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. 


1 comment:

  1. I sent this on to my niece, Dr. Jenny Bloom, a professor at Florida Atlantic University who created a program called Appreciative Advising. She and Steve Kerr would be on the same wavelength! And Steve Kerr graduated from the University of Arizona the same year my daughter, Kristi, did. John Bloom