I am convinced that there is no line of work that can quite compare to that of working at a fraternity headquarters. I spent five-plus years with one.
Add those five-plus years to my time as an undergraduate member (and office-holder) and my fraternity experience is closing in on a decade!
In my time on Delta Sigma Phi’s staff I worked as a recruiter to establish new chapters, I consulted for several chapters, and managed our growth and chapter services operations.
In that same amount of time I learned to make bow ties, started two fraternity-related blogs (Hey! That’s where you are now!), moved to Charleston, SC and back, and read a bunch of Ron Paul stuff. . . what a whirlwind!
My opinions or advice may not be worth your dollar, but here are some things I’ve learned working for my fraternity’s HQ.
Leadership Is A Skill Set Requiring Practice
There are habits and practices utilized to help people become great leaders, and it pays to make those a more regular part of your own actions. That is what the majority of leadership programming teaches.
Real world practice is required to make any use of your skills. The saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” is true. Many of us think that attending dozens of programs has turned us into experts of leadership, but expertise requires practical application.
If that were not true, Hermione would be a better witch than Harry a wizard. . . For those of you who aren’t Harry Potter nerds: Would you rather a learned and practiced surgeon perform your facelift or one who has read all the books on facelifts with minimal practice?
We have many “experts” with little to no practical application in our field. Recall – the average age of a person working with fraternities/sororities is 28. Many leadership programs focus on individualizing which practices or values best suit a person, but don’t set basic standards for what it takes to be considered a great, ethical leader. To “model the way,” as they say, we set an expectation of what is required of a great leader and the common ethical standards a great leader should exemplify.
The Fraternity/Sorority World Lacks Real Competition
The coordinated efforts of fraternities and sororities to improve their position in society, to improve the fact that they are some of the most expensive things to insure next to nuclear power plants, and to improve their ability to “benefit their communities” have either failed or flatlined.
After years of experiencing “The Fraternal Values Movement,” as a student and several more years as a professional fraternity staff member, I can say that very little of what we teach, spend money on or require seems to make additional headway in addressing our greatest challenges. The people who choose what’s acceptable have agreed that service, philanthropy, leadership and values education are the way to make the Rolling Stone not hate us anymore. . . We we are still waiting for that to be the case.
People I’ve known through work put an intense focus on communities at the expense of individual organizations. College campuses establish “common values” that all fraternities and sororities share, effectively smudging the individuality of their community members. National organizations band together and speak in unison and talk up those same, self-depreciating publicity ploys to negate bad news.
Real competition would mean that fraternities compare themselves to others based on the output and quality of their memberships. To compete, we’d have to better support our network of members in their professional lives and students would need to stop recruiting fools. . . problems largely solved.
Find And Be Yourself
Reflection is underrated. My fraternity experience helped me grow into myself. I began to realize that the more I embraced my quirks, my masculine and feminine traits, my creativity and so-on, the more I was liked and embraced by my peers.
For many men, a fraternity is a unique way of finding oneself and of building self esteem. That happens naturally through the relationships we build in college and beyond. I can’t suggest that all, most or a plurality of members have a similar experience, but every interesting person in history seems to think that embracing yourself is part of the recipe to success.
My time working at Delta Sigma Phi was phenomenal for that reason. To compliment a great college experience, I was given years of opportunities to refine my relationship building, strategic planning and writing skills. Your best contribution to the world must be your own. If you are in the mood to take advice: don’t follow anyone else’s playbook. Don’t even take this blog post too seriously.
Don’t Dress Like/Be An Idiot
My first few years on staff I carried my college attire into professionalism. It was a hit for a while, and people would annoyingly refer to my choice to wear loud colors and bow ties all day every day.
Do yourself a favor a read a book or blog on style, then adjust your wardrobe accordingly. On that note, since you won’t be dressing like an idiot, you have no need to act like one. Treat other people with respect and focus on making you and your life better. Everything you do is a choice.
If You Have A Team, Trust Them
If you are lucky enough to have a team, whether that is a chapter, a committee, an executive board, a staff or a department, be wise and trust their feedback. There is truth in the rantings of your angriest, “goodness he’s still complaining,” customer.
My first term as a chapter president was not my best. I felt like I needed to ram change down my chapter brothers’ throats and those who disagreed chose to do so openly. Over the summer I decided that I should loosen up with the responsibilities I placed on myself and take feedback seriously.
I’ve been reminded of that decision repeatedly, and it is always for the better. The people who experience your work and those who work with you know what is going on, what is right and what is wrong. Listen to what they are saying, notice patterns, adjust accordingly. John Legere turned T-Mobile from failing wireless provider to the fastest growing which now competes with Verizon for service quality. . . this is his advice too.
College Men Are Smart, But Stifled
I have met some brilliant students. I’ve bought products from men I recruited in my first year of staff and have occasionally left a conversation feeling mesmerized or intimidated by the talent of today’s college students. Forget the haters; our young men are bright and we should be so lucky that they join our friend clubs.
We (non-students) need to trust that more decisions be made by our students and need to simplify our efforts to focus on amplifying our members’ brilliance. It is the creation of a networking platform that wins fraternities/sororities the loyalty of their membership and exposure to real-world risk will encourage leaner, safer, smarter undergraduate chapters.
Studies report that the way you speak of people affects the manner in which they act. If we keep degrading our young men, they’ll continue to degrade. Some folks talk a big game when it comes to social justice, but they seem far more interested in technicalities than effectiveness.
Our organizations were established by college-aged men (sometimes as young as 16 years old!). Students have not become more stupid; they are simply being over-managed.
Fraternity Is Relationships. Plain And Simple.
Handshakes lead to conversations, conversations lead to relationships, relationships lead to organizations and organizations change the world.
Ever since I saw a presentation by a Phired Up man in my sophomore year of college I have been repeatedly exposed to Phired Up’s products and teachings, and had the great opportunity to work with many of their team during my time on staff.
I wholeheartedly believe saying. The relationships between our theoretically high-caliber members are enough to change the world. This blog has gone as far as to credit major civil rights victories to fraternities and sororities.
Many are quick to associate the value of fraternities and sororities with parties, educational programming, ritual, service or leadership. Each and any of those can and have been copied by any other type of organization. What makes us unique is our focus on family-like friendships.
If we want fraternity and sorority to be of value to society, our key priority must be to create platforms for our members to connect and grow on their own – to create those random, life-changing moments like the ones I am so thankful for as I write this post.
Well there we go. A cute, simple, slightly egoist way of finishing up just over five years working for my fraternity. I consider myself a fraternity man for life, and so I am only changing the vehicle I use to engage with my fraternity.