The Role Of An Advisor (Psst…It’s In The Name!)

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One of my lovely UIFI groups. Frankly I just needed a picture, but advice related to advising can apply to facilitation as well :D.

 

Did you know “adviser” and “advisor” are both proper ways to spell the same exact thing? Go figure!

Hey folks, I’m Nik, and I’m an advisor – among other things. Throughout my time as a fraternity man I’ve advised students and have advised advisors, and there are few positions which have absorbed as many duties as that of an “advisor.” (In the fraternity space, anyway).

I’ll be completely honest: This topic was chosen as a part of a Twitter poll. It’s not a binding agreement, but one should do what they say they will do, and now I’m suffering from an overwhelming number of thoughts related to advising. The best way for me to work through the half dozen ideas I have is to start with a central idea and work my way out from there, so I hope to post several times about advising and advisors throughout the spring and summer, and this first post is going to focus on the core expectation of an advisor.

Advisor: Someone who gives advice

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? It sounds. . . too simple.

I actually looked the word up on Merriam Webster to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, because having worked in this world for almost seven years I can comfortably say that fraternity and sorority advisors do a whole lot more than advise. Advisors within our niche often find themselves managing people and their work, disciplining advisees, and may be expected to drive or enforce any number of initiatives.

Sometimes we expand the responsibilities of an advisory position because we care and want those we advise to have a near-perfect experience. Sometimes we extend ourselves because it’s subtly expected of us by our employers or if we were appointed to an advisory position by a national organization or college. Sometimes we walk into a position that someone else loaded up with responsibilities and don’t have the ambition, sense of urgency, or focus to make the role of an “advisor” something manageable.

There are plenty of tips I could offer, and will offer in another post, but for now I think it’d be wise to encourage every advisor within the fraternity and sorority space to look at the work they are doing and to determine how much of it falls within the definition of an advisor (“Someone who gives advice”) and how much of it extends beyond that basic definition. I think that it would also be wise that we, and by we I mean advisors and fraternity/sorority professionals, encourage a national effort to reduce and protect the expectations of chapter and council advisors as well as national traveling consultants.

But Why?

 

Imagine that your vehicle needs repair. You could go to the first auto shop you find, let them work, and pay what they ask you to pay. Many of us would rather compare two to three auto shops or ask someone with a knowledge of automobiles or who recently faced a similar issue. We turn to those we trust to offer reason or to those we trust to want the best for us. It is imperative that those who advise establish trust with their advisees.

I don’t believe that building trust is as individualized as we make it seem during leadership lectures. Trust will always develop through interactions which tend to be mutually beneficial. Some examples can include collaborative experiences, deep conversations, and keeping responsible promises. The greater the trust, the greater the chance that an advisor’s advice will carry impact. The greater the trust, the greater opportunity we have to intervene when intervention is the best possible scenario and the more open our communication will be with advisees.

It casts a shadow, then, when the advisors are saddled or take on conflicting responsibilities or interests.

No matter how many years you’ve worked where you’ve worked or advised whomever you’ve advised, you’re going to offer the best possible advice when you:

  1. Have established trust with those facing the challenge
  2. Understand the environment around a challenge
  3. Can suggest effective solutions at impactful moments

To get the best understanding of what’s happening and to gain an understanding of happening at the earliest opportunity for action requires a trusting relationship. Removing barriers to trusting, or more trusting, relationships such as conflicts of interest has the same effect of enacting amnesty rules/laws to encourage honest, more regular reporting of incidents.

Here’s a real world example:

While overseeing my Fraternity’s expansion efforts, I noticed that our results were becoming more “hit-and-miss” than the consistent excellence we had been accustomed to 1-2 years prior, and so I began to search for answers. I investigated the decisions and changes we had recently made to determine where the weak or missing links turned up, and determined that a few changes had unexpected or exaggerated effects on our work.

The greatest functional change we made was in the consulting we offered to our recruiters while they recruited on college campuses. In prior years we hired external consultants to visit with our recruiters on-site, to stick around for 3-4 days, to observe the entire growth process/environment, and to then coach our team to improve their performance – whether things were terrific or terrible.

I’ll never forget Woody Woodcock of Phired Up telling me at The Ohio State University in 2012 that, “Some conversations with potential members are just meant to be casual, curious conversations.” That simple advice is not what one would expect of an advisor eager to fulfill his or her bonus metrics, and it worked both to improve my communication skills and help me relax. In that same week, several well-connected students decided to join after holding out for a few weeks.

We rearranged that consulting support to visits from the Assistant Director, who also supervised the recruiting teams. While the external consultants provided what felt like career development, the shift to Fraternity staff consultants felt like micro-management, no matter how aware we were of trying to not micro-manage the recruiters. The removal of that external, neutral party affected our trust, which hurt our communication, which stifled our performance.

Advisor. It’s In The Name!

Think about which conflicts of interest may work against offering the best possible advice.

  • Tools & Platforms utilized by chapters should be determined by efficacy and ease of use, but it’s easy for an advisor to push a favorite platform, something they personally know how to use or something they helped create.
  • Fraternity professionals often encourage chapters to be different and not to compare themselves to other chapters – meanwhile all chapters on a campus or of a fraternity are often required to complete exhaustive checklists of standards, preventing any real opportunity to focus on something entirely unique.
  • Sometimes we take charge when we become frustrated or when we want to protect students – there are officer positions to handle that stuff. Our job is to help them understand how best to do it and how best to learn from success or failure.

Being an advisor is simple: Advise. Take an advisee’s situation into account and offer some options for them to make the best of that moment. Your advice may get turned down in favor of another’s advice; that’s fine!

If you are currently saddled with conflicts of interest, offer to advise in a different capacity or eliminate the conflicts as best you can. If you are currently working on behalf of those you advise then remember that you do not have to, and it may make you a better advisor to let your advisees fail from time to time.

You should be the person that an advisee feels comfortable turning to when they need to talk through a challenge. At the very least, limiting the scope of your role will prevent you from burning out, which won’t help anyone.

What are some questions, challenges or ideas you have for future posts on this topic?

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P.S. Shout out to Paul Lawson, Scott Wiley, Woody Woodcock, Andy Bremer, my parents and my sisters for their consistent, life-changing advice. There are even more of you; don’t worry ;).