Author Archives: James J. Ehrmann

Hazing is a ‘Professional’ Plague, too

The Dallas Cowboys knew that there would be questions about who would start at wide receiver this season.  The bigger question that looms now, however, is if the team will support one rookie’s effort to eliminate an ingrained culture of hazing in professional sports.

This weekend, Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant refused to continue a Dallas Cowboys tradition of rookies carrying the equipment of veterans out onto the practice field:

“I’m not doing it,” Bryant said.  “I feel like I was drafted to play football, not carry another player’s pads.”

Despite the fact that Bryant came out later and said he was just joking, the spat brings to light a long-standing tradition in professional sports of new team members performing embrassing stunts or acts of personal servitude to ‘earn their stripes’ on a professional sports teams.

More concerning is an ESPN Sports Nation poll asking if Bryant should take part in the tradition hazing and carry the pads.  With over 63,000 responding, 73% believe that such acts of hazing are “good for team chemistry to uphold the tradition.”

This should sound familiar; familiar because it often plays out in fraternities and sororities every fall when chapters extend bids to new members.  Instead of carrying pads, new members might be asked to wear a candidate pin every day or formal attire on Fridays.  Instead of bagels for the team every morning, candidates are required to be designated drivers, steal articles of clothing from a sorority or make a late night pizza run.

Perhaps you have members like Roy Williams, who use the same, tired excuses to justify the ‘pranks’ and ‘odd jobs’:

“Everybody has to go through it,” Williams said.  “I had to go through it…I did everything I was supposed to do, because I didn’t want to be that guy.”

The fight against hazing is never easy, especially when professional athletes glorify the inane acts that lead to more dangerous stunts.  Nothing that is worth doing, however, is ever easy.  It only took the convictions of three cadets to inspire an international anti-hazing institution that thrives today; what will you do?

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The Shocking Reality of Irony

Irony can oftentimes be humorous, but in many other instances it can be disappointing or downright sad.

How would you feel if you opened up your local newspaper and read the following headline:

“Anti-hazing fraternity closed due to hazing.”

‘Living our Values’ isn’t just a catchy phrase or some arbitrary title for a LEAD session.  It’s what we’re supposed to do on a daily basis.  To live our values, we must understand them, lest we’re forced to swallow the bitter pill of irony.

KISS your Management Problems Goodbye

Running a chapter might often feel like an overwhelming and impossible endeavor.  Two articles that I read recently, however, give credence to the notion that the best way to run your chapter might be to KISS (Keep it Simple, Stupid) it.

They detail the task of running a business; the first features Jerry Murrell discussing the success of his famous burger chain, Five Guys. The second highlights effective management techniques from some of the simplest small business owners: the Amish.

Three especially important techniques to note:

1.  Your best salesman is your customer.  “Treat the person right,” Murrell notes, “and he’ll sell for you.”  Thus, Five Guys boasts a simple decor: they spend their money not on fancy decorations or gimmicks, but on the one product they sell: food.  A valuable lesson for fraternity recruitment: huge recruitment events with all the bells and whistles won’t impress anyone; rather, the conversations and interactions that you have with potential new members selling the values of Sigma Nu will leave the most lasting impression.

2.  Everyone must feel ownership.  The example Murrell uses?  Cleaning bathrooms:

“…it’s definitely not macho to clean a bathroom.  But if the auditor walks in and the bathroom isn’t clean, that crew just lost money.  Next thing he knows, the guy who was supposed to clean the bathroom has toilet paper all over his car…”

If house duties aren’t getting done, don’t keep hounding the one or two individuals who aren’t performing.  Divide the chapter into house duty teams and if one individual fails to do a house duty, his team is penalized.  This creates a sense of shared responsibility and ownership.  Fraternity has never just been about one person.  This idea of ‘getting your hands dirty for the good of the team’ is especially apparent in small business owned by the Amish.  Erik Wesnar, a former sales manager who observed the Amish, noted:

“One thing I heard consistently was ‘I’d never ask an employee to do something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself.’  It’s like a mantra.  They will exhibit that by jumping in sometimes and doing the dirty work.”

In fraternities, we often over-emphasize our ‘earnings.’  With age, we ‘earn’ the right to not do house duties, not attend social events or philanthropic events and, most importantly, we automatically ‘earn’ the respect of younger members simply by virtue of our age.  Any functional organization – fraternity or small business – will demonstrate shared workload by all members, regardless of age or position.

3.  Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  You can’t buy coffee or chicken sandwiches at Five Guys.  Why?  They tried selling those products and neither stuck.  But instead of continuing to sell mediocre products, Five Guys stopped and stuck to selling what they do best: burgers, fries and hot dogs.  What good is a Philanthropy Committee composed of two seniors who never come to chapter meetings?  How effective is a crisis management plan that hasn’t been updated since 2001?  If you can’t effectively implement a new idea or program, wait until you have the resources to do so.  For help in prioritizing your chapter’s needs, perform a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) Analysis, found in the Strategic Planning LEAD session.

