Category Archives: ethical leadership

From Passive to Powerful

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Mike Dilbeck is the founder of RESPONSE ABILITY and speaks to audiences around the country about bystander intervention and courageous leadership. Brother Dilbeck is an initiate of Sigma Nu’s Lambda Epsilon Chapter at Texas Christian University.

Like many of you, I have been paying close attention to all the news regarding the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma. As someone who visits campuses and speaks to tens of thousands of college students each year, I often think I have heard it all. However, I wasn’t prepared for this. Maybe it was because I had just seen the inspiring footage over the weekend of the tens of thousands of people marching in Selma, Alabama. Maybe it was because of the tears I shed as I listened to our president’s remarks in front of that bridge. Maybe it’s because the actions were just outright abhorrent and, as OU President Boren swiftly and powerfully said, “disgraceful.”

Even amidst all of my personal feelings, I know this is not who we are as members of the national fraternity and sorority community. I know this is not what Sigma Alpha Epsilon is truly about. I know this is not what represents the millions of us committed to dignity and respect for all. However, this is an opportunity for all of us all to pause and reflect on why something so divisive and offensive can happen at all.

There are many different ways to look at this incident and, rather than address the actions of the perpetrators, which most people will do, I want to explore the actions of another group of people involved: the bystanders. Anyone who was on that bus at the time of this racist chant and wasn’t participating in the activity is a bystander. Whether they wanted to be or not. Whether they chose to be or not. Whether they liked it or not. The simple fact is: when we see or hear something — anything — being done or said, we are a bystander.

What kind of bystander are you?

Now, here’s the question for them and all of us to ponder: what kind of bystander are we going to be? When we witness or hear anything that is inappropriate, offensive, unsafe, unhealthy, unlawful, dishonorable, or just plain wrong, we have a momentary choice to make. Are we going to stay silent, walk away, or laugh along? In other words, be a passive bystander? Or, are we going to choose to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right? In other words, be a powerful bystander? This is the choice we have — and we do make a choice, whether we experience making one or not.

We don’t know everything that happened on that bus this past weekend, but what has already become clear is there were both types of bystanders in reaction to the offensive and hurtful actions of a few. First, we know of at least one powerful bystander — someone who chose to take out their smartphone and record video of the chant. Then, hand that video over to someone who could do something with it to make a difference. By now, you already know that this video has gone viral and caused the SAE chapter being closed, all brothers moving out of the house, and the expulsion of two students. This action has also elevated the already-existing national conversation on race.

The reality is that we are expecting college students to do something that many will argue they are not developmentally ready to do.

As the founder of RESPONSE ABILITY, a program on bystander intervention and courageous leadership, I share various actions available to each of us in being a powerful bystander and intervening to prevent, end, or diffuse a problem situation. One of these actions is to do exactly what this bystander did — record video. This can be a powerful and safe alternative to direct, in-your-face confrontation to a behavior (which is also sometimes appropriate). They made the momentary choice to go beyond whatever fear they may have had and take some form of action to intervene. What this bystander did was brilliant and very effective. What this bystander did was demonstrate courageous leadership.

Which brings us to the other bystanders on the bus that evening. I want to believe there were more students who had a gut response that this chant was wrong. Granted, there will be more details to come out and we may very well find out that others did do something. However, my skepticism — even my own cynicism — doubts that anyone did. I fear that every other bystander that evening chose to be passive.

The reality is that we are expecting college students to do something that many will argue they are not developmentally ready to do. We are asking them to go beyond a deep-seated and real fear of standing up to their fellow peers and taking great risks in doing so. We are asking them to be bigger than they know themselves to be. Yes, we are asking this — not only of them, but of us all. Even though these students are at a distinct time in their lives, it takes something from all of us to do what we are not comfortable doing. There is nothing comfortable about intervening, regardless of age. Nothing! For many of us, this may be the greatest fear we have. Yet, none of this excuses us from tolerating the abusive, offensive, hurtful, and violent behavior we witness in our lives.

Are you going to give yourself permission to go from passive to powerful in order to be the man you have committed yourself to be?

