Don’t Be A Checklist Leader

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Every great person, fraternity member or not, is remembered for one or two great accomplishments. Fraternities and sororities don’t teach that lesson properly.


Thomas Jefferson did many things. He exercised for two hours each day, served as an ambassador to France, served as President of the United States, wrote poetry, played music, designed his home, founded The University of Virginia and supposedly hosted great dinner parties. The legacy of Thomas Jefferson; however, is not any of these things, but the manner in which he approached leadership.

The Declaration of Independence was his greatest contribution to the world, and the single thing that will most define him, because it is uniquely his, singular in purpose, and defied the status quo.

Unfortunately for you, the leadership education, training and mentorship provided by your fraternity, sorority, or Greek Life campus community will never prepare you for such a feat. Only you can choose the unique addition you will offer to the world.

If what you are doing today isn’t preparing you for where you’d like to be in 5, 10 or 20 years, you may never make such an impact. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a diverse set of interests, Thomas Jefferson certainly did, but you may note that the rigidity of purpose of the Declaration of Independence fits with his other activities. He was a very disciplined man.

“As long as a leader has some core strategic belief, tactical flexibility can be a virtue”

-Thomas Jefferson

Consider then the get-rich-quick scheme of what we can call Checklist Leadership.

Your chapter is likely expected to complete any number of things. These are designed both to distract chapters from doing bad things, such as hazing or getting drunk every day, and to distract the public from the bad things chapters do.

The leaders of fraternities and sororities regularly say things such as, “no amount of service hours will make up for a lost life, and that’s why you need to stop that bad stuff.” Then, when required, we fire off statistics such as the quality of life of fraternity men and women after graduating college, or the number of hours we do nationally or as a campus community. . . Way to model the way!

Is that what we consider leadership?

In 2015 a team I worked with at Delta Sig adjusted our annual assessment. Instead of simply requiring a bunch of things, a section was added to allow chapters to choose those things that most appealed to them and to receive credit for them and we attempted to remove many arbitrary “paperwork” requirements (still a work in progress).

The hope was and is that a chapter would define its niche, what makes it special, and that we could one day get rid of the rest of the non-essential checklist (staying out of debt, having members and not getting into trouble will always be expectations) and instead encourage each chapter to built notoriety for the thing it is most interested it, whether it’s community service or professional development.

“Companies go out of business when they make the wrong decisions or make too many decisions. The latter creates complexity”

-Mike Maples

The chapters of a fraternity and sorority are all different. We call them “self-governing” for a reason, it is their job to decide how they will live out and spread the ritual and values of the national organization.

The fraternity and sorority chapters on one campus are different. Not only because they are parts of different organizations with unique rules and rituals, but because they can fill a unique niche on a campus.

It’s an ineffective decision to impose a checklist of publicity stunts on everyone and pretend that it is a surefire way to becoming a great chapter or to create great leaders. How do I know? The checklist changes with each new campus advisor or with each new director at a national organization. No one can seem to make up their minds or keep one checklist intact for more than a couple years without changes.

Despite these checklists, bad things continue to happen. The public are waking up. We are tired of people with fluffy resumes and street cleanup service hours.

So long as a chapter keeps itself out of trouble and offers needed value to the students or community, why attempt to push it to simply do what every other chapter does? It certainly doesn’t help a failing chapter to just try to fit in. Instead, throw out the checklist and force the chapter to define its value.

End checklist leadership. It’s killing the world. (See: Many members of Congress are fraternity men/women).