Category Archives: goal setting

Update: Dallas Cowboys Rookie Hazing Didn’t Work

Remember the hullabaloo from last summer’s Dallas Cowboys training camp when  rookie Dez Bryant refused to carry Roy Williams’ shoulder pads?

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

“If I was a free agent, it would still be the same thing. I just feel like I’m here to play football. I’m here to try to help win a championship, not carry someone’s pads. I’m saying that out of no disrespect to [anyone].”

The story made national news and ESPN analysts were quick to criticize Dez Bryant for neglecting the time-honored tradition of rookie hazing.  “Shut up and carry the pads,” said Mike Golic, co-host of ESPN’s ‘Mike and Mike in the Morning.’  Golic went on to brag about holding rookies down to perform unpleasant haircuts and throwing uncooperative rookies’ clothes into the shower.

Posting the story to the Sigma Nu fan page received an outpouring of criticism even from some of our own members:

Dislike, pay your dues Dez…humbling rookies out of college is definitely necessary for new ego-centric players like him. This post is most disheartening.

This post doesn’t exactly make me proud to be a Sigma Nu. That tradition isn’t arbitrary at all. It would be arbitrary if only certain rookies had to do it. It might teach Dez to appreciate where he is and what he has.

where I come from when someone older more experienced tells you what to do….you say yes sir!

There’s nothing about carrying somebody’s pads that even remotely resembles hazing. It’s a simple way to show respect for guys that have been there before you.

Nothing wrong with Hazing. Thank you Sigma Nu Nationals for adding to the continual feminization of America. I know you have to do it for liability purposes but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

Proponents of Tim Tebow’s infamous haircut and Dez Bryant’s personal servitude promised to create “team chemistry” and “a fun time for the rookies,” which would in turn produce a successful season.  But with both teams sitting at last place in their respective divisions, and a Dallas Cowboys record envied only by the Buffalo Bills, we can safely conclude now that this failed experiment in rookie hazing didn’t result in a team chemistry that wins football games.

Hazing’s “true believers” will be quick to blame the coaches, or a lack of talented players, or Tony Romo’s fractured clavicle or anything other than the training camp antics.  There’s no doubt that a team can fail for any number of reasons and no one–not even the ESPN analysts–can say why with certainty.  The point is not necessarily that rookie hazing caused their bad season but, rather, that rookie hazing failed to fulfill its promises, namely, that personal servitude would create a team culture conducive to winning football games.

In any case, this story sheds some light on the true nature of hazing: Though always justified with the best of intentions, hazing is not much more than a form of entertainment for veterans who take pleasure in embarrassing their teammates.

Does carrying a veteran player’s shoulder pads risk personal injury?  Doubtful.  What about the potential for psychological harm?  Probably not.  So what’s the big deal in a little harmless rookie hazing?  It’s an utter waste of time and a distraction from the team’s core purpose.

The time spent duct-taping a rookie to the goal post, giving embarrassing haircuts and bickering over who should carry the veteran’s shoulder pads could have been spent on activities that are actually relevant to winning football games, like practicing audibles, studying film or even reviewing blocking assignments to protect the quarterback from injury.  (Too soon?)

Rookie hazing may seem harmless on the surface because most of it probably is harmless.  But the unseen harm comes in the form of distracting a team from its mission to win a championship (or in our case, teaching ethical leadership).  Hazing is harmful because it’s insidious.

Hazing is often perpetuated by the Brothers who contribute nothing to the chapter, leaving coerced respect as their only way to feel relevant.  Similarly, it’s not uncommon for the third and fourth stringers to be the loudest proponents of hazing.  They can’t earn respect on the field, or by embracing their role as a valuable backup teammate, so they’re compelled to demand respect by bossing around the rookies.  If you want respect from the new members, earn it the right way by holding a leadership position and moving your chapter forward.

Thankfully, sensible Brothers who want to lead their chapter to excellence are taking a stand against arbitrary tradition as evidenced by one of the more uplifting Facebook comments:

I’ve never felt admiration or respect for someone while being their servant. Listening to advice and learning from the elder is a better way to show respect. Saying, “no thanks, I can carry my own pads” is a better way to get respect from the rookies. The rookie who works hard and learns is going to get more playing time than the rookie who carries shoulder pads the best. It is a pointless tradition with little to no benefit and much bigger risks such as resentment and spite.

Can Fraternity Leaders Find Inspiration from a Hipster Clothing Company?

Struggling chapters are often quick to blame their underperformance as part of a bigger trend.  “Sure, we only recruited three guys this semester but numbers were down for everyone,” or “grades were down across the board this year, it wasn’t just us,” I often hear.  And as you might expect, chapters that repeat this narrative to themselves remain mediocre.

On the other hand, high performing chapters find a way to defy the trends.  When recruitment numbers are down campus-wide, excellent chapters increase the quantity AND quality of their membership.  When the IFC average GPA takes a nose dive, excellent chapters find a way to increase their scholarship performance.

Like most struggling chapters, underperforming companies are quick to blame their weak performance on larger economic trends.  But occasionally we find a company that refuses to bow to the patterns around them.  From Economist magazine:

Uniqlo’s parent company, Fast Retailing, is Japan’s biggest clothing company, with sales of $9 billion forecast this year. Whereas many Japanese businesses are ailing because of the stagnant domestic economy, Fast Retailing is flourishing. Last year sales grew by 17%, despite the recession, or because of it: its clothes combine a touch of style with enticingly low prices.

The Economist article offers another lesson in enduring success and leadership transition:

Mr Yanai himself may also create problems. A brilliant strategist with uncanny fashion instincts, he is also unable to delegate, say Fast Retailing executives. He controls all decisions, down to approving samples and colours.

