This might be a great post for those who are advising for the first time, who want to switch up their practices, or for chapter officers. The challenge of positional leadership is that it inevitably creates a divide between you and those you lead. Balancing the reality of being a brother and that of being in charge of your brothers is tricky business.
I, for example, focus most of my attention on maximizing self-government and niche development. Those two things seemed to fit me best in my time as a student leader, central office professional, and volunteer adviser. Everything I teach, from recruitment to budgeting, is shaped by those ideals. We will call such ideals the Advisory Compass; they define the direction you wish to nudge an organization.
It is no different than what I teach chapters in terms of managing their operations. There are many expectations (self-imposed or otherwise) for positional leaders. Limiting the directional scope of your work can help you be more efficient and effective. Here are some thoughts to develop your advisory compass:
Choose Your Direction In 2-3 Words
Identify two to three ideals before accepting a position. You can then see if the available positions allow you to work within those ideals. For example, I chose self-government and niche development. They aren't exclusively mine (you can adopt one or both) but they fit my interests, my personality, and my moral upbringing.
What have you noticed as necessary to whatever you consider "success"?
These ideals are things that you wish to move toward - even if progress moves at a snail's pace. Consider the limitations of your role and then what you can do to keep things moving toward one or more of those ideals before making any leadership decision.
Establish Trust - You Might Change Nothing
Students might ignore your advice. Sometimes it happens by accident and sometimes whatever you say didn't connect at the right time. Respecting that the decisions to be made are ultimately those of the students is the first step toward establishing real, persuasive trust - an essential tool for any leader or adviser.
There is an old saying that one will look for thief-like qualities if he already perceives another to be a thief. Be mindful to build relationships with those you advise. If you walk into a meeting or conversation with a preconceived idea of where your conversational partner is coming from then your advice and its delivery will fail you. Accept that your students might differ from you philosophically.
Communicate Your Direction
Being open and honest with your advisory compass furthers the trust you establish. You might feel as if it puts you in a box, but members don't tend to mind as long as you treat them as equal partners. They may even reach out to you specifically because they understand how you make decisions. You will notice if your ideals are getting in the way of progress. That just means a re-calibration of those ideals (word choice or your delivery) is in order.
I would always begin a "town hall" session by explaining how students shaped our fraternity when sent by my Fraternity to mend relationships with certain chapters. We would talk about rituals, and I would try to answer their questions as candidly and personally as possible. You don't need to drop f-bombs and Billboard Top 40 songs to connect with advisees; just respect them.
Ask, "Is That Workable?"
Sometimes people will nod without understanding or agreeing to what you are saying. This might be because they are embarrassed to admit that they do not understand what you are talking about (think doctor's office) or because they do not take your advice seriously.
A great workaround is asking whether or not something you suggest or offer is "workable." The reason I choose that word is that it requires the listener to consider what you are saying within their realm of possibility. If there is too much hesitation, ask what could make your advice "more workable." If there is an outright denial then ask what would be workable. (This is basically Dr. Lori Hart's "Ladder of Risk," but beyond risk)
Gossip Kills Trust. Do Not Do It.
Be who you are no matter who is in the room. Change your delivery, not your Advisory Compass, to connect with those in the room. Sometimes we act a certain way in a student's or another adviser's company but speak ill of them to other students or advisers. All this does is cast doubt on your trustworthiness.
Just as you need to form your judgment of students based on your personal experiences with them, you should allow them to form their own opinions of others. It can feel good to vent: save it for a therapist, a disconnected sibling/parent, prayer, or confession.
Acknowledge When You Are Not Breaking Through
There will be others who do not agree with your advisory compass or who just do not like you. It happens. If you are meeting lots of resistance then you might need to find a worthy substitute and move to a different role. You cannot be everyone's champion.
It is best to work where you can find common ground. Don't exhaust yourself trying to convince someone to change lifelong habits and beliefs. They may one day come to appreciate your way of thinking. . . or you might one day come to appreciate their way of thinking. Perception is reality, and you will be more productive with people open to your reality.
It is nice to learn from other fraternity advisers or leaders, but there are exceptional ideas and tools to build your advising capabilities beyond Greek Life. Try to read one book or complete one personal-development task aligned with your ideals throughout the year to keep your mind sharp and the ideas flowing.
Take breaks, too. It is good for the soul. Find a substitute if you don't want to leave your students or chapter without an adviser or officer for too long. There is one month out of the year in which I do not write any posts for FRATERNITY MAN. By the end of the month, my mind is racing with ideas and improvements for the site.
Turn Your Students Into Educators
If you are a Chapter President, for example, teach some members to teach your newest members how chapter meetings work. Pair them up with an initiated member and follow up when all is done to see how things went. Then, offer a new learning assignment to the pairs.
If you are an adviser then invite students to help you plan your personal goals and objectives. Ask them to come up with ideas that fit your directional/advisory compass. None of this needs to be related to your advisory position - it could be your career or educational goals. The process is educational; that's what is important. It gives advisees practice in developing and using ideals to guide decisions and is an easy exercise to recall when helping them with their own goals.
You want students to trust your advice. You must follow your advice and demonstrate that it is not only workable but helpful. Keep your word - Do What You Say You Will Do.
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