let's say your little brother in the fraternity arrives to a chapter meeting early and is spending time talking to each brother, shaking hands, and being friendly and conversational. You like this behavior and want to see more of it. Here is a formula to follow:
  • Observation: what positive action, behavior, or demonstrated quality did you observe?
    "I noticed that you went out of your way to give greetings to each of the brothers."
  • Acknowledgement: reflect back on your observation.
    "I think this was a great way for you to meet more of the members and to help create a good environment for the meeting." 
  • Appreciation: add meaning to the person’s behavior from your point of view.
    "I appreciate that you want to build relationships with the other members and be an active presence in the fraternity. This is exactly what will make this fraternity stronger."
Powerful stuff. And all you had to do was notice it and comment on it. 

Choose to be a coach to those younger members in your chapter. But not just any coach. Be the kind that gets the best out their players by giving life-changing feedback. You will be amazed at how rewarding it can be to help a young person grow and improve. And you might even by surprised by how much you grow and improve in return. 


Going for Gold (or actually, Green)

I absolutely love the Winter Olympics. Cool stories, a fun study in geography, and strange but interesting sports. When else does ski jumping, curling, and slopestyle become prime time viewing? 

I noticed something different during the figure skating competitions this time. While the athletes were skating, little green, yellow, and red boxes appeared by their name. These indicators measured how well the skaters would perform the technical aspects of their routines. Here is how the website Thrillist describes it: 

The technical score [of a figure skating routine] is determined by a panel of judges gauging how well things like spins, jumps, footwork, transitions, and other elements are executed in real time. Each element is worth a certain "base" score (the more difficult the move, the higher its base score), and essentially, judges assign an overall technical score by adding up the scores of all successfully completed maneuvers. 

So, how do judges know what maneuvers to look out for...Well, each competitor has to submit the plans for their skate -- sequentially -- ahead of time. Accordingly, each gray box you see before an athlete starts their program represents a technical element they intend to execute. The different colors indicate how well they pulled off a specific technical component.

If the skater has successfully completed a move, the box will turn green. If the skater didn't successfully pull it off, it'll turn red. A yellow box indicates that the judges aren't quite sure and will need to review it (if you notice, as you keep watching yellow boxes eventually turn either red or green). 

Part of me appreciated this as a tool for the casual viewer to know how a person was performing, but another part of me missed the suspense of not knowing how the scoring would come out. If you saw a guy with 2 red boxes, you already knew there was no chance, since the guy before him only had one. Anyhow, it’s like the yellow first-down line in the NFL - it’s probably here to stay.

I had a slightly humorous and mostly serious thought enter my mind. What if we, as humans living our day to day lives, had these green-yellow-red boxes appear whenever we made a choice or engaged in a behavior? What if others could see how we were scoring in terms of effectively living our daily lives?

Now, in order for this to work, we would have to be judged against something: a routine, a plan, a blueprint of sorts. Basically, we’d be judged against a standard for which we live our lives. Perhaps it’s a religious doctrine, or community norms, or at the minimum, laws and regulations. If you jay-walk, you’re definitely getting a red box. (or maybe yellow, since who really gets in trouble for jaywalking?)

In the workplace, maybe you are evaluated based on how well you perform your daily to-do list, or if you develop a new idea. In the classroom, you could get green boxes for paying attention and participating, and yellows for taking Buzzfeed quizzes instead. The guy next to you snoring, with his head dangerously close to laying on your shoulder, is off-the-charts red.

But what about fraternity and sorority life? For what would we earn green boxes next to our name?

The Ritual.

The Ritual is your routine, your plan, your blueprint. As soon as you are initiated, a series of gray boxes show up next to your name, and it's now your job to make them green. The Ritual will sometimes allow you to comfortably skate in a straight line, but will also ask you to pull off a quadruple axel on occasion. Are you up to the challenge?

For example, my fraternity’s Ritual asks me to be kind and generous to others, even strangers in need. That’s the foundation for the “Helping Hand” of Theta Chi. So, if today I was to walk idly past a person who has fallen down, that red box next to my name will be loud and obvious. If I was back in my college fraternity house, sitting across the breakfast table from a brother who is in clear emotional pain, what would my Ritual call upon me to do? Be worried but just walk away (red)? Say something motivational like “I’m sure things will get better” (yellow)? Or, clear my morning to spend in conversation with him so that I can get him the help he needs (green)? If I knew that a box would appear next to my name based on my decision, I might give it some additional thought.

But here’s the thing, we obviously do not have those boxes literally popping up for all to see. Our success and our mistakes are not always broadcast to the world. 

But imagine there is a panel of judges who can see them, and who would mark you up or down based on how well you perform. For fraternity, this panel might include your founders, your big brother/sister, your favorite alum, etc.

And most importantly, it includes you.

When you go to bed each night, look up in the sky and find your row of boxes. They are sitting there below your name. Was your routine - your Ritual - executed well? Did you deserve the yellows and reds you see, and can you make those green tomorrow?

Remember that in skating, a green box doesn't mean that a particular element was flawless...just that it was executed well. Your Ritual isn't calling upon you to be perfect, but it certainly will give your guidance on what will "score well." 

Let's go land those jumps.