Are you too irreplaceable?

Successful chapters are, no doubt, built around successful leaders.  But what happens when those outstanding individuals fail to transition their successes?  TIME Magazine featured an interesting article on small businesses, ‘Don’t Become Irreplaceable.’

A close reading demonstrates many similarities between small business and our own chapters:

“Small business owners have always viewed their firms as the key to a comfortable retirement…they have poured most of their extra money into their companies, believing that their value would grow.”

While a fraternity might not necessarily be the key to a ‘comfortable retirement,’ it can nonetheless arm you with the skills necessary to be successful in your first interview, first job and subsequent employment manuevers.  And while most of us don’t ‘invest’ our extra money in our chapter – though I’ve met with many Recruitment Chairmen who pay out-of-pocket for numerous recruitment-related expenses – we do invest our resources (namely time and talent) in an effort to increase the value of the chapter to potential new members.

The article focuses, however, on individuals becoming so skilled and involved that they create a situation where other members of the organization are unable to contribute.  Think, for example, about the ex-Philanthropy Chairman who might still be getting calls from service organizations – is he passing those along to the new officer?  Or the LEAD Chairman who was supremely successful in implementing Phases III and IV, but didn’t document any of the sessions?  How about the ex-Commander who goes behind the back of chapter leadership in communicating with alumni, the Greek Advisor or younger brothers of the chapter?

Chapters need to focus on being irreplaceable.  Indeed, officers change, at least, annually so new members need to be able to step in and easily resume the work of the previous officer.  This involves identifying a service or product that scales beyond an individual (for instance, don’t focus on the  previous LEAD Chairmen; rather, focus on the strategies he used to implement LEAD).  A scalable product will meet three criteria:

  1. “They are teachable. You can explain your process to someone…to deliver your system while you sleep.
  2. They are valuable. Customers want what you’re hawking.
  3. They are repeatable…needs to have a consumable element that forces customers [members] to repurchase it regularly.”

As you approach your officer transition periods in the next few months, consider your work as an outgoing officer – can you teach what you’ve been doing?  Is there value in your work?  Can someone else do it?  Answering yes to all three of these questions will ensure that the officers can be replaced without sacrificing the quality of your chapter’s programs and services.

Undercover Founder?

CBS has a new show – Undercover Boss – airing Sunday evenings at 9:00 p.m. EST:

Each week a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their company. While working alongside their employees, they will see the effects their decisions have on others, where the problems lie within their organization and get an up-close look at both the good and the bad while discovering the unsung heroes who make their company run.

In a Valentine’s Day episode, Hooters, Inc. President and CEO Coby G. Brooks goes undercover to work as an entry-level employee in four different restaurants in the Dallas, Texas area.  The episode can be seen in full on CBS’ web site.

The lessons that Mr. Brooks learns during his time undercover are easily applicable to fraternity life (and I’m most certainly not talking about wings and beer).  For instance, during his second stop, Mr. Brooks accompanies two Hooters waitresses on a promotional tour downtown.  He provides free wing samples to passers-by downtown and engages them in discussions regarding perceptions of Hooters.  One woman is not too bashful about letting Mr. Brooks know that she finds his restaurant chain “degrading to women.”  Following this encounter, Mr. Brooks admits that “…there is a public perception that’s out there (but I’ve) never seen it firsthand.”

As fraternity men, we know there are public perceptions out there regarding fraternity life.  Popular culture movies, literature and the unfortunate actions of some members that create poor publicity all fuel the perceptions that we battle on a regular basis.  But when was the last time we engaged our stakeholders in an honest discussion about our chapter, or even the state of fraternity life on our campus?  Having regular communication with alumni, non-Greek students, members of other fraternities and sororities, parents, college/university administrators and neighbors can ensure that you’re getting the most honest feedback about your chapter.  But just hearing it isn’t enough.  Mr. Brooks launches a marketing campaign following his experience to re-educate the public on the Hooters brand.  Sometimes, an effective marketing campaign is necessary to ensure that a stakeholder’s perception is indeed the reality.

Additionally, Mr. Brooks observes one store manager who requires his waitresses to play his ‘reindeer games’ in order to earn privileges, such as going home early.  He requires the waitresses to eat a plate of beans with their hands behind their backs and, prior to the start of the day, has all the waitresses line up for an inspection in which he comments on their overall physical appearance.  The activities seem innocent and well-intentioned to the store manager (indeed, this is a way for him to ensure dress code is being followed and a fun way to determine who goes home first); however, to an outsider such as Mr. Brooks, they are disrespectful and not congruent with the mission and values of the organization.

It is a lesson that should not be taken lightly.  Next time you are thinking about a questionable activity (be it an offensive social event theme, derogatory philanthropy or suspect candidate activity), imagine how the activity would be perceived if Hopkins, Quarles or Riley were in the room.  Would they approve?  Could they shrug off the activity as a ‘funny joke’ or ‘innocent fraternity stunt?’