This micromanaging has pushed talented executives to quit the firm, leaving no obvious successor to Mr Yanai, who plans to step down as boss (but remain chairman) in four years, at 65. Previous attempts to cede day-to-day control have been aborted.

It’s too early to tell whether the perceived micro-managing of Fast Retailing founder and CEO Tadashi Yanai will harm the company in the long run.  But this example reminds us of Jim Collins‘ famous observation of clock building vs. time telling.  It would be great to have someone who can tell us the time of day merely by observing the angle of the sun, but how will we tell the time once he is gone?  Clock builders, or leaders who prepare the organization to succeed after their departure, are far more valuable than time tellers.

The article offers one final inspiration for chapters reaching for the next level, the courage to break tradition:

When pressed, Mr Yanai says that he has decided not to hand the company over to his sons. They will be big shareholders with board seats, but will not take operational roles. In this, he once again defies traditional Japanese business practices. Firms that rely on primogeniture, he notes, perform poorly. So, in the long run, do those that rely on a domineering leader.

Breaking tradition isn’t necessarily good, but the courage to abandon an arbitrary one is praiseworthy.

How Will Your Chapter Reinvent Itself This Year?

The Harvard Business Review launched a redesigned magazine with its January-February 2010 issue, using this new look to highlight the importance of rethinking and reinventing.

As we kickoff our own reinvention, the month’s HBR Spotlight is on that very topic.  Corporate transformation can be an essential part of strategy, particularly in an unsettled environment.  Whether you’re changing your entire business model, your approach to marketing, or the way you define strategy, the articles in this package will provide valuable guidance.

Reinventing strategy while maintaining a commitment to your organization’s core purpose is just as necessary for  thriving fraternities as it is for successful companies.  “We’ve always done it this way” is a death knell for complacent chapters and corporations alike.

Stay tuned for more follow-up posts on this subject in the near future.

Creativity: The Unsung Leadership Quality

Our Founders and early members were prescient in choosing the Rock and the Rose as enduring symbols of The Legion of Honor.  Our fundamental purpose to produce ethical leaders for society will never change (Rock); however, the strategies and tactics we use to accomplish our mission are changing constantly as we adapt to our surroundings (Rose).

Similarly, most enduring companies maintain a fundamental purpose through the years.  Strategies and even products and services may change, but the core mission remains.  And as Fast Company magazine reports, finding the right strategies and tactics often requires an under-appreciated leadership quality:

For CEOs, creativity is now the most important leadership quality for success in business, outweighing even integrity and global thinking, according to a new study by IBM. The study is the largest known sample of one-on-one CEO interviews, with over 1,500 corporate heads and public sector leaders across 60 nations and 33 industries polled on what drives them in managing their companies in today’s world.

The Rose can manifest itself it many different leadership qualities, and least among them is creativity.  Take some time this summer to ponder how you will lead your chapter through innovation and creativity this coming year.  It could be something as simple as changing the time and location of chapter meetings.  Or maybe it’s time to bring creativity to your LEAD Program in the form of some new and energizing guest facilitators (see how Fresno State is bringing creativity to LEAD in the spring 2010 issue of The Delta) .

Change, renewal and purity of purpose–as represented by the Rose–is necessary to the long-term success of any organization, especially the college fraternity.

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.

Countdown to Founders’ Month of Service…7


Setup a PayPal account so donors can contribute online. Now you can send the link via email and Facebook to thousands of potential donors–alumni, friends and family–with the click of a button.

Countdown to Founders’ Month of Service…8


Get a credit card terminal. Fewer and fewer people are carrying cash or check books these days, so get with the program and procure a credit card terminal.  And if you’re really serious, talk with student account services on your campus.  Some will provide a machine allowing students to donate money from their meal plan.

Countdown to Founders’ Month of Service…9


Ask people for donations. Sounds obvious, right?  Then why do so many philanthropy events consist of nothing more than chapter members sitting behind a card table with a change jar?  The most common reasons people don’t donate is because they were never asked or, believe it or not, because they were asked for something insignificant.  Ask donors for a specific amount and don’t insult them by asking for too little.

Potential donors could include alumni, brothers’ family members, other students and local vendors/businesses.  And donations need not only be monetary.  For example, ask a local grocery store to donate bottled water or ask local restaurants to provide gift cards as incentives.

Learn more here about how your chapter can participate in the Helping Hand Initiative.

Lending the Helping Hand

To countdown the start of this year’s Founders’ Month of Service, we’ll be posting a different tip every day to help your chapter reach new heights in philanthropy and community service.  While only ten days remain until the start of the Founders’ Month of Service, it’s never too late to get something started.


Pick a charitable purpose your chapter is passionate about. Don’t do a project because it “looks good” or because it gets you positive PR.  Do it because you genuinely care about helping others.  Chapter members are more likely to get excited about an event if it benefits an organization or recipient about which they care deeply.  Check Sigma Nu’s Helping Hand Initiative for suggested organizations to partner with.

Theta Theta (EKU) at a recent game ball run which raised funds for cancer patients.

We Must Protect this [Fraternity] House!

This video interview with Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank offers lessons for both large and small chapters alike.

For small, struggling chapters: Nothing is out of reach.  Maybe things aren’t going so great right now but there’s nothing preventing you from being the chapter that seems to dominate everything on campus.  Utilize all of your resources, set tangible goals, recruit the right people, make smart decisions and you’ll get there.  If a start-up like Under Armour can take market share from a behemoth like Nike then anything is possible.

And for the large, successful chapters: Maybe you’re the “Nike” on your campus, so to speak.  But just because your performance is untouchable today doesn’t mean it will continue automatically.  Just look at all of the now dormant chapters that previously had manpower well above 100.  Chapters that reject change and renewal (remember the White Rose?) have never fared well.