9 More Thoughts On Advising: “Advisory Compass”

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This might be a great post for those who are advising for the first time, who want to switch up their practices for a little while, and for student leaders – particularly chapter officers – as they navigate the space between formal responsibility.

I focus most of my attention on maximizing self government and niche development in fraternity chapters. Those are two general ideals I found through my time as a student leader, fraternity professional and volunteer adviser to be the most essential to a chapter’s long term stability. Everything I teach, from recruitment to budgeting, is shaped by those ideals. We can call these an Advisory Compass; they define the direction you wish for things to move.

This is no different than what I teach chapters in terms of managing their operations. There are so many different functions of an advisory position or a chapter leader that it is helpful to select some guiding themes (values) to align with. Just offer advice that heads in the direction of your guiding principles.

Choose Your Direction In 2-3 Words

When offered the position of an adviser take time to define 2-3 key ideals to focus on. As I mentioned I chose self-government and niche development. They aren’t exclusively mine. . . please take them, but you can choose those which fit your experiences. What have you noticed as necessary to the success your students are looking for?

These ideals will serve as your directional compass; they are things that you ultimately want to move toward even if progress is minimal. Whenever you make a decision, consider first the limitations of your role and then what you can do to keep things moving toward one or more of those ideals.

Establish Trust – You Might Change Nothing

Students might ignore your advice. Sometimes it happens on 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 if you presume someone to be a thief that you will be more perceptive to those qualities which confirm your bias. Be mindful to build your own 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 you are going to be ineffective when you try to offer advice. Accept that your students might differ from you philosophically.

Communicate Your Direction

Being open and honest with the direction in which you wish for things to move is an important step in furthering the trust you establish. You might feel as if it puts you in a box, but as long as students see that you are willing to meet them where they are at, they don’t mind – and might reach out to you specifically because of – the values that go in to making your decisions. You will notice if your ideals are getting in the way, and that means a re-calibration of those ideals or your role might be helpful.

Students spend less time wondering whether you are delivering a canned response handed down from someone higher up on the ladder when you are upfront with your intentions. If I visited a chapter with a strained relationship to our national office I would always begin with some ritual, how students shaped our fraternity, and then would answer their questions as candidly 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 with what you are saying. This might be because they are embarrassed to admit that they do not understand what you are talking about (something many of us experience when visiting a 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,” and the reason I choose that word is because it requires that a student (or prospective customer) considers what you are saying to be within the realm of possibility. If there is too much hesitation, ask what could make something “more workable.” If there is an outright denial then ask what would be workable. 

Gossip Kills Trust. Do Not Do It.

Be who you are no matter who is in the room. Change your delivery to fit your audience, not your Advisory Compass. 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 create doubt about whether or not you are trustworthy. 

Just as you need to form your own judgement of students based on your personal experiences with them, you should give them the opportunity to form their own opinions of others rather than fanning the flames. 

Acknowledge When You Are Not Breaking Through

There will be one or many students/colleagues who do not agree with the direction in which you would like to move 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, move to a different role or adjust how you word your advisory compass.

It is best to work where you can find common ground then to 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. 

Look Outside

It is nice to talk to and vent with other fraternity/sorority advisers or leaders, but there are exceptional ideas and tools to build your advising capabilities outside of the limited scope of fraternity work. 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. 

Also – take a break every once in a while. 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. 

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 and if anything else should be done to help the new members feel comfortable and confident during meetings (They’ve only got 3.5 years, don’t waste time). 

If you are an adviser then invite students to help you plan your personal goals and objectives. Ask them to hold you accountable to your ideals and to come up with ideas for things you can do. None of this needs to be related to those you advise – it could be your career or educational goals. This gives them  practice in developing and using ideals to guide decisions and is an easy thing to recall when advising them to do so. 


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. 

What advice do you have to share?