Category Archives: situational forces

From Passive to Powerful

DSC_1048

Mike Dilbeck is the founder of RESPONSE ABILITY and speaks to audiences around the country about bystander intervention and courageous leadership. Brother Dilbeck is an initiate of Sigma Nu’s Lambda Epsilon Chapter at Texas Christian University.

Like many of you, I have been paying close attention to all the news regarding the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma. As someone who visits campuses and speaks to tens of thousands of college students each year, I often think I have heard it all. However, I wasn’t prepared for this. Maybe it was because I had just seen the inspiring footage over the weekend of the tens of thousands of people marching in Selma, Alabama. Maybe it was because of the tears I shed as I listened to our president’s remarks in front of that bridge. Maybe it’s because the actions were just outright abhorrent and, as OU President Boren swiftly and powerfully said, “disgraceful.”

Even amidst all of my personal feelings, I know this is not who we are as members of the national fraternity and sorority community. I know this is not what Sigma Alpha Epsilon is truly about. I know this is not what represents the millions of us committed to dignity and respect for all. However, this is an opportunity for all of us all to pause and reflect on why something so divisive and offensive can happen at all.

There are many different ways to look at this incident and, rather than address the actions of the perpetrators, which most people will do, I want to explore the actions of another group of people involved: the bystanders. Anyone who was on that bus at the time of this racist chant and wasn’t participating in the activity is a bystander. Whether they wanted to be or not. Whether they chose to be or not. Whether they liked it or not. The simple fact is: when we see or hear something — anything — being done or said, we are a bystander.

What kind of bystander are you?

Now, here’s the question for them and all of us to ponder: what kind of bystander are we going to be? When we witness or hear anything that is inappropriate, offensive, unsafe, unhealthy, unlawful, dishonorable, or just plain wrong, we have a momentary choice to make. Are we going to stay silent, walk away, or laugh along? In other words, be a passive bystander? Or, are we going to choose to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right? In other words, be a powerful bystander? This is the choice we have — and we do make a choice, whether we experience making one or not.

We don’t know everything that happened on that bus this past weekend, but what has already become clear is there were both types of bystanders in reaction to the offensive and hurtful actions of a few. First, we know of at least one powerful bystander — someone who chose to take out their smartphone and record video of the chant. Then, hand that video over to someone who could do something with it to make a difference. By now, you already know that this video has gone viral and caused the SAE chapter being closed, all brothers moving out of the house, and the expulsion of two students. This action has also elevated the already-existing national conversation on race.

The reality is that we are expecting college students to do something that many will argue they are not developmentally ready to do.

As the founder of RESPONSE ABILITY, a program on bystander intervention and courageous leadership, I share various actions available to each of us in being a powerful bystander and intervening to prevent, end, or diffuse a problem situation. One of these actions is to do exactly what this bystander did — record video. This can be a powerful and safe alternative to direct, in-your-face confrontation to a behavior (which is also sometimes appropriate). They made the momentary choice to go beyond whatever fear they may have had and take some form of action to intervene. What this bystander did was brilliant and very effective. What this bystander did was demonstrate courageous leadership.

Which brings us to the other bystanders on the bus that evening. I want to believe there were more students who had a gut response that this chant was wrong. Granted, there will be more details to come out and we may very well find out that others did do something. However, my skepticism — even my own cynicism — doubts that anyone did. I fear that every other bystander that evening chose to be passive.

The reality is that we are expecting college students to do something that many will argue they are not developmentally ready to do. We are asking them to go beyond a deep-seated and real fear of standing up to their fellow peers and taking great risks in doing so. We are asking them to be bigger than they know themselves to be. Yes, we are asking this — not only of them, but of us all. Even though these students are at a distinct time in their lives, it takes something from all of us to do what we are not comfortable doing. There is nothing comfortable about intervening, regardless of age. Nothing! For many of us, this may be the greatest fear we have. Yet, none of this excuses us from tolerating the abusive, offensive, hurtful, and violent behavior we witness in our lives.

Are you going to give yourself permission to go from passive to powerful in order to be the man you have committed yourself to be?

To be clear, I am not telling you what choice you should make — this is up to you. My mission in life is to wake us all up to the opportunity we have to go past that which stops us in making the difference we are out to make. To empower us all to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right. To give us all permission to go from passive to powerful.

So, whether you are a college student, a parent, an employee, an employer, a spouse, a community activist, or any other role in life, you are a Sigma Nu. You are a man who has given your oath to the values of Love, Honor, and Truth. No matter how long ago it was when you were initiated as a Knight in Sigma Nu, you took a lifelong oath to uphold — and live by — these values.

