Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Yes, Leaders Are Born That Way

After years upon years of studying, observing, learning, and practicing leadership, I think I’ve arrived at the following conclusion:

Leaders are born, not created.

I know that it is now conventional wisdom to believe that leaders are made.  That every person has the capacity to learn to become a leader. 

Yes, become a leader.

But I don’t believe that anyone has to become a leader.  I believe they already came that way, straight out of the womb.

Leaders are born.  And since every person is born, every person is born a leader.

But wait – why then do we eventually see divisions between people – those who tend to be leaders and those who tend to be followers?  It’s not, in my opinion, because the leaders found the right education, books, seminars, etc., and followers did not.  It’s because while everyone is born a leader, too many of us opt out.

In summary, every person is born a leader and it becomes their choice to accept that (opt in) or refuse that (opt out). 

As a parent of three small children, I see innate leadership.  I see risk taking and creative problem-solving daily, which tends to drive me nuts.  But it’s there.  I see compassion and confidence, assertiveness and responsiveness.  All children are this way.  This is who they are, yet they didn’t attend a John Maxwell seminar.  They didn’t read a Simon Sinek book.

So, give this idea a chance and start with the premise that every child is born a leader.  What happens as they grow?

Psychologists tell us that babies are born with only 2 fears - the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises.  Every other fear is learned. Every other aspect that affects our confidence comes at us, not from within us.

All throughout childhood we are told "no" WAY more often than we are told "yes."  No, no, no, no no.  Don’t do that.  Don’t try that.  That’s too dangerous.  That’s not appropriate.  No, no, no.  Hence, some of the qualities of leadership, such as taking risks, creative thinking, and discovery, might begin to diminish.

Then, we start to hear different versions of no, such as “that’s not really your thing” or “I don’t think you can do that.”  And we start to believe it.

Then, with good intentions, we begin to learn about leadership and are given books on Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr.  And leadership begins to look like big charismatic earth-moving people.  It also starts to look like titles and positions.  To be a leader means to claim that you want to be president when you grow up.  

Slowly and methodically, our society begins to drum the leadership out of people by assigning only select traits and attributes to leaders.  You need to be a great orator.  You need to cast visions upon visions.  You need to be charming.  You need to be heroic.

And is it any wonder that after years of this, only a few people out of a hundred make it through the gauntlet feeling that leadership is something they possess?

One of the finest professional speakers/educators out there right now is Kevin Wanzer, and I love the message he tells about a child’s bowl of light, which is taken from Hawaiian culture.  I found a written version of this from the blog One Vibration:

In ancient times, in Hawaii and throughout the world, each child born was said to have a Bowl of Perfect Light. If the child was taught to respect and love his or her light, the child would grow in strength and health and could swim with the sharks, fly with the birds, and know and understand all things. 

If, however, the child got into pilikia, trouble, with thoughts of fear, worry, doubt, judgment, anger, resentment, envy, or jealousy, he or she would drop a stone into the Bowl of Light, and then some of the light would go out because light and stone cannot occupy the same space.
If the child continued to get stones in the bowl, the light would eventually go out, and the child would become a stone. Just like a stone, the child would no longer grow, nor was he or she capable of movement. However, as soon as the child tired of being a stone, all that was needed was to do kalana, forgive this aspect of himself or herself, and turn the bowl upside down to let the stones fall out. All the light could then shine again and grow even brighter than before.
Why does this matter?  It’s semantics after all.  The end result is that some people end up as leaders and some don’t, right?  It's no matter where it begins.

Well, for all of us who teach leadership and try to instill it into young people, what if we have been approaching it all wrong?  Our programs are based on the idea that in terms of leadership the students standing in front of us are formless lumps of clay that can be molded into leaders.

What if the student standing before you is already a fully-shaped leader that has been covered by the dust, dirt, and grime that comes from years of self-doubt and negative influences?  What if our task is to wipe that away? What if creating a leader out of a young person is actually reminding their inner being of the leader that has always been there?

I think our programs and their curriculums would be different.  I think the percentage of time spent in self-discovery and confidence building would grow tremendously.  Instead of approaching the workshops with the 3 or 5 or 10 steps/tips/qualities/characteristics of leaders, we would instead ask questions to help students dig deeper into their innate leadership qualities.

