Category Archives: communication

How to Avoid Email Wars

The best chapters create a group culture that expects nothing short of excellence.

Strong leaders understand that creating sustained excellence relies on challenging the status quo.

Challenging the status quo often ignites heated debate among chapter members.

Sometimes these heated debates devolve into angry, back and forth reply-all email shouting matches.

For a variety of reasons, these email wars seldom produce a winner and are best avoided altogether.

What’s the best thing a chapter leader can do when caught in the crossfire of a nasty email debate?  Pick up the phone, call the participants and ask to meet in person.

Lifehacker offers some additional guidance on the importance of responding to angry emails in person:

“Offer to meet the person and talk face-to-face. Constant emails back and forth can make a bad situation worse.”

Having dealt with my share of angry e-mails over the years (and allowed myself to get dragged into some very painful arguments), I’ll second that suggestion – but it doesn’t have to be a face-to-face meeting. If the message came from someone you know, just pick up the phone: “Hey, I wanted to talk about your e-mail and try to get this worked out.” Most of the time, that’s a quick and effective way to resolve bad feelings.

When we’re forced to turn that anger into a real, human interaction, we’re a lot less likely to go overboard with it, and can move to resolve the issue in a much more civilized manner.

A strong brotherhood knows how to challenge the norm through a spirited but respectful debate.

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Failure is Not an Option

Alright newly elected officers, here’s some homework to start you off for Christmas Break. Watch the video above. Watch it a second time even. It gives you chills doesn’t it? Now there should be four things that jump out at you that you’re going to take away and use as a leader for your term. Didn’t catch them? Here they are in case you missed ’em:

1)      We sent a human being to a place where humanity cannot survive. Allow me to clarify that statement. College educated men and women sent a human being to the Moon, an inhospitable location, and brought him back alive EVERY time. NASA of this time frame was very different from the NASA of today. In fact it was very similar to your chapter. These guys were young, eager, and ambitious. No goal was too far off to reach. That’s how your chapter needs to think. Now of course they didn’t just throw something together to achieve this but they did think of new and ambitious ideas that had never been thought of before.

2)      Look two steps ahead. In the clip the two prevailing issues are oxygen supply and battery life. The first doesn’t matter unless the second is solved. Same thing goes for many things in chapter operations. Academics won’t be improved until we start by improving the quality of men we recruit.

3)      A leader listens. Notice how Ed Harris’ character didn’t start talking over everyone’s ideas in the clip. He also listens to his experts and empowers them by providing them with the power of decision making. In other words, avoid micromanagement. Don’t try and run your chapter’s LEAD program but empower your LEAD Chairman to do his job and make his own decision.

4)      Failure is never an option. This could be a reiteration of number 1 but we need to focus more attention on the potential doubters in your chapter. Those people exist but as a chapter we need to continuously agree that in any aspect failure is not an option. Eliminating hazing may be hard in a chapter that is 95% for it but failure is not an option. This applies especially to chapters currently struggling with finances, member accountability, or risk reduction issues. Failure is not an option. Success is the only option.

Criticize in Private, Praise in Public

Florida Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez learned an important life lesson this week on how to properly provide feedback to leadership.

From ESPN.com:

Ramirez was not in the lineup for that game. On Monday night, he was benched in the second inning for failing to hustle after a kicked ball. Afterward the game, and Tuesday morning, he ripped manager Fredi Gonzalez to reporters for taking him out of the game.

Ramirez, a two-time All-Star, accidentally booted a ball and then lightly jogged after it, allowing two runs to score Monday night in a 5-1 loss to Arizona.

Gonzalez benched Ramirez, who let loose with his criticisms the next day, saying he felt no need to apologize, he’d lost respect for his manager, and that “It’s [Gonzalez’s] team. He can do whatever … He doesn’t understand that. He never played in the big leagues.”

On Wednesday, Ramirez apologized to his manager and teammates and was re-inserted into the starting lineup.

Perhaps the team can buy Ramirez a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Don’t Table this Idea for the Next Meeting

Nice post from Matt Mattson at the Phired Up blog.  Here’s an excerpt:

While wandering around USC’s campus the other day making friends (which was a blast), I happened upon a very creative student organization recruitment tactic.

There were a number of tables set up along the main drag of campus — there were some political groups, the Greenpeace folks were out there, a guy selling tickets to play paintball, a Relay-for-Life group, and a gospel choir selling delicious $1 cookies.  All were doing good work tabling, but there was one other table that really stood out to me.  They had a sign hanging on their table that read, “What’s Your Beef With Christianity?”

Now, religious content aside, I was first intrigued because their sign was a QUESTION, and not a statement.  So, I walked up and asked them about it.  I assumed they were an atheist/agnostic group that was looking for like-minded people with whom they could commiserate, but I was wrong.  At first they wouldn’t really tell me who they were, they just said…

Merely sitting behind a table to “get your name out there” is not an effective recruitment strategy (especially if you’re just surfing fb statuses on your iPhone).  It’s about as effective as littering the campus with recruitment calendars and expecting prospective members to flock to the chapter home.  It just doesn’t happen.

Recruitment means actively finding people who will fulfill the vision of your organization.  And, as this lesson shows, part of the recruitment process is the willingness to engage your critics in genuine conversation.

The Purpose of Ritual

Are your chapter’s Ritual ceremonies a mindless recitation of arbitrary words or a meaningful reaffirmation of Sigma Nu’s founding purpose?

From Language in Thought in Action, by S.I. Hayakawa and Alan R. Hayakawa:

Sermons, political caucuses, conventions, pep rallies, and other ceremonial gatherings illustrate the fact that all groups–religious, political, patriotic, scientific, and occupational–like to gather together at intervals for the purpose of sharing certain accustomed activities.