Which brings us to my final question: are you going to live these values in your life at all times — or just when it is convenient and comfortable? Are you going to let these values guide you and empower you to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right — or turn your back on them and experience the shame and guilt from doing so? Are you going to give yourself permission to go from passive to powerful in order to be the man you have committed yourself to be?

When we do live from these values and make the choice to take an appropriate, effective, and safe action to intervene, I call this courageous leadership. And, I do truly believe in our ability to respond to any form of discrimination, sexual violence, corruption, cheating, bullying, hazing, and other issues by going beyond our shame and fear to demonstrate courage in momentary choices.

For colleagues. For family. For friends. For strangers.

In organizations. In business. In community. In life.

If you would like to empower yourself — and others — in making this kind of difference, I invite you to join The Revolution for Courageous Leadership by visiting our website. Here, you will get exclusive access to valuable and free resources, including the recently-published eBook, “The Manifesto for Courageous Leadership.” Mike’s personal website is mikedilbeck.com.

Mike Dilbeck

Are We Bemoaning ‘Animal House’ For the Wrong Reasons?

Most of us accept the idea that movies like Animal House and Old School haven’t been so great for fraternity stereotypes. But lately I’ve been wondering if we tend to overestimate the impact such movies have had on public perceptions of Greek life while overlooking a far more damaging effect.

It shouldn’t be too controversial to acknowledge that some parts of famous Greek life movies and TV shows were based on real life. We know the writer for ABC Family’s Greek joined a sorority in college, from which she drew ideas for the show. The Old School writers didn’t come up with those ideas out of thin air. Some were parodies while others were sensationalized (or both), but it’s safe to say most were based on someone’s experience, albeit a false one.

Rather than creating the negative stereotypes we live with today, it’s more likely that pop culture’s attempts at depicting Greek life have merely confirmed what people already thought.

Though I’m confident fraternity life would be better off had Animal House never been made, I can live with art [poorly and inaccurately] imitating life. What’s more concerning — and what’s far more damaging than merely perpetuating existing stereotypes — is when life tries to imitate art.

Researchers at Ohio State University may have confirmed that very concern this month with a new study examining “experience-taking,” in which subjects subconsciously absorb the behaviors of a fictional character.

When you “lose yourself” inside the world of a fictional character while reading a story, you may actually end up changing your own behavior and thoughts to match that of the character, a new study suggests.

Watching parody movies or reciting jokes from satire websites might seem harmless enough at first. Before you know it, though, and without even realizing it, those jokes and movie quotes seep into the culture of your chapter, gradually reinforcing the insidious behaviors that lead chapters to certain failure.

Watch the movies if you must, but for heaven’s sake, don’t reenact the scenes.

[HT Will Wilkinson]

//Nathaniel Clarkson

The psychology of clinging to bad strategies

Here are some excerpts from Tim Hartford’s excellent piece in Fast Company:

While poker can be analyzed rationally, with big egos and big money at stake it can also be a very emotional game. Poker players explained to me that there’s a particular moment at which players are extremely vulnerable to an emotional surge

The economist Terrance Odean has found that we tend to hang on grimly, and wrongly, to shares that have plunged in the hope that things will turn around. We are far happier to sell shares that have been doing well. Unfortunately, selling winners and holding on to losers has in retrospect been poor investment strategy.

Most of the examples in this article deal with money, so what’s this to do with fraternity and student leadership? The closing paragraph offers a hint:

All four examples — poker, Paris, Deal or No Deal and share portfolios — show a dogged determination to avoid crystallizing a loss or drawing a line under a decision we regret. That dogged determination might occasionally be helpful, but it is counterproductive in all these cases and in many others. Faced with a mistake or a loss, the right response is to acknowledge the setback and change direction. Yet our instinctive reaction is denial. That is why “learn from your mistakes” is wise advice that is painfully hard to take.

Can you or your chapter relate to this instinctive emotional response to setbacks? Leave your stories in the comments section below.

Read the full story here.

 

7 Books Every Fraternity Leader Should Read This Summer

1. The Lucifer Effect by Philip Zimbardo

Creator of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment asks, Why do good people commit evil acts? Zimbardo explains how cognitive dissonance, groupthink and other elements of behavioral psychology contribute to breakdowns in group decision making.

For fraternities, self-awareness can be a powerful anecdote to hazing. Mere knowledge of these group psychology phenomena is sometimes all it takes to change a chapter for the better.