Let’s get even more interesting.  What if we scrapped leadership programs altogether and created programs for adults that teach them how to NOT throw rocks into a young person’s bowl of light.  If we diverted all of our time and resources there, might we end up with more people ready to opt into leadership?

It’s not to say there isn’t value in education that helps a person refine their leadership abilities.  We were also born with the ability to build, but we need training before we can make that skyscraper.

For those who lead organizations (such as fraternities or sororities), what about those apathetic, non-leader members who we get so worried about?  What is causing their disengagement?  Is it because they just haven’t attended the right leadership seminar, or heard the right keynote speaker?  Or, is it because they have many rocks in their bowl of light?  You are in a great position – through words and actions – to help them remove those rocks.

I will continue to work with and explore this idea, to see how it might impact my work.  For now, if you’re asking me to help you be a leader, prepare to undertake a journey of self-discovery to find the one you’ve always been.  I'm going to ask you to opt back in.

After all, I now believe leaders are born.


Monday, March 24, 2014

A Big Decision You Probably Didn’t Hear About, Most Fraternities Wouldn’t Make, And Why It Matters

[This is a guest essay from an anonymous writer, not affiliated with Beta Theta Pi or Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity]

The last few weeks have been interesting ones in the world of fraternity and sorority life.   

Sometimes history is made by opening new doors, and sometimes its made by closing old ones.

On March 7 Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity announced publicly that they would be eliminating their new member program and initiating members within 96 hours.  This bold and courageous move echoed throughout the social media world, pinning members and observers on both sides of the fence.  After being (ridiculously) deemed the “deadliest” fraternity by Bloomberg, Sigma Alpha Epsilon made a move their board and staff felt was right for them.

Buried deep in another fraternity newsletter, released last week, a different approach was taken to address the organizational challenge of hazing.  The letter was written by David E. Schmidt, Beta Theta Pi Fraternity General Secretary.  Schmidt eloquently addressed the fraternity membership about the recent closing of their Alpha chapter at Miami University.

The letter described hazing allegations including coerced alcohol consumption, forced calisthenics, and line ups.  The organization invested in the chapter several years ago and reorganized the membership.  Still, the culture of the chapter persisted and as Mr. Schmidt writes, “the lack of honesty, transparency and forthrightness the last several years, as well as during the recent investigations, severely undercut the chapter’s credibility and standing with the university, house corporation and General Fraternity.”

Both Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Beta Theta Pi deserve credit for their decisions, and each will be better off for having made them.  However, of the two, it’s the Beta decision that may matter more.  I see this as a tipping point for our industry.  Yet most people missed it.

To close a chapter takes tremendous will and self-discipline.  It also usually takes a death or media nightmare.  I have worked for or with campuses and headquarters who gave problematic chapters only a sideways glance, even when they knew hazing occurred or was occurring.   

Whether this hands-off philosophy is due to the size of the chapter (potential loss of revenue), prestige of the campus, or backlash from members and alumni, too often we sit back and do nothing.  Throw in the fact that tradition plays a huge role in our organizations and Alpha chapters are usually deemed as “untouchable”.  The move Beta Theta Pi made was potentially transforming.

Most fraternal organizations have accountability and discipline processes chapters go through after hazing violations are brought forth.  After several years of double secret probation, membership reviews, life support, another round of probation, change in advisory support, etc. the chapter is in the same place they were 20 years ago.  Beta Theta Pi stopped the cycle.  Instead of investing more time and money into a chapter culture that wasn’t able to change, they stopped.   

What a stunningly simple concept. 

I was recently having a conversation with a fraternity executive about volunteer leadership in our organizations.  He said if our boards led with ethics, we would have a financial downfall because we know most organizations need to close 50 percent of their chapters.  A well-known hazing expert recently claimed at least 75 percent of fraternities haze.  

Sigma Alpha Epsilon approached their firestorm by addressing the undergraduate members and trying to compel them to stop a behavior that is pervasive in most organizations.  They opted for some structural changes to try and influence the culture.  I don’t know how many chapters they have closed in the last few years because of hazing incidents that didn’t result in a death or lawsuit.  Like most of us, they likely cycled the chapters through the discipline process or reorganizations hoping to make a difference.
Think for a minute…
What if more organizations took Beta Theta Pi’s example and stopped the cycle? 
What if we hesitated less to close chapters that, as Schmidt states, “are unable or unwilling to take responsibility for their actions and commit as a unified group to re-align the chapter’s culture?”

