Category Archives: College of Chapters

Visionary Leadership: The College of Chapters Experience

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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.

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“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.

2014 College of Chapters Day 3 Recap

1. Some catch a snooze while others converse on the bus ride to Lexington. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

2. Commanders compare notes on the pilgrimage to Lexington. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

3. Visitors take smartphone pictures outside the Headquarters Shrine. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

4. College of Chapters participants endure a cold rain to photograph the Rock that sits in front of the Headquarters Shrine. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

5. Visitors photograph a clay rendering of the badge on display in the Headquarters’ foyer, Smith Hall. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

6. Commanders descend stairs leading to the Alpha Room. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

7. Staff member Bill Morosco talks Sigma Nu history with collegians gathered around a scale model of VMI in the Headquarters museum. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

8. A visitor snaps a photo of the original painting of The Quest. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

9. A Commander has his photo taken with his chapter’s burgee in the Alpha Room. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

10. Staff member Drew Logsdon gives a tour of the Founders’ Room, which includes the encyclopedia set Founder Hopkins used as a VMI cadet. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

11. A topographic map in the Hall of Fame gives Headquarters visitors a spatial view of Sigma Nu’s wide geographic reach across the U.S. and Canada. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

12. Visitors explore the Hall of Fame in the South Wing of the Headquarters Shrine. The lectern in the foreground contains a photo and bio for every Hall of Fame inductee. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

13. A College of Chapters participant browses titles by Sigma Nu authors in the Richard Fletcher Honor Memorial Library. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

14. Commanders tour the Hall of Honor in the North Wing of the Headquarters Shrine. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

15. Busloads of Sigma Nus unload at VMI just a few hundred feet from the Legion of Honor’s founding site. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

16. Sigma Nus get a special tour of the VMI museum. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

17. The pilgrimage will be Instagrammed. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

18. Back in Roanoke, Regent-Elect Joe Francis knights the 2013 Alpha Affiliate inductees. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

19. 2012 Man of the Year Wells Ellenberg returns to deliver the evening keynote address. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

20. In the final chapter session, Commanders finalize their goals for the year based on the vision they developed during College of Chapters.  Sigma Nu Leadership conference

21. Commanders write their goals on a poster that will be taken back to the chapter home. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

Photos by David Hungate/Dominion Images.

Wells Ellenberg 2014 College of Chapters Keynote Address

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I can’t believe it’s been two years since I was standing in your shoes as the newly elected Commander of my chapter. At the time, I thought I had all the answers.  In retrospect, I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

As you will soon discover, this year is going to be one of the most difficult and challenging of your lives. The responsibility is great; the liability, even more so.

But when the stakes are high, so too are the rewards. Tonight, I want to share some advice and perspective that will hopefully help you make the most of your term as Commander.

I want to begin by asking three simple questions. Your answer to each of these questions will be a good indicator as to how successful your term will be.

First:  Are you in this for the right reasons?

There are two types of leaders in this world: those who seek to add value to every endeavor, and those who seek to extract it.

As Commander, you should be focused on creating value for your organization by leveraging your strengths and the strengths of your members to solve problems.

If you are in this for yourself, for a line on your resume or a letter of recommendation, you will almost certainly fail.  How can you govern each act by a high sense of honor if your decision to run for office was based on dishonorable motives?  You will lose the respect of your members and ultimately yourself.

Second:  Will you be an ethical leader?

Much of your curriculum these past few days has focused on the concept of ethical leadership.  In my opinion, ethical leaders are those who lead with vision and courage.  They have a vision of a better future for their organization and are willing to make the courageous decisions along the way to turn that vision into reality.

I cannot think of a more appropriate venue that the Virginia Military Institute to share this message with you.  One of the Institute’s Latin mottoes, when translated, reads: “By vision and courage.”

Ethical leadership often involves saying “no,” and choosing the harder right over the easier wrong.  This is no easy task.  But make no mistake – your members elected you to lead; to make the difficult decisions they themselves are not willing to make.

Third:  Will you leave a lasting legacy?

Twelve months from now, at the end of your term, will your members be willing and able to fill the void you leave behind?

I am not suggesting you handpick a successor; quite the contrary. Identify those individuals who are capable of following in your footsteps. Give them opportunities to prove themselves, and provide them with support and guidance along the way. Then, let them compete for the hearts and minds of their would-be constituents. Let them prove they have the vision and courage to take your place.

One of your most important responsibilities as Commander will be to cultivate a sense of ownership amongst your members.  You may be their leader, but this is their chapter, and they are stakeholders in both its successes and its failures.

Remember:  Your obligation to excellence, at its heart, is an obligation to others.

Having considered these three questions, and their implications, you may feel a little overwhelmed or apprehensive.  Allow me to offer some words of comfort: you are not in this alone.

College of Chapters has provided you with a roadmap for success; a guidebook for achieving excellence. And, as you have seen over the past few days, the Fraternity offers a wealth of resources to help you along the way (if, of course, you choose to take advantage of them).

You will undoubtedly face adversity. And you will undoubtedly make mistakes. I did. But if you commit yourselves to leading with vision and courage, your alumni and this Fraternity will stand beside you every step of the way.

But you, and only you can make this commitment, and the time to make it is now.

Last year, your predecessors were asked to make this same commitment. Some of them chose to lead with vision and courage; others chose to maintain the status quo; to accept mediocrity; to shirk their obligation to excellence.

