Category Archives: groupthink

From Passive to Powerful


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

Mike Dilbeck

Are We Bemoaning ‘Animal House’ For the Wrong Reasons?

Most of us accept the idea that movies like Animal House and Old School haven’t been so great for fraternity stereotypes. But lately I’ve been wondering if we tend to overestimate the impact such movies have had on public perceptions of Greek life while overlooking a far more damaging effect.

It shouldn’t be too controversial to acknowledge that some parts of famous Greek life movies and TV shows were based on real life. We know the writer for ABC Family’s Greek joined a sorority in college, from which she drew ideas for the show. The Old School writers didn’t come up with those ideas out of thin air. Some were parodies while others were sensationalized (or both), but it’s safe to say most were based on someone’s experience, albeit a false one.

Rather than creating the negative stereotypes we live with today, it’s more likely that pop culture’s attempts at depicting Greek life have merely confirmed what people already thought.

Though I’m confident fraternity life would be better off had Animal House never been made, I can live with art [poorly and inaccurately] imitating life. What’s more concerning — and what’s far more damaging than merely perpetuating existing stereotypes — is when life tries to imitate art.

Researchers at Ohio State University may have confirmed that very concern this month with a new study examining “experience-taking,” in which subjects subconsciously absorb the behaviors of a fictional character.

When you “lose yourself” inside the world of a fictional character while reading a story, you may actually end up changing your own behavior and thoughts to match that of the character, a new study suggests.

Watching parody movies or reciting jokes from satire websites might seem harmless enough at first. Before you know it, though, and without even realizing it, those jokes and movie quotes seep into the culture of your chapter, gradually reinforcing the insidious behaviors that lead chapters to certain failure.

Watch the movies if you must, but for heaven’s sake, don’t reenact the scenes.

[HT Will Wilkinson]

//Nathaniel Clarkson

Are you a fan or a fanatic?

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. -Aristotle

We all have strong convictions about something. It could be a political belief (“taxes hurt small businesses”), or a historical narrative (“FDR ended the Great Depression”) or even the eminence of a favorite sports team (“Chicago Cubs are the best baseball team ever”).

Maybe it’s something as simple as a favorite TV show (“Hands down, Entourage is the best show to ever grace the airwaves”). Whatever it may be, everyone is passionate about something.

In everyday usage, “fan” describes someone passionate about a sports team, a TV show, a musician, and so on. “I’m a lifelong Redskins fan,” one might say in casual conversation, or “I’m a huge fan of Tom Petty.

But the root word of fan carries a much different, and more harmful, meaning. Merriam-Webster defines fanatic as “marked by excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion.” (Synonyms include “extremist” and “radical.”)

For a fan of the Detroit Lions a win brings him a sense of joy, but he can acknowledge, after observing the team’s record over the past ten years, that the franchise is not the best in the League.

For a fanatic, on the other hand, evidence doesn’t matter. The Detroit Lions are the best team in the League, period, and no amount of reason or logic will change his mind. It sounds silly in a sports analogy, but from time to time we’re all prone to such blindness in our decision making in other areas of our lives.

So what happens when we’re confronted with new evidence that conflicts with an existing worldview? How will you react? Will you take a big gulp, swallow your pride and change your mind? Or will you frantically search for stories that confirm your narrative and ignore anything that refutes it?

Thankfully for us Sigma Nus, the anecdote to fanaticism is right in front of us. Our founding principle of Truth expects us to make decisions based on sound information, even if it might not support our existing belief.

In short, Truth calls on us to keep an open mind–to consider the possibility that we made a mistake in our thinking. It requires us to walk away from a false paradigm no matter how psychologically painful it might be.

Which brings us to the #40 Answers in 40 Days Campaign. Beginning tomorrow, and continuing through National Hazing Prevention Week, hazers will be confronted with a steady assault of evidence and logic that questions a deeply rooted worldview—a worldview that regards the arbitrary mistreatment of new members as a legitimate way to build lifelong friendships and commitment to the fraternity.

For hazing’s True Believers we ask one thing: Consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

The Friend Card

Have you ever experienced a situation where the lines between friend and brother become blurred? Where you let a member slide, which hurts your chapter based on friendship versus being a good brother and holding them to a higher standard?

What do you do when a brother deals you the friend card? Are you really being a good friend by letting them slide?

Is your chapter brother that good of a friend that you will let the chapter suffer for his poor grades or misbehavior? Will you let your chapter suffer financially because he cannot pay his dues and you don’t want to hurt your friendship? Or will you hold him to that higher standard that you agreed to when you joined the fraternity?

If you hold your fellow brother to those standards it may be tough in the short run and some feelings may be hurt, but in the future all parties involved will benefit.

There are times when your brothers may not even be your friends.

Mind your brother so he minds you.


Have you ever run into a situation where the lines between friend and brother become blurred? Where you let a member slide, which hurts your chapter based on friendship versus being a good brother and holding them to a higher standard?


What do you do when a Brother deals you the friend card? Are you really being a good friend by letting them slide?