For the last 10 years, our industry has focused on teaching the students to “live their ritual”, hold members accountable, bystander intervention, etc.  What if the answer wasn’t educating the members, but rather educating the fraternity and sorority decision-makers in the boardrooms? 
Thank you Mr. Schmidt and Beta Theta Pi for demonstrating ethical leadership.  Your quiet approach to a relentless problem was not overlooked.  You looked in the mirror and asked from your position, “what can I do to combat hazing," versus what do the members need to do.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

3 Reasons We Fail to Respect Our Elders

It’s a common refrain (usually delivered as an admonishment) that we should respect our elders more.  I tend to agree.

In the generational warfare that is all too common nowadays, the attacks seem to be coming from older generations to younger ones.  I dismiss a majority of these attacks, and find them to be tedious and boring.  Suffice to say, I don't think the younger generation will be a bunch of conversational delinquents because they like to communicate by text or Facebook.  Nor do I think my generation or older ones were conversational artists when we were teenagers either.

But, something that deserves more attention is how the younger generations regard the older ones.  Younger people have always seen older ones as "boring" or "old-fashioned" or "out of touch."  That will always be true.  The youth will always be Kevin Bacon from Footloose, and the old will always be John Lithgow.

When it gets concerning is when we ignore all that we can learn from the elders.  By elders I mean the advisors to your chapters or the alumni who still contribute to the fraternity as volunteers.  And I guess I'm referring to those with a little more gray hair than others.  Fraternity will be better when we can respect these individuals more, and here are three reasons why we often fail to do that:

1.  We impose the undergraduate frame of reference on our elders.

The biggest problem is an age-old one in fraternity life.  We see the fraternity experience as only our undergraduate years.  When we do that, then we put a box around the wisdom that our elders can provide.   We think that all they can offer is advice on how to experience those undergraduate years based on how they experienced them.  This makes their advice easy to dismiss because times indeed have changed in regard to how students experience college life.  I can tell you stories on what life was like when I was in school, but it’s hard for me to advise you on how to do it in 2014.

Because of that, we are missing the mark on the frame of reference our elders can really provide: how fraternity can influence our lives beyond and outside of the undergraduate years.  How powerful it is that we have in our midst individuals who have experienced several decades of living the values of fraternity.  If fraternity (and life itself) becomes more clear and more understood as we get older, then why wouldn't we want to learn from those who have achieved that deeper awareness?  Instead, we turn to these gray-haired sages in the back of the meeting room and ask them to tell is what Greek Week was like when they were in college.  Instead, we should be asking them to tell us what they've learned about brotherhood during the course of their lives.  And what lessons of the fraternity Ritual speak loudest to them now.  Simply put, the greatest gift that our older alumni can provide us is not how to be an undergraduate fraternity or sorority member, but how to be a lifelong fraternity man or sorority woman.

2.  The value of experience in developing wisdom has been diminished.

This is a societal problem.  We seem to be drifting away from the notion that experience is the best provider of wisdom.  Instead, we're more likely to take what our Twitter feed or internet search tells us instead of the older adults that surround us.  Theory and the next big idea trump practice and the ideas that have been tested.  Old age is more likely to carry with it notions of vapidity than wisdom these days.

I have made it a point in my life to position myself close to those with experience and those older than me.  I am one of the youngest in my Kiwanis Club, and I love it.  The stories I hear those other members tell provide me with a glimpse of wisdom earned by experience. When I hear a retired corporate executive gush about the weekend he spent with his grandchildren, it's a signal to me about what really matters in this world.  I have resisted joining young professional clubs because I have found that my peers, while being able to provide camaraderie and fun, can't provide the same level of life education. 

Experience is still the best teacher.  You can read all you want about swimming, but until you get into the water, none of it matters.  Don't rely on leadership lessons from charismatic 20-somethings who consulted for a year and then wrote a book with a catchy title.  Instead, learn leadership from the man or woman in the room who has worked throughout their lives with all types of people and who has witnessed the highs and lows of organizational life.

Experience takes the lofty ideals, and makes them real.  You can memorize the creed of your fraternity, but your older alumni can actually teach you about it.  What if fraternities and sororities helped lead a movement back towards the value of experience?  What if we talked about our inter-generational aspects more as an asset?  We should be proud of the opportunity we provide to bring together the wisdom of experience with the wonders of youth.