To be clear, I am not telling you what choice you should make — this is up to you. My mission in life is to wake us all up to the opportunity we have to go past that which stops us in making the difference we are out to make. To empower us all to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right. To give us all permission to go from passive to powerful.

So, whether you are a college student, a parent, an employee, an employer, a spouse, a community activist, or any other role in life, you are a Sigma Nu. You are a man who has given your oath to the values of Love, Honor, and Truth. No matter how long ago it was when you were initiated as a Knight in Sigma Nu, you took a lifelong oath to uphold — and live by — these values.

Which brings us to my final question: are you going to live these values in your life at all times — or just when it is convenient and comfortable? Are you going to let these values guide you and empower you to stand up, step in, and speak out for what’s right — or turn your back on them and experience the shame and guilt from doing so? Are you going to give yourself permission to go from passive to powerful in order to be the man you have committed yourself to be?

When we do live from these values and make the choice to take an appropriate, effective, and safe action to intervene, I call this courageous leadership. And, I do truly believe in our ability to respond to any form of discrimination, sexual violence, corruption, cheating, bullying, hazing, and other issues by going beyond our shame and fear to demonstrate courage in momentary choices.

For colleagues. For family. For friends. For strangers.

In organizations. In business. In community. In life.

If you would like to empower yourself — and others — in making this kind of difference, I invite you to join The Revolution for Courageous Leadership by visiting our website. Here, you will get exclusive access to valuable and free resources, including the recently-published eBook, “The Manifesto for Courageous Leadership.” Mike’s personal website is mikedilbeck.com.

Mike Dilbeck

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On Knighthood

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

There is one particular facet of our great Fraternity’s Ritual that I have always loved. Unfortunately, it is not something I often see discussed. This might be because the term itself, “Knight,” harkens back to a much different era than the world we live in today. Our members, Knights of the Legion of Honor, do not go riding around on horses brandishing swords or serving noble lieges.

Today our world has no need for the knights of a bygone era. However, it is in desperate need of the modern embodiment of knighthood. As Knights of the Legion of Honor, we are not nobles. We are not automatically granted honor, titles, or knighthood as a birthright. Instead, we are products of a society that provides individuals the opportunity to make themselves what they want.

The QuestAs Knights of the Legion of Honor, we have earned our title through the virtuous choices we made. The Legion of Honor ensures that those who have been granted the title of Knight have lived (and take an oath to forever live) the values of Love, Honor, and Truth. The Legion of Honor also jealously protects its reputation. Our Fraternity dictates that those who sully the values they swore to uphold have their knighthood removed. As was discussed at the recent College of Chapters, honor that is guaranteed is not honor at all. We, as Knights, hold ourselves to our oath and strive daily to exemplify our values; for this great privilege is not guaranteed.

As previously stated, we do not serve a liege in the traditional sense. However, we do serve each other. I carry my knighthood for my brothers today, those before me, and those yet to come. We are required by oath to serve our Legion of Honor and to never besmirch its honor or glory. This goes far beyond the typical example of “My brother, right or wrong.” It means that I am committed to conduct myself as my fellow knights would expect me.

But what does all of this have to do with the need for knights today? Look around us. Intolerance of minds, shallowness of soul, a gaping abscess of buffoonery, and a lack of care for the world we live in continue to plague our society. Our Legion of Honor is not the only solution. To believe it is would be to ignore the size of our problems. But our Legion of Honor is most assuredly a part of the solution.

We are Knights of the Legion of Honor and we will honor our commitment every day.

My fellow Knights will become doctors, aid workers, teachers, professors, nurses, soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, policemen, volunteers, pastors, priests, entrepreneurs, husbands, and fathers. They will be clad in the heavy commitment of our common oath and guarded against the ills around them by the strength of our values. They will carry the sword of action and compassion to not stand idly by as those around them suffer against injustice or warrantless transgressions.

We do not ride around on horses. We don’t wear armor into work. Nor do we rest comfortably in a falsely guaranteed notion of honor.

We are Knights of the Legion of Honor and we will honor our commitment every day.

And upon our final days we will let them say that we ever bore without abuse, the grand old name of gentleman with the assurance that those ahead of us will honor our mighty Legion of Honor.