Category Archives: situational forces

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 presciently explains the insidious allure of belonging to a group:

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

Can Lack of Diversity Lead to Groupthink?

The following is a guest post from Leadership Consultant Marcus Baum.

I remember meeting with a Commander in the fall who explained to me that “we have a really diverse group of guys in the chapter.”

I looked at him with amazement and asked, “Really?”

His response was, “Well, for a group of white, middle (to upper)-class guys, we are pretty diverse.”

This so-called “diversity” was not present. Open minds and sound chapter operations also ceased to exist.  It would be inaccurate to state that this correlation is directly linked to a lack of racial diversity within the chapter, but it did get me thinking about the benefits that could exist with diversity amongst chapter members.

“Diversity” appears to be the buzzword floating around the offices of higher education professionals all around the country, and rightfully so. Most students hear the term “diversity,” have one definition in mind, but may not realize why having a racially diverse chapter can be towards their benefit.

In the study, “Theoretical Foundations for the Effect of Diversity,” published in the Harvard Educational Review, the authors identify the key benefits of diversity in a variety of higher education entities.  Here are some of the key points relating to learning outcomes and how they relate to student organizations:

Racial and ethnic diversity may promote a broad range of educational outcomes, but we focus on two general categories. Learning outcomes include active thinking skills, intellectual engagement and motivation, and a variety of academic skills. Democracy outcomes include perspective-taking, citizenship engagement, racial and cultural understanding, and judgment of the compatibility among different groups in a democracy.

Oftentimes people become focused on their immediate surroundings, failing to acknowledge the greater world around them.  This limited view will translate poorly when individuals enter the workforce, particularly an extremely diversified workforce.

The impact of diversity on learning and democracy outcomes is believed to be especially important during the college years because students are at a critical developmental stage, which takes place in institutions explicitly constituted to promote late adolescent development.

College serves as a vehicle for development amongst students.  Organizations, and students alike, limit their developmental potential by excluding others and limiting their exposure to different views.

Based on the article “Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity,” found in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science…

The authors posit that AIM (all-inclusive multiculturalism model) serves as a catalyst for positive and effective organizational change through the development of social capital and positive relationships at work and enables organizational members to grow to their fullest potential.

Many fraternal organizations suffer from accepting the status quo.  By creating an environment that values opposing and challenging views, chapters allow themselves to become open to positive, and much needed, organizational change.  Although there are probably diverse chapters that face similar struggles to the chapter I described earlier, the studies illustrate that they may have created an environment with an inherent predisposition to accept changes and improve their organization.

At the end of the day, chapters must find the best members for their organization, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing or any other arbitrary requirement for membership.  However, by creating an organization that has a racial composition disproportionate to that of the host institution, we naturally limit the ability of its members to grow to their fullest potential and become the individuals they truly are. And in reality, the mission of our fraternity is to foster the personal growth of each man’s mind, heart and character. Diversity, racial and otherwise, needs to be present for this to happen.

To learn more, visit to review the diversity LEAD session.


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