3.  Alumni are seen as parental figures rather than brothers or sisters. 

One of the great wonders of fraternity is that its Ritual becomes a bridge between all types of difference, including age.  Once you accept the oaths of membership, and the Ritual is revealed to you, you become equal as a brother or sister with all those who came before you.

When it comes to human connections, we often let superficial aspects – such as choices in clothing, music, or movies – crowd out much more significant similarities.  Does it matter that you like Walking Dead and he likes CSI when you've both spoken the same commitments to the same ideals?  

Perhaps if we change the lens on how we see our elders from “an authority to report to” to “a brother/sister to walk beside,” they may become more approachable to us.  And respect may be easier to bestow.  

Overall, our elders will make mistakes, and some of them can do more harm than good.  Yes, there are a few that stay involved for the wrong reasons or who try to pass along the poor choices they made as undergraduates to the next generation.  And yes, there are some who are moving too slowly in terms of diversity and acceptance.  But the vast majority can help your chapter grow because they provide the wisdom of experience.  And they can help you grow as well, because their frame of reference is unique to yours.  

Look past the superficial differences and you’ll see a sister.  Or a brother.  Someone to learn from.  Someone who has seen much of life, and provided much as well.  Someone who deserves our respect.  

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]

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Great Fraternity Garage Sale

What would you sell?  What's not for sale?

[Author's note: This week's essay is in support of National Ritual Celebration Week, which will be March 2-8, 2014.  Details follow the essay]

Clutter.  It's everywhere.   We have clutter in our closets, clutter on our desks, clutter in the passenger seat of our cars.  Television is cluttered with pointless programs; the roads are cluttered with traffic jams; your Facebook news feed is cluttered with ads and requests to play Candy Crush. 
With three small boys, I am faced with the challenge of clutter every single day.  We have lots of junk, and we keep accumulating more.  More action figures, more matchbox cars, more sports equipment.  I spend my mornings and nights dodging toys of all shapes and sizes. 

I think it might be time for a family garage sale!

In fraternity, we have a lot of clutter too.  Stuff and things we have accumulated over decades of our existence.  And, frankly, a lot of things that just don't matter (although good luck trying to take them away).  The clutter is getting so bad, that for many fraternities and sororities, it's covering up what really counts.  When many people see fraternities and sororities, all they see is the clutter and get confusing messages about what fraternity really is.

So - how might we clear away this clutter?  How about a Great Fraternity Garage Sale!  It's almost Spring, and so it's almost time for houses across this land to open their garages, set up their folding tables, and lay out everything they are willing to part with.  Let's try the same thing.  If we had a Great Fraternity Garage Sale, what would you sell and what would you keep?

When doing a real garage sale, you first assess your things and typically divide them into four
  • Things you are willing to sell, but they have value, so you would price them high and not negotiate too much.
  • Things you are willing to sell more eagerly, so you price them low and would negotiate even lower just to get rid of them.
  • Things you want to get rid of so badly, you would give them away for free.
  • Things that are not for sale.
What if we used this same criteria to try and clear away the clutter in all of fraternity and sorority life.  We have clutter in our chapters, in our councils, in our Greek communities, and in our national organizations. If I were to do this exercise, this is how my Great Fraternity Garage Sale might look, table by table.

Table #1: Priced high, but willing to sell
This category would refer to things that have some value, or some previous value, but aren't sacred.  Your grandpa's medals from the war wouldn't be in the category, but his old fishing pole might. 

I can think of a few things in the fraternity experience that I would classify this way.  For example, I would put houses in this list.  I've written on this blog before on how houses are a luxury, but not essential for a fraternity experience.  I enjoyed my time in a fraternity house as an undergraduate, but I don't think I'd be less of a Theta Chi without it.  I would also put big brother/sister programs here as well.  These can be helpful and significant if done correctly, but I don't think you change fraternity fundamentally if they go away.  

Another item that could go on this table is philanthropy events.  It would be even lower on the list, except for significant dollars raised by some organizations (e.g., Penn State Thon).  The reason many philanthropy projects could be considered clutter is because they're often presented more as intra-Greek social events that do not look very altruistic.  Ping pong tournaments and teeter-totter-a-thons may raise some money for a charity, but they give the appearance of a blithe approach to serious problems.    