Is your chapter brother that good of friend that you will let the chapter suffer for his poor grades or misbehavior? Will you let your chapter suffer financially because he cannot pay his dues and you don’t want to hurt your friendship? Or will you hold him to that higher standard that you agreed to when you joined the fraternity?


If you hold your fellow brother to those standards it may be tough in the short run and some feelings may be hurt, but in the future all parties involved will benefit.


There are times when your brothers may not even be your friends.


Mind your brother so he minds you.

The Danger of Complacency

West Point Cadet Megan Snook writing on General Motors’ complacency in The Washington Post‘s ‘On Leadership’ blog:

When a group of individuals works together for quite some time, the environment becomes comfortable. Unfortunately, a comfortable environment brings contentment, stagnation and group think. Before long, there is no striving for advancement or progress.

A new leader or team reorganization can bring innovative ideas to previously set standards. Without this cyclical development, progress eventually levels off. Large organizations, like GM, cannot afford to be content. In such a high-paced business world, there is too much competition to be complacent.

UPDATE: Over the summer several of the staff members rolled up their sleeves in the archives to research and compile a comprehensive list of all Rock Chapter Award recipients.  The project started out of a curiosity to know what chapter had racked up the most Rock Chapters Awards in Sigma Nu history.

In the process we became more interested–and alarmed–by a much different fact: the number of former Rock Chapters that are now dormant or barely getting by.  Which made me even more eager to read this book.

Hazing thrives on indifference and inaction

C.S. Lewis sheds light on the insidious temptation of compromising personal values to gain group acceptance:

To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colors.  Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear.  Over a drink or a cup of coffee, disguised as a triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still–just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naive or a prig–the hint will come.  It will be the hint of something, which is not quite in accordance with the technical rules of fair play, something that the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand.  Something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about, but something, says your new friend, which “we”–and the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure–something “we always do.”  And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world.  It would be so terrible so see the other man’s face–that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face–turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit.  It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school.  But you will be a scoundrel.

-C.S. Lewis, The Inner Ring

Can Lack of Diversity Lead to Groupthink?

The following is a guest post from Leadership Consultant Marcus Baum.

I remember meeting with a Commander in the fall who explained to me that “we have a really diverse group of guys in the chapter.”

I looked at him with amazement and asked, “Really?”

His response was, “Well, for a group of white, middle (to upper)-class guys, we are pretty diverse.”

This so-called “diversity” was not present. Open minds and sound chapter operations also ceased to exist.  It would be inaccurate to state that this correlation is directly linked to a lack of racial diversity within the chapter, but it did get me thinking about the benefits that could exist with diversity amongst chapter members.

“Diversity” appears to be the buzzword floating around the offices of higher education professionals all around the country, and rightfully so. Most students hear the term “diversity,” have one definition in mind, but may not realize why having a racially diverse chapter can be towards their benefit.

In the study, “Theoretical Foundations for the Effect of Diversity,” published in the Harvard Educational Review, the authors identify the key benefits of diversity in a variety of higher education entities.  Here are some of the key points relating to learning outcomes and how they relate to student organizations:

Racial and ethnic diversity may promote a broad range of educational outcomes, but we focus on two general categories. Learning outcomes include active thinking skills, intellectual engagement and motivation, and a variety of academic skills. Democracy outcomes include perspective-taking, citizenship engagement, racial and cultural understanding, and judgment of the compatibility among different groups in a democracy.

Oftentimes people become focused on their immediate surroundings, failing to acknowledge the greater world around them.  This limited view will translate poorly when individuals enter the workforce, particularly an extremely diversified workforce.

The impact of diversity on learning and democracy outcomes is believed to be especially important during the college years because students are at a critical developmental stage, which takes place in institutions explicitly constituted to promote late adolescent development.

College serves as a vehicle for development amongst students.  Organizations, and students alike, limit their developmental potential by excluding others and limiting their exposure to different views.

Based on the article “Unlocking the Benefits of Diversity,” found in The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science…

The authors posit that AIM (all-inclusive multiculturalism model) serves as a catalyst for positive and effective organizational change through the development of social capital and positive relationships at work and enables organizational members to grow to their fullest potential.

Many fraternal organizations suffer from accepting the status quo.  By creating an environment that values opposing and challenging views, chapters allow themselves to become open to positive, and much needed, organizational change.  Although there are probably diverse chapters that face similar struggles to the chapter I described earlier, the studies illustrate that they may have created an environment with an inherent predisposition to accept changes and improve their organization.

At the end of the day, chapters must find the best members for their organization, regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic standing or any other arbitrary requirement for membership.  However, by creating an organization that has a racial composition disproportionate to that of the host institution, we naturally limit the ability of its members to grow to their fullest potential and become the individuals they truly are. And in reality, the mission of our fraternity is to foster the personal growth of each man’s mind, heart and character. Diversity, racial and otherwise, needs to be present for this to happen.

To learn more, visit to review the diversity LEAD session.

Who knew TV could be Educational?

I don’t know how many of you have seen the new KFC commercial (for those of you who haven’t check out this link To provide a quick summary, KFC is donating money to aid breast cancer research. For every bucket of fried chicken purchased they donate money to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. To me this seemed almost humorous. We are going to combat breast cancer by making America’s growing obesity problem worse. Hopefully many of you find this as perplexing and funny as I do.

