Visionary Leadership: The College of Chapters Experience

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Regent Charlie Eitel delivers the opening keynote address during the 2014 College of Chapters in Roanoke, Va.

By Ben Nye (Arkansas)

“Over the next 60 hours we’re going to teach you everything you need to know to help your chapter achieve excellence.” –Regent Elect Joe Francis (Oklahoma State)

According to Simon Sinek the best companies and the best leaders always “start with why.” Most people start with “what,” then tell “how,” and lastly they articulate “why” they do what they do. Sinek thinks people get it backwards. In his concept known as the golden circle, Sinek explains how great leaders do the opposite. “There are leaders and there are those who lead … leaders hold a position of power/responsibility … those who lead inspire us.”

College of Chapters was all about visionary leadership. Visionary leadership is the foundation of being an effective Commander and it was the major impetus behind the College of Chapters curriculum. It is the primary job of the Commander to inspire the action of the chapter behind a shared vision.

Leadership by effective Commanders is not about management or hierarchical decision-making from the top elected positions. Effective leadership is a process that a group goes through together – the Commander just happens to be the individual tasked with making sure it happens.


Simon Sinek’s golden circle.

The vision of a leader is related to the “why” of Sinek’s golden circle. A vision is how the chapter leader motivates others to follow him. Instead of focusing on the minutiae of day-to-day activities – making flyers, planning a social, running chapter meeting, etc. the leader should focus on why the chapter does what it does.

Relating a vision to the chapter is a challenge. It requires many action steps. To get the vision into more actionable forms, it has to be broken into strategies, goals, and objectives. Developing an effective strategy requires assessing current context – the “what” of Simon Sinek’s golden circle – and measuring the distance between context and vision. This distance between the context and the vision is the chapter’s strategy or the “how.”

Once a chapter determines its strategy, it’s simply a matter of putting specific, measurable, applicable, realistic, and timely (S.M.A.R.T.) goals into the chapter’s action plan. So a strategy to improve academic performance in the spring 2014 term could have a S.M.A.R.T goal of “improving the chapter’s GPA from a 2.79 to 2.95 by June 2014.”

S.M.A.R.T. goals help conceptual vision and strategy statements become much more practicable. Vision is not going to be implemented without effective goals and objectives that other members can put into practice. Delegation is how the Commander spreads his vision to other members of the chapter.

Delegation can be broken into five distinct phases: preparation, planning, discussion, auditing, and appreciation. Preparation and planning are how the Commander – or more generally – the delegator formulates what needs to be done. Discussion allows for the Commander to assign the task to his designee. Ideally this will be a conversation that allows the designee to make his own decisions about accomplishing the task. The Commander should audit the progress towards the goal and finally appreciate the accomplishments of the member who has completed the goal.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

“The success of our mission will depend on each of you in this room’s ability to learn and to translate this work back to your chapters.” -Regent Elect Joe Francis

Through delegation, the Commander can fully spread his vision to the entire chapter and get everyone involved in accomplishing it. The Commander must ensure that the chapter has a vision and is progressing towards that. Through delegation and an effective action plan the Commander can ensure that this happens.

During his keynote address, Past Regent Robert Durham relayed a story of a learning moment that came while he was Commander at the University of Georgia. Durham recalled a piece of advice that he received from Mu Chapter (Georgia) Alumnus George Hearn on a gameday during his fall term. “Son, these men have elected you to lead them; you have an obligation to excellence,” said Judge Hearn.

Sigma Nu’s success depends upon Commanders applying the lessons they learned at College of Chapters: communicating a shared vision and implementing it through strategy, goals, and delegation. The mission of Sigma Nu hinges upon each Commander fulfilling his obligation to excellence through visionary leadership.

One thought on “Visionary Leadership: The College of Chapters Experience

  1. Maury D. Gaston says:

    Outstanding Ben!

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