Category Archives: leadership

My Fraternity Tattoo

Photo by Flickr user deano

Photo by Flickr user deano

By Steven Harowitz (Central Florida)

I broke a well-known rule of life: Don’t get a tattoo on spring break in Panama City when you’re 18.

I placed the Fraternity letters on my right shoulder one sunny day with some of my brothers circled around me. It wasn’t planned and definitely not thought out, but in the moment I felt like it meant enough to me to have the letters placed publicly on my body.

Fast-forward a few months. I’m visiting friends in a sleeveless T-shirt (which warrants an entirely different discussion) when one remarks about my “frat tat.”  It was the first of many less-then-enjoyable conversations over the next few years with one central theme:

“Why would you get that on your body… forever?”

It seems that most individuals, even those involved in Greek life, did not feel this permanent choice was wise. As if being a fraternity member was only acceptable as long as I wore my letters in a non-permanent way.

I’m willing to admit this only now with a few years of reflection: I bought into the shaming. I believed the friends and acquaintances who took my choice away from me.

Maybe I shouldn’t have gotten that tattoo. Maybe I should always have it covered so people don’t judge. Maybe I shouldn’t have placed something on my body that wouldn’t identify me as a “frat boy” the rest of my life.

For the majority of the last five years I refused to show my tattoo to people.  I would make up an excuse, or say it wasn’t done, or just downright say no. I was afraid I would be labeled, yet again, as a dumb “frat boy” who made a bad choice one spring break. My arms, and fraternal pride, went into hiding.

I placed the letters on my body because I wanted a reminder to myself, and to those who see it, that I strive to live a life based on a set of values.

I helped facilitate an Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute last summer during which I asked a participant to redefine the term “frat hard.” It was written in his Twitter profile and when I pointed it out he apologized and then deleted it.  I pushed back, telling him not to run from the term, but to tell people what “fraternity-ing hard” actually meant: living by your values, caring for your brothers and the greater community, leading a life of integrity.  A renewed sense of pride rushed over me until I remembered my own refusal to own my fraternal roots. I let those around me take the symbolism of my tattoo and skew it into a generalized, stereotyped version of fraternity.  I didn’t have Greek letters (and in correlation, my values) placed on to this once-in-forever body for others; I placed the letters on my body because I wanted a reminder to myself, and to those who see it, that I strive to live a life based on a set of values.

How dare they see this symbol and think it’s a mistake. Those values are tattooed to my heart, mind, and soul; what’s a shoulder in comparison? Even as I write this article at a crowded coffee shop I get antsy thinking the woman next to me saw the title of my article and upon reading “My Fraternity Tattoo” decided I was just another frat boy. It’s an ongoing struggle.

I strive to live a different life. I refuse to let Greek members who live incongruently with their values ruin an experience that helped thousands become leaders in their communities.

I refuse to let people take an experience that has shaped me into the person I am today and decide that it must be the same as that of all others.

I refuse to let others turn my tattoo into a symbol of raging parties that upset entire neighborhoods. I refuse to let my tattoo stand for disrespecting other’s identities. I refuse to let my tattoo stand for hosting theme parties that disparage a community. I refuse to let my tattoo stand for hazing new members because of a skewed perspective of what building brotherhood means.

My tattoo stands for actual community service, where brothers spend their time directly helping others, not planning a philanthropy that just swaps money between organizations. My tattoo stands for not being a bystander if I see someone acting dishonorably. My tattoo stands for supporting my brothers in all their endeavors, not just by liking a Facebook status, but actually showing up at their athletic events or at their bedside when sick.

My tattoo stands for refusing to let Greek professionals be harassed because they held a Greek community accountable for the community’s actions or inactions.

I now wear sleeveless shirts – not because it’s hot outside or because I feel like I have muscles to show off (which believe me, I do not) but rather because I invite the discussion.

“Yeah, I do have a tattoo.  I’ve had it for a few years.”

“Yep, those are Greek Letters. I am a member of a Fraternity”

“No, I did not get hazed.”

“No, I didn’t pay for my friends.”

“Do you have a few minutes, I would love to tell you what a true Greek experience looks like.”

My tattoo stands for opportunity to educate others on what Greek membership really stands for.  My tattoo stands for Love, Honor, and Truth. My tattoo stands for the pride I carry from being a Sigma Nu and a fraternity man. Want to talk about it?

Steven Harowitz is an initiate of the Mu Psi Chapter at Central Florida and the Coordinator of Student Involvement and Leadership at Washington University in St. Louis.

Visionary Leadership: The College of Chapters Experience

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

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.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

“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

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

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.

Sigma Nu Leadership conference

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

Illuminating a Path

Full page spread_TEAM_HELMETS_Low Res

By Merritt Onsa

Photos courtesy of TJ Martin/The Weinstein Company

Brother Bill Courtney (Mississippi) just wanted to coach football again. But when his life intersected with the players on one of the worst high school teams in the State of Tennessee, he not only helped the team turn things around on the field, he showed them where true character and manhood come from.

“Football doesn’t build character. Football reveals character.” It’s a common refrain for Bill Courtney (Mississippi). And he should know, since he’s spent most of his life playing or coaching the game.

“In a lot of ways, football is a microcosm of life. There’s pain, triumph and loss. You have to work with other people and listen to someone else’s instruction. You have to learn the difference between hurt and injured. And when you get hurt, it sucks, but you still have to keep going. Those are all the same things that happen in everyday life, and how you respond does, in fact, reveal your preparation to deal with those things,” he says.
Ever since Undefeated — the documentary featuring Courtney and his role in turning around the Manassas High School football team in Memphis — won the 2012 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Courtney has been invited all over the country for speaking engagements. He talks about leadership — as in, leading yourself and leading others — which is something he learned not only through football but also in Sigma Nu.