You represent more than just your members, your campus or your region of the country.  You represent an international organization with a proud vision of ‘Excelling with Honor’ since 1869.  Ask yourself: is my chapter driving the organization forward toward this noble mission, or are we holding it back with our own ‘reindeer games?’

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It’s All ‘Greek’ to Me

Few television shows have drawn as much attention from the fraternity and sorority community as ABC Family’s Greek (airing Monday nights at 10:00 p.m. EST).  Perhaps this is because the show uses Greek Life at fictitious Cyprus-Rhodes University in Ohio as the centerpiece of many storylines and delves into issues that hit home to us like recruitment, pledge education, hazing and social functions.

Predictably, the show drew scrutiny from leaders in the fraternity and sorority community, who worried that the show’s portrayal of large parties and casual alcohol consumption diminishes the importance of Greek Life.  Indeed, the plot is a bit sensationalist at times and, undoubtedly, members of the Cyprus-Rhodes Greek Community face more unlikely situations than most Greek communities face in one year (or than this guy faces in one evening).

However, we should accept this fact of dramatic television: it will always trend to the sensational.  I’m sure most trial lawyers roll their eyes at shows like Law & Order and very few medical professionals experience shifts similar to those portrayed on Grey’s Anatomy.  And let’s face it: the themes that make us cringe – from loud and boisterous social events to the casual execution of hazing – are, unfortunately, regularly perpetrated by a few deviant members of the Greek community.  And while these aren’t your members, or students on your campus, they wear Greek letters all the same.

What we should recognize are the helpful lessons that are pulled from the show’s script.  In the first episode of Season 4, for instance, the Kappa Tau Gamma Fraternity needed to appoint a new pledge educator (Wade, the previous new member educator, was expelled for launching a police car off a parking ramp).  Rusty, the nerdy sophomore, is hastily appointed and begins the task of educating the new members on relevant fraternity history.

Super-senior Cappie, however, does not trust that Rusty will be able to handle the task on his own and appoints other senior brothers to oversee and oftentimes undermine Rusty’s legitimate educational efforts.  This textbook scenario of ‘too many pledge educators in the pledge meeting’ explodes when Rusty insists that his pledges are required to go to a campus event.  Cappie counters by telling the pledge class that they ‘don’t have to go’ and can instead stay at the chapter house playing video games.

Do older members undermine the efforts of your Candidate Marshal?  The topic of establishing a Candidate Education Committee – and weighing the pros and cons of utilizing assistant candidate educators – is explored in the new Marshal Officer Manual.

Additionally, an old interfraternal friendship is ruined when Evan Chambers, a senior member of Omega Chi Delta, abandons Cappie and other members of Kappa Tau Gamma during a campus prank (see: expulsion of Wade above).  Evan claimed that the move was necessary, an action that won him favor within his own fraternity, even with the cost of abandoning a close friendship with a member of another fraternity.

Can you name one chapter on your campus for whom members hold disdain?  Instead of focusing your efforts on ‘getting even’ or making life miserable for another fraternity on campus, dedicate your chapter’s efforts to improving campus relations with other student organizations (both Greek and non-Greek).  In fact, these efforts will serve your chapter well in the ‘Campus Leadership’ subcategory of the Pursuit of Excellence Program.

Do You Practice Sustainable Values?

An interesting article in the NY Times this morning discusses the difference between situational values and sustainable values.  The theory comes from LRN – a consulting firm committed “to help inspire principled performence in business:”

Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, likes to talk about two kinds of values: “situational values” and “sustainable values.” Leaders, companies or individuals guided by situational values do whatever the situation will allow, no matter the wider interests of their communities. A banker who writes a mortgage for someone he knows can’t make the payments over time is acting on situational values, saying: “I’ll be gone when the bill comes due.”

Does this sound like members of your chapter?  Especially toward the end of an officer’s term or the final few months of a brother’s collegiate career, the drive to work toward implementing sustainable programs and ideas dwindles.  After all, it’ll be someone else’s job in a few months.

Your chapter must promote sustainable values.  Perhaps this will sound familiar:

People inspired by sustainable values act just the opposite, saying: “I will never be gone. I will always be here. Therefore, I must behave in ways that sustain — my employees, my customers, my suppliers, my environment, my country and my future generations.”

Sigma Nu is a lifetime commitment – you will never be ‘gone’ from the values of our organization – and accordingly, chapter leaders should practice sustainable values to ensure that the chapter is moving forward toward Sigma Nu’s vision of ‘excelling with honor.’

Where can you go to practice these ‘sustainable values?’  Why not start with the LEAD Program, Sigma Nu Fraternity’s primary initiative designed to develop ethical leaders.  Sessions that promote Values, Goal Setting, Strategic Planning and Accountability are readily available for your chapter’s implementation.

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