Table #2: Priced low, and won't be too upset to see it go
This is where you put your old CDs or DVDs.  Maybe an old gaming system.  I can think of at least three big pieces of clutter in Greek life that should go here.  First is pledging.  If you've read this blog, you'll know I believe pledging is unnecessary.  It can be a nice educational program if done well, but it can also lead to hazing, divisions, and apathy.  Our founders and members of our groups for decades didn't have pledging or need it, and truly, neither do we. 

I would also put Formal Rush in this category.  This would refer to any structured and organized efforts to bring new members into our organizations.  While things like open houses, Rho Chi's, and Bid Day can be fun and exciting, we could survive on handshakes and word-of-mouth alone if needed.  And, because formal rush is rigid and restrictive, it can actually hinder growth.  So, I would probably mark it down all day until it's gone.  Fifty cents?  Sold.

A third item would be the concept of "Greek Community." How much time, energy, and dollars are spent in pursuit of an ideal in which all fraternities and sororities get along, look out for each other, and sacrifice for the greater good?  It's not wrong to desire these things, but competition and organizational autonomy are in our collective DNA.  I would be willing to sell this in favor of expecting that each chapter will perform up to its highest potential, and the community will grow stronger because of that.

This table would be pretty full.  Other items might include theme parties, most philanthropy projects (e.g., the ones disguised more as social events),  conventions, Greek Week, and standardized member development programs.

Table #3: Free - please take it away!
This table would feature mostly junk.  These are things that have no real value, such as a cassette walkman.  For fraternity and sorority life, we might put paddles, mugs, and the endless T-shirts here.  (BTW - those unfamiliar with Greek life, I'm referring to paddles like these).  These decorative trinkets can be fun, but completely irrelevant to the mission and purpose of our organizations.

I would also include test files here.  Sure, these could be used for positive reasons, but they look and feel an awful lot like organized cheating.  We don't need them anymore.  

Of course. this is where we should put the clutter that's endangering our future.  Hazing, for example.  Some chapters' culture of alcohol abuse makes this list.  Offensive party themes as well.  You know what?  We shouldn't even give these things away.  There's a dumpster out back.  

Essentially, I would be willing to sell most everything if necessary.  All except for one thing...

Not for sale
Ritual.  The one thing we should not be willing to let go of, for any price, is Ritual.  The Ritual is the foundation of the fraternity experience.  Within it are the values, the fraternity's purpose for being, and the gateway to true membership.  While I think there are a lot of things that distinguish fraternities from other organizations, the Ritual is truly the differentiator.

Ritual leads to everything else we love about the fraternity and sorority experience.  It creates brotherhood and sisterhood.  It places us on the path towards service.  It causes us to find higher and noble ways of being.  Imagine what our Greek Community would be like if every group was guided by the lessons in their Ritual?  

Again, it is not for sale.  It can't be. 

Yet, for how many chapters out there, would the Ritual be something they would let go of as easily as the ugly lamp in the basement?  These are the chapters that only pay attention to Ritual once a year (if that).  It's only an archaic ceremony to them, and something that stands between pledging and the initiation party.  I invite you to think differently about Ritual.  It should be protected and cherished as if it were a priceless treasure.  Because it is.  

It's the most valuable thing we own.  It's the sun to our solar system.

Truthfully, I enjoy most of the items I was willing to sell up above.  Many of those items bring fun and excitement to the fraternity experience.  But, if we really needed to drill down to the most essential thing we need, it's Ritual and nothing else.   That's the point of this essay.  We will still have a lot of clutter in the Greek experience, but it should always be regarded as clutter.  And if we stash it away, throw it away, or sell it away, fraternity will still carry on.  Because the Ritual is not for sale.

Let us not cheapen the Ritual either, but ignoring its teachings.  If we live the Ritual in our daily lives, then its value grows.  It's not like an old baseball glove or an old rocking horse, each of which wear down over time and because of neglect.  After decades of existence, the Ritual should look better today than ever before.  The more it's used, the stronger it gets.

If you have a fraternity or sorority house, it's probably full of a lot of clutter.  If I toured it, I would see nice furniture in the front room, rows of composite pictures on the walls, bulletin boards full of information, computers, televisions, pool tables, and much much more.  But while all of this can make a house a home, it's what's locked away in some chest somewhere in the back of a nondescript closet that really counts.  It's the Ritual books that teach us how to be, that inspire is to be more, and that give the energy to the fraternity experience.  If everything else had to go away, as long as we have the Ritual, we will carry on.