Among these ritual activities is always included a number of speeches, either traditionally worded or specifically composed for the occasion, whose principal function is not to give the audience new information, not to create new ways of feeling, but something else altogether.

The authors expand on this thought using the great American tradition of college pep rallies:

The members of “our team” are “introduced” to a crowd that already knows them.  Called upon to make speeches, the players mutter a few incoherent and often ungrammatical remarks, which are received with wild applause.  The leaders of the rally make fantastic promises about the mayhem to be performed on the opposing team the next day.  The crowd utters “cheers,” which normally consist of animalistic noises arranged in extremely primitive rhythms.  No one comes out any wiser or better informed than before.

…we cannot help observing that, whatever the words used in ritual utterance may signifiy, we often do not think very much about their signification during the course of the ritual.

We cannot regard such utterances as meaningless, because they have a genuine effect upon us.

What is the good that is done us in ritual utterances?  It is the reaffirmation of social cohesion.  Societies are held together by such bonds of common reactions to sets of linguistic stimuli.

Ritualistic utterances, therefore, whether made up of words that had symbolic significance at other times, of words in foreign or obsolete tongues, or of other meaningless syllables, may be regarded as consisting in large part of presymbolic uses of languages: that is, accustomed sets of noises which convey no information, but to which feelings (in this case, group feelings) are attached.  Such utterances rarely make sense to anyone not a member of the group.  The abracadabra of a lodge meeting is absurd to anyone not a member of the lodge.  When language becomes ritual, its effect becomes, to a considerable extent, independent of whatever significance the words possessed.

These observations, while insightful, do not describe the fraternity ritual.  The authors may describe the ritual as it is currently used by some chapters but certainly not as it should be used.

The authors do, however, help us acknowledge the reality that when many organizations perform ritual ceremonies they are merely ‘going through the motions’ rather than communicating meaningful ideas–in our case a reminder of Sigma Nu’s founding purpose.  In his timeless essay The Secret Thoughts of a Ritual, Edward M. King explains the purpose of fraternity ritual much more eloquently:

After being up almost all day and all night for a week, I am taken to a dimly lighted room where a number of people are gathered. There I am presented with much feeling and serious drama. It is obviously a moment of great climax for some of the people, for they are seeing and hearing me for the very first time. Shortly after the ceremony, I am brought back to the dark room and placed in the locked file drawer and I am not seen or heard of until the end of the next semester. In this case, as a ritual, what am I? Well, as I see it, I am a perfunctory service that must be performed in order to get new members into an organization. Once the initiation is over, I’m pretty much pigeonholed until the next class is to be initiated.

However, in some fraternity houses I exist in quite a different fashion. Shortly after the initiation the brothers come in one by one, get me out of the drawer and look me over carefully. Some just like to read me, others try to memorize me. Whatever the case, I like it when they use me. Sometimes they even argue over me, and this gets exciting because you see that’s what I’m about. I’m meant to be read carefully, discussed and even argued about. Yes, in fact, I can even be changed. I’m really a very human document, one that was written down some time ago after a great deal of thought of one or two men and I have been reworded, rephrased and re-evaluated many, many times.

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Five Musts For Leaders

Another great post over at the Washington Post leadership blog:

1. Be present and accessible. More than usual. More than ever. Helps a lot to be seen. “Management by Walking Around,” as Peters and Waterman wrote almost 30 years ago, is more critical now than ever before. C.P. Snow wrote in the late 50s that leaders “must never absent themselves during times of crisis.” Be there. Now. Visible.

Perhaps this advice applies more to the closed-door office manager who never gets any ‘facetime’ with the employees.  But this applies to fraternity officers too.  The beginning of a new year is as good a time as any to finally rid your chapter of some questionable traditions.  Simply being present in a different way can make a big difference.

2. Communicate obsessively about:

— The challenges facing the organization and a frank and clear, step-by-step on what must be done.

— The fact that we’re all in this together, that our fates are correlated and that the only route to success is more transparency and more collaboration.

— What’s important — often forgotten, even in good times.

It’s so easy for chapter officers to get consumed by the day-to-day activities: submitting paperwork to the student activities office, completing annual reports, preparing for meetings and the list goes on.  But don’t forget about the important-but-not-urgent matters.  For instance, clarifying the vision and strategic goals of your chapter and including the members in this process.  Is it written down?  Posted in the chapter home?  Talked about at every meeting?

4. You are not alone. Abandon that susceptible ego, the dangerous delusion, that you alone can solve the problem or invent new strategies that will, with one wave of the wand, guarantee future success, that asking for help isn’t, er, manly.

There’s a common denominator between excellent chapters: they have excellent chapter advisors (and they actually utilize them).  It might be tough for some officers to admit, but you can’t do everything yourself.  So beginning this week, call your chapter advisors and invite them to lunch.  Stop by your Greek advisor’s office and say hello.  Tell them what’s going on and ask for some advice.

#4 Continued:

You have to quickly identify trusted colleagues within and others, outside the cocoon of the C-suite, for their advice. During crises, the tendency of top management is to circle the wagons.You must have a network of mavens and others whose experience and expertise can make a huge difference?

Sometimes people make mistakes, crises happen.  In such cases circling the wagons is one of the worst things you can do (remember, even excellent chapters make mistakes from time to time.  The difference is that they actually utilize their resources).  Don’t wait around for someone else–school administrators or the General Fraternity–to fix a problem for you.  Greek Life professionals are resources, not babysitters.  If you seek our advice to change something, we’ll drop everything to help.

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