In particular, two Commanders from last year come to mind: one from North Carolina, the other from Ohio. Each had inherited a once-strong chapter facing serious operational deficiencies.  Each left College of Chapters with a vision, and a framework for achieving that vision, knowing that the survival of his chapter was on the line. But only one had the courage to govern his chapter with the high ideals and noble purposes of this fraternity – Love, Honor, and Truth.  The other saw his chapter’s charter suspended and its doors closed, on his watch.

Tonight, though he is not in attendance, please join me in thanking Brother Josh Cherok from the Zeta Gamma Chapter at Kent State University for his hard work and dedication to excellence.

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The question remains:  Will you follow Brother Cherok’s example and lead your chapter with vision and courage?

I want to share with you three pieces of advice that served me well during my term as Commander.

First:  Be kind.

Kindness inspires results. People enjoy working for those they enjoy working with. Whenever possible, let your members know that you respect them and appreciate their contributions. No matter how hard you try, you simply cannot run a successful chapter on your own.

In their book Remarkable!, Randy Ross and David Salyers draw an important distinction between leadership and power. Leadership is about influencing others.  Power is about dominating them.  And nothing of enduring, positive value ever happens by force.

Second:  Be humble.

The position of Commander is a thankless one. Your best will never be good enough. Your achievements will be minimized and your mistakes blown out of proportion.  But, at the end of the day, if you can look back on your term confident that you left everything on the field, you can hold your head high and be proud that you did your level best.  What more could anyone ask?

In times of trial, I often look to a passage entitled “The Penalty of Leadership.” The passage comes from a 1915 Cadillac advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post. Cadillac had just introduced the first mass-produced V8 engine automobiles. The company’s competitors said they were destined to fail.  Cadillac responded:

“If the leader truly leads, he remains – the leader.  Master poet, master painter, master workman; each in his turn is assailed, and each holds his laurels through the ages. That which is good or great makes itself known, no matter how loud the clamor of denial. That which deserves to live – lives.”

Third:  Have fun.

Your experience as Commander will serve you well in the real world. And though you have taken on some real world responsibility in this new role, you are not in the real world just yet. Take advantage of every opportunity to enjoy yourselves and spend time with your friends. You will look back on college as four of the best (but also four of the shortest) years of your lives.

Take a moment and look at the person seated to your left and to your right.  Collectively, we are a diverse group of individuals representing a diverse group of chapters.  For example:

Garrett Oberst from the Epsilon Mu Chapter represents 103 members.  Tony Lee from Eta Omicron represents 49.

Jon Paul is the Delta Gamma Chapter’s 106th Commander.  Brendan Hall is Mu Psi’s 9th.

Glenn Walls leads the Iota Delta Chapter from Harrisonburg, Virginia.  Cody Wagner leads Delta Iota from Pullman, Washington.

And yet, despite these differences, each of these chapters is on pace to achieve Rock Chapter status.

The metrics we use to judge success from one campus to another vary.  But ethical leadership is the constant; vision and courage will always be the keys to success.

I want to leave you with the words of General George Patton, best known for his command of the Seventh and later the Third United States Army in the European Theater of World War II.  Patton, an alumnus of the Virginia Military Institute, is remembered for his fierce determination, capable leadership, and ability to inspire men on the battlefield.  He said, “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”

Gentlemen – I hope you choose to lead; to lead with vision and courage; to meet and exceed your obligation to excellence. Your chapter needs you. This Fraternity needs you. And this country needs you, desperately.

I am honored to call each of you “Brother.” Good luck, God’s speed, and remember: there is no honor in mediocrity.  Honor can only be obtained through excellence.

Wells Ellenberg (Georgia) is a past Collegiate Grand Councilman and the 2012 Sigma Nu Man of the Year.

2014 College of Chapters Day 1 Recap

Collegians and alumni braved blizzards and endure long travel days to arrive in time for the beginning of the 2014 College of Chapters in Roanoke, Va. Below we recap Day 1 in a series of 15 photos.

All photos by David Hungate/Dominion Images.

1. Staff member Bill Morosco hands registration materials to a new Commander at the registration area. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

2. Commanders wait to check in and pick up participant materials. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

3. Faculty members attend a pre-conference meeting to review curriculum and make final preparations before collegians arrive in Roanoke. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

4. A collegian talks with members of the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation staff. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

5. Participants fill their plates in the buffet line after a long travel day. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

6. Staff member Todd Denson leaves the staff office for the Ritual rehearsal. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

7. Chris Graham recites the long Creed from memory during the opening session. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

8. Regent Charlie Eitel welcomes students and faculty members to the 2014 College of Chapters. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

9. Staff member Spencer Montgomery facilitates a core session on visionary leadership. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

10. Members of the High Council – Sigma Nu’s elected board of directors – sing the national anthem during the opening session. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

11. Regent-Elect Joe Francis introduces his chapter brother from Epsilon Epsilon, Regent Charlie Eitel. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

12. The Ritual team prepares for the opening ceremony. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

13. A Division Commander badge hangs from a blazer in the staff office. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

14. Grand Chaplain Maury Gaston delivers a poetic invocation during the opening ceremony. Sigma Nu Leadership conference

15. Past Regent and SNEF Board Chairman Joe Gilman promotes a student giving campaign for the Sigma Nu Educational Foundation. Sigma Nu Leadership conference