2. Building Leaders the West Point Way by Major General Joseph P. Franklin

Think one of the nation’s premier leadership labs creates leaders through hazing? Think again:

“I handled this abuse as well as anyone, I guess, but I couldn’t help wondering what was going on. On the one hand, I was required to commit to memory this great pronouncement by Schofield and his farsighted, thoughtful approach to discipline; on the other hand, my day was an endless barrage of insults and threatened punishments. There seemed to be a clear and obvious contradiction, and yet nobody bothered to express it!

3. Strategic Intuition: The Creative Spark in Human Achievement by William Duggan

A refreshing complement to strategic planning. The best ideas often arrive as a flash of insight when we least expect it.

4. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

“A provocative new book about the psychological forces that lead us to disregard facts or logic and behave in surprisingly irrational ways.” -New York Times

5. Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson

“A revelatory study of how lovers, lawyers, doctors, politicians–and all of us–pull the wool over our own eyes. The politician who can’t apologize, the torturer who feels no guilt, the co-worker who’ll say anything to win an argument–in case you’ve ever wondered how such people can sleep at night, Mistakes Were Made supplies some intriguing and useful insights…Reading it, we recognize the behavior of our leaders, our loved ones, and–if we’re honest–ourselves.” -Francis Prose

6. Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Confusing correlation with causation is a common source of ill-advised decision making, leading us to make important decisions based on a false interpretation of data. By explaining the “hidden role of chance,” Taleb encourages readers to consider the possibility of randomness in attempting to connect the dots of life’s everyday events.

From chapters that credit hazing with creating a strong brotherhood (rather than the shared positive experiences) to the recruitment chairman who mistakenly concludes that parties produced a record candidate class (ignoring a campus-wide increase), Fooled by Randomness holds insightful parallels for fraternity leaders.

7. The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey

What could tennis possibly have to do with student leadership? This sports psychology classic was written to help players improve their tennis swing, but each lesson begs a parallel to leadership. From creating self-awareness by filming and watching your own swing (evaluating your chapter’s progress) to creating a vision of your ideal shot (strategic planning and visionary leadership), The Inner Game of Tennis teaches leaders to watch for advice from unexpected sources.

BONUS: The Story of Sigma Nu by John C. Scott (Purdue)

The story of three men who challenged the status quo.

How Does a Group Change What You Think?

The Wall Street Journal reports:

How is it that so many people started saying “Awesome!”, or started wearing Uggs?

These are examples of how individuals’ behavior is shaped by what people around them consider appropriate, correct or desirable. Researchers are investigating how human behavioral norms are established in groups and how they evolve over time, in hopes of learning how to exert more influence when it comes to promoting health, marketing products or reducing prejudice.

Have you observed how behavioral norms are established in your chapter? If your chapter needed to make a serious change (e.g. reforming a questionable practice during candidate education) what members would you need on board to shift what is considered acceptable by the others?

Here’s another excerpt on the power of leaders to shape the culture of an organization:

Group leaders, however, help perpetuate or shift the norm. Unlike innovators, leaders tend to be high-status “superconformists,” embodying the group’s most-typical characteristics or aspirations, says Deborah Prentice, a social psychologist at Princeton University. People inside and outside the group tend to infer the group’s norms by examining these leaders’ behaviors.

As the oft-repeated phrase goes, the fastest way to change the culture of a chapter is the behavior of the leadership. With such influence over the accepted norms of behavior, leaders must be the paragon of conduct at all times.

The story then offers a word of caution on observing the behavior of others:

The researchers found students often overestimated how much others drank. The amount students reported drinking was closely related to their beliefs about how much others drank: Students who thought others drank more tended to report drinking more.

What do you think? Are leaders merely products of their group or do they possess the potential to change a group for the better?

The full story is worth a read.

What Drives a Culture Change?

After a series of embarrassing events this semester, Duke University president asked students in this letter to join him in starting a culture change.

Here’s my favorite part:

Duke’s best tradition is that it’s not stuck in traditions.

Tradition is great; blind devotion to any and all traditions is not so great.  Arbitrary traditions that result in boorish behavior and damage an institution’s reputation deserve to be questioned.

Hazing thrives on indifference and inaction

C.S. Lewis sheds light on the insidious temptation of compromising personal values to gain group acceptance:

To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors.  Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear.  Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still–just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naive or a prig–the hint will come.  It will be the hint of something, which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play, something that the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand.  Something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about, but something, says your new friend, which “we”–and the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure–something “we always do.”  And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.  It would be so terrible so see the other man’s face–that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face–turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit.  It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school.  But you will be a scoundrel.

-C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 84 other followers