Phi Mu Fraternity invites all interfraternal Greek organizations and campuses with a fraternity/sorority community to participate in the fourth annual National Ritual Celebration Week, March 2 – 8, 2014.  The week will once again include the National Panhellenic Conference’s International Badge Day on Monday, March 3, 2014. 

Programming materials are available online at  Program materials have been created by Phi Mu, other inter/national Greek organizations, campuses, and individuals.

If you are interested in participating in National Ritual Celebration Week 2014 or contributing additional resource materials, please contact Gabby Leon, Director of Alumnae Engagement, at

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Love Your Brothers

"I don't have to like my players and associates, but as their leader, I must love them.  And, please believe me gentlemen, my love will be relentless." 
(Vince Lombardi)

In regards to the current improvement and future success of the fraternity movement, the Beatles had it right: All You Need is Love. 

Yes, love.

Let me offer this in a different way.  As fraternity men, we do not love our brothers enough, and if we loved our brothers more, we'd be in a better place.

I'm not speaking about romantic love, although that could happen.  I'm speaking about much more primal and original meaning of love - the act of extending yourself for others to make them better.   

C.S. Lewis said that,  “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  

In short, when you decide that love is more than a Nicholas Sparks novel or a Hugh Grant movie, you'll realize that love abounds in the fraternity experience.  Yes men, love is all around, and love is all you need.

It's hard for men to say "I love you" to each other.  It can feel awkward and unusual.  I remember the first time I decided to start saying it to my dad more frequently.  Ironically (or perhaps not), I made this decision while in college and while in my undergraduate fraternity years.  I decided one night to start ending our weekly phone conservations by saying "I love you" to my dad.  I wasn't sure what I would get on the other end of the line.  After a few seconds, the reply was "I love you too." 

If you have trouble saying those exact words to the men you call your brothers, understand that there are other ways to say it.  It gets back to understanding what love really means.

Loving your brothers means confronting them.  It means putting a halt to decisions that could ruin the lives of your brothers, or others around them.  It means stepping between a brother and potential disaster.  When you say "stop" or "no" to a brother, you are saying "I love you."

Loving your brothers means caring about their situation and their experiences.  It means observing a quivering lip or a watery eye, and putting your arm around him.  It means noticing someone's absence and taking the extra step to find him.  It means genuinely inquiring about their life.  When you say "how are you doing today" to a brother, you are saying "I love you."

Loving your brothers means pushing them.  It means challenging them to bring their best. It means getting them off the couch and to the meeting, or event, or service project.  It means acknowledging achievements and rewarding extra effort.  When you say "I expect more of you" to a brother, you are saying "I love you."

Love is central to the fraternity experience.  Love is central to the bonds that create brotherhood and sisterhood.  Love is another one of those cherished few aspects of fraternity that separate our organizations from every other.  When we forget the importance of love in the modern college fraternity, it's as though we're forgetting the fraternity itself.

If a person chooses to live life independently, to be the solitary climber on top of the mountain, then he may be able to avoid love.  Although, loving yourself may be the most important action any person can take.

When you elect to be a part of fraternity, and let fraternity be a part of you, you give up independence.  The same can be said for marriage, or bringing children into the world, or any other decision that involves intense relationships.  When you make those choices, you decide to begin sacrificing a part of who you are in order for the others in the relationship to thrive.  And they do it in turn for you.  This willing act to give yourself for others and be in community with them is a glorious expression of love.

And that's why love exists in every minute of the fraternity experience.  

Let's all strive to be better at loving our brothers.  It is not easy, but it's fairly simple.  If you've ever been to a wedding, likely you've heard the famous biblical passage about love found in Corinthians.  It can serve as a roadmap for how we can be better at love.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 
This passage wasn't written for weddings only, or even at all.  It was written, I believe, to attempt to describe the indescribable - to put into words the human experience.  To try and reflect the best of who we are as people.

And isn't that what we try to do in fraternity?  To strive to be an ideal expression of human connection?

Without getting too deep, I would just offer this:  If we accept love as the only way we can truly be brothers with each other, then we can realize our potential as organizations that bond men together.

And, it wouldn't hurt to say it more often as well.

And just because I'm not sure if I ever said it back long ago - to all my brothers from 310 North Bishop...I love you guys.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

College Rankings: A Rank Travesty

Enough with these college rankings already!