It’s so funny that someone (KFC) is trying to fix one problem (breast cancer) while making another worse (obesity).

The funny thing is we may mock KFC or show one of our brothers this YouTube clip but we won’t learn from it. A few of you may say, “I don’t get it,” so let me put this into fraternal terms.

It’s so funny that someone (your chapter) is trying to fix one problem (low manpower) while making another worse (the guys we bring in are party animals and ignore the Risk Reduction policy).

The commercial is only funny when it is someone else and not our chapter. We need to learn from this. How many of us look for the quick fix to one problem but don’t realize that we are making another problem worse in the long term? Recruitment is only one example and rest assured there are many more. Countless times I meet outstanding chapter officers who do a ton of work and pick up slack for lazy officers. This certainly solves the problem of something not getting done, but over time we are hurting ourselves. We fail to create a culture of accountability and sooner or later our officers begin to slack more and more because they know Johnny the Lt. Commander, or our Exec board or whoever will pick up the slack and do the work for us. To go back to our example:

It’s funny that someone (our chapter’s outstanding officer) is trying to fix one problem (something not getting done) while making another worse (accountability).

I won’t bog you down with more examples but I strongly encourage you to determine if in any situation in your chapter you are the “someone” in that sentence. Perhaps not. But I bet whether we are the Alpha Chapter, a new colony, or somewhere in between we can think of one example where we fix one problem while making another worse. Let’s recognize that and address the issue.

Why People Conform

“Be Yourself” is one of the most repeated and accepted axioms of our time.  But is conformity inherently bad?  It’s natural, after all, to surround ourselves with like-minded people who share common tastes and preferences–the very foundation of social relationships.  An entire chapter with Costas, Croakies and Top Siders isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But when conformity takes the form of groupthink and impairs our ability to make rational decisions, the results can be disastrous.

This PSYBLOG post lists ten factors that contribute to conformity.  Here are just a few:

2.  Dissent

As soon as there’s someone who disagrees, or even just dithers or can’t decide, conformity is reduced. Some studies have found conformity can be reduced from highs of 97% on a visual judgement task down to only 36% when there is a competent dissenter in the ranks (Allen & Levine, 1971).

Dissenters must be consistent, though, otherwise they’ll fail to convince the majority.

Indeed, all it takes is one dissenting voice to avoid a bad idea.

5.  Need for structure

While personality might not be as important as the situation in which people are put, it none the less has an effect. Some people have more of a ‘need for structure’ and consequently are more likely to conform (Jugert et al., 2009).

Teaching “time management” is often used as a facade for expecting candidates to adhere to arbitrarily busy schedules.

9. Social Norms

Other people affect us even when they’re not present. Whether or not we recycle, litter the street or evade tax often comes down to our perception of society’s view. Most of us are strongly influenced by thinking about how others would behave in the same situation we are in, especially when we are unsure how to act (Cialdini, 2001).

The higher we perceive the level of consensus, the more we are swayed. We are also more easily swayed if we know little about the issue ourselves or can’t be bothered to examine it carefully.

Unfortunately, many candidates who join hazing chapters falsely believe their experience to be the norm.

Sigma Nu History Isn’t Just For Candidates

Many of you have probably noticed that we started posting a Sigma Nu trivia question-of-the-day last week.  So far it’s been a fun way to engage our Facebook fans and Twitter followers about the early days of our storied organization.

A select few of the comments, however, have been disappointing in a subtle way.  Apparently for some, Sigma Nu history is merely a collection of arbitrary information for quizzing candidates.  “…well thats [sic] good trivia to stump candidates with,” read one comment.  Several others echoed a similar sentiment.

I know what you’re thinking: “What’s the big deal?  We expect our candidates to memorize history as a requirement for initiation.  Every chapter teaches history.  Don’t you think history is important??”

Of course history is important.  It explains why we were founded and it helps us understand why Sigma Nu’s mission is still relevant over 140 years later.  But seemingly harmless comments like these only perpetuate the pervasive myth that membership is earned only once during “pledging,” inevitably creating a culture of apathy and entitlement.

It seems harmless at first–a written test here, a verbal quiz there–but this paradigm of pledging is insidious.  Before long, verbal quiz sessions become line ups where deadbeat brothers attempt to gain unearned respect under the guise of “teaching history.”

Oddly, our history is often misused in this way as an arbitrary means to badger new members–the very behavior Sigma Nu was founded against.

Memorizing history is well and good but understanding history is even better.  Instead of barking “WHERE WERE THE FOUNDERS BORN?” why not discuss “Why was Sigma Nu founded and how is this still relevant today?”  Or, “to what extent does our chapter actually practice what the Founders intended?”

Slowly but surely sensible chapters are adopting this not-so-new paradigm for candidate education: Earn your badge every day by living the mission and values of our organization.  They’re not changing because it earns brownie points from the Greek Advisor or because “Nationals” told them to; they’re changing because it works.  Members are realizing that a brotherhood based on fear, harassment and personal servitude isn’t really a brotherhood at all.