I know we’ve become a Buzzfeed-addicted, list-obsessed, top-10-hungry society (thanks a lot Dave Letterman), but let’s take it down a notch.  The lists and rankings associated with colleges and universities have grown ridiculous, and are given way too much airplay.

First of all, let’s remember that there are over 7,000 institutions of higher education in the United States alone, and nobody, absolutely nobody, can devise a way to rank them fairly.  The maker of your favorite “most beautiful college campuses in the U.S.” ranking has probably only been to the 10 that appear on his/her list.  There could be a State University of Hog Waller with a central campus pretty enough to make Leonardo DaVinci weep, but it’s not making that list.

If you are reading a ranking or list, do yourself a favor and make sure to read the criteria by which the list was devised.  Let’s examine the most well-known of them all – the U.S. News Best Colleges ranking.  Once you track down the selection criteria, you’ll find some interesting nuggets of information, such as the fact that they say the criteria can change from one year to the next.  Also, graduation rates matter less than faculty salaries.  A university can’t even make the list if it doesn’t use ACT or SAT scores for admission, or if it has a higher number of non-traditional students.  

I’ll give U.S. News credit for trying to take a complex system and give it some order, and my criticism is more in how these rankings are promoted and used as “the” standard for how to select a college or university.  There is also danger in college administrators making decisions not based on institutional mission, but on how to move up the charts!

This line can be found when digging through their criteria: “The host of intangibles that make up the college experience can't be measured by a series of data points.”  Every press release about these rankings should start with that sentence.

When it comes to bad methodology and criteria, Newsweek takes the gold medal with its ranking of the top 25 college fraternities.  Did you see this one get passed around on Facebook along with a little false bravado?  Here is what Newsweek lists as its criteria (with some commentary from yours truly):

"We first considered the number of active collegiate chapters for each."
Sounds reasonable right?  Size matters after all.  Well consider how this criteria rewards fraternities that keep terrible and dangerous chapters open. 

"We also considered the number of alumni who are currently members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the alumni, if any, who became president."
The U.S. Congress has an approval rate of 13%.  Maybe they should have considered fraternities that have kept their members out of that dysfunctional cesspool.  Your fraternity could have graduated someone who solved the clean water crisis in Africa, but you’ll fall below the one across the street that graduated someone like Anthony Weiner.

"Lastly, we considered the amount of money the fraternity's non-profit fund donated to 501(c)(3) organizations."

Most fraternities have a foundation that is focused on supporting the education and growth of the chapters and their members.  That’s what supporting foundations are supposed to do.  If your fraternity’s foundation is collecting and shipping off funds to other nonprofits, you may want to ask about that at the next convention.  Nothing against philanthropy and supporting charitable causes, but that’s what the chapters are supposed to do.  That’s what fulfilling the mission and values of the organization is all about.  Your foundation is there for you!

This is the criteria by which to measure fraternity excellence?  What about academics, leadership development, character education, etc.? 

If you think this rant against rankings is sour grapes, please know that I attended a university that frequently appears on ranking lists (Miami University) and my fraternity (Theta Chi) was ranked #4 on the Newsweek list I just sought to discredit.  I just know now how dumb these lists can be.

So what should we do instead?  If you are a high school student searching for your college or university, or a first-year student searching for your fraternity or sorority, I encourage you to set the rankings aside and consider something much more important:  fit.

When you step onto that campus, or into that fraternity house, does it feel like a place in which you can have a significant experience?  When you meet the professors, fellow students, and members, can you imagine them helping you grow?  Is there a balance of comfort and challenge?  What does your gut say?  Probably something wiser than the Huffington Post could ever tell you.

Yes – I get it.  Rankings can be a conversation-starter.  They can be a way to start your journey.  If you must use them, be cautious.  Find the fine print and read the selection criteria.  

And for those of you who just can’t get by without a ranking system or list of some kind…allow me to present to you the official Fraternal Thoughts ranking of  the Nation’s Top College for overall Research, Food Service, Biking Trails, Tailgating, Tradition, School Spirit, Parking, Marching Bands, Environmental Friendliness, Residence Hall Ceiling Height, Wednesday Night Social Scene, Ornamental Shrubbery, and Campus Chipmunk Obesity, with the prettiest campuses, best mascots, and friendliest students:

1. Yours!*

*You may now share this enthusiastically on social media.