He regularly recalls what he first heard as a candidate: To believe in the Life of Love, to walk in the Way of Honor, to serve in the Light of Truth. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s an amazing creed; that’s something worth thinking about and implementing in your life. If you could just take that creed and walk the rest of your life doing those three things, by and large, you’d be successful.’ Those words have always meant something to me,” says Courtney.

As he coached the Manassas Tigers from 2003 to 2009, Courtney closed every team prayer with this challenge from the Sigma Nu Creed. It made no difference that the players didn’t know where those words originated; they still provide the guidance a young man needs in deciding how to live his life.

Before He Was “Coach”

For as long as he can remember, Courtney played sports, especially football. Raised in a single-parent home — Courtney’s dad left when he was just four years old — the only male role models he had were his coaches and teachers.

He lettered in six sports and played competitive chess in high school. He describes himself as “a fair athlete but pretty bright.” At the time, that didn’t necessarily seem like a good thing to Courtney. But one of his mentors, the chess coach and math teacher, had also played football in high school; he showed Courtney that being smart wasn’t necessarily weak. Courtney joined the chess team his freshman year, and four years later they won third place in the national tournament. “I learned a lot of valuable stuff from him. It was guys like him and my other coaches who formed my thinking as an adolescent,” he says.

Courtney was recruited out of high school to play football at several smaller colleges; but Ole Miss offered an academic scholarship. He accepted and planned to walk-on the football team, but six days before tryouts he separated his shoulder. And, as it turns out, once he saw the skill level of the guys on the team he knew he wasn’t good enough to play with them. “I just wasn’t that caliber of an athlete,” he says.

Caption2_BILL_OC_SIDELINES_low res

When Courtney graduated with a degree in psychology and English, he decided to be a teacher and continue coaching. By the age of 22, he was a head varsity football coach, the youngest in the state of Tennessee.

So he got involved in other things during college; he wrote for the student paper and joined Sigma Nu, where he served as Lieutenant Commander in 1989. “What I remember most about Sigma Nu is living in the house and the relationships, fun and the understanding of people that I developed there,” says Courtney. He also played a key role in launching Epsilon Xi’s renowned Charity Bowl, which has raised more than $1.2 million since its inception. (See the sidebar about the history of the Charity Bowl.)

During his junior and senior years of college, Courtney coached soccer at Oxford High School and soccer, baseball, swimming, track and basketball at a private school, Oxford University School. When he graduated with a degree in psychology and English, he decided to be a teacher and continue coaching. By the age of 22, he was a head varsity football coach, the youngest in the state of Tennessee.

Once he got married, Courtney couldn’t afford to keep teaching and coaching. In 2001, he started a lumber business out of his living room. Classic American Hardwoods, Inc. sells lumber to companies that manufacture flooring, cabinetry, trim and furniture. His company, now with 120 employees and offices all over the world, is headquartered just blocks from Manassas High School near some of Memphis’ most underprivileged neighborhoods.

Building a Promising Football Program

It was two years later when an employee and fraternity brother Jim Tipton (Mississippi) had been volunteering at Manassas and asked Courtney if he was ready to get back into coaching. Tipton said there were 17 kids on the football team, some of whom looked promising; but in the last three years, they’d won only a single game. Courtney saw it as a challenge. “I didn’t go there to save anyone,” he says. “I went there to coach football. But it didn’t take long to realize the inherent dysfunction of those kids’ lives. That’s what turned ‘I’ll try it for a year’ into a six-year exercise.”

In his first year at Manassas, the Tigers won four games and went to the playoffs. Every year after that, the more success they had the more the program grew in terms of team members and local volunteers. And, at the same time, Coach Courtney fell in love with the perseverance of these kids who’d faced more than their share of hard knocks primarily because of where they’d been born.

According to Courtney, an 18-year-old male from the neighborhoods around Manassas is three times more likely to be incarcerated than go to college by the time he’s 22 years old. Most of the kids he coached didn’t have a father at home; many had at least one relative in prison. They were hungry to learn about life and how to be a man. Courtney understood those desires; he’d faced them growing up without his father.

“I was able to say to them, ‘I know where you are. I came from where you are. I may be a white guy with a business and all that, but I really do understand what’s hurting you and what’s driving you. I was there; and if I can do it, you can do it,’” he says.

But he also knew from experience that “doing it” wasn’t something that happened in a vacuum. “The Lord put some unbelievable men in my life in the form of coaches. I don’t think I would be a third of what I am today if it weren’t for the men I played ball for, and that goes all the way back to elementary and junior high school,” he says.

Remembering that, Courtney knew he had an opportunity to reach these kids through something they cared about — football. Aligned with his mantra that “football doesn’t build character” he set out to help them figure out what does.

Committed to Character

What builds character? For Courtney, it’s living out those words he learned as a candidate. “It’s a commitment to integrity, hard work, honor and keeping your word. All of that comes straight out of the Sigma Nu Creed. The guy who wrote that meant it. The whole idea is to think about those words and make them a part of who you are. That’s where you build character. So when life hits you in the mouth, what you’ve built is revealed in how you handle those circumstances. The game doesn’t build character, but it will certainly reveal it.”

Day after day of hard work on the field and encouraging his players to keep their focus in the classroom, Courtney and his fellow coaches modeled what it means to be men of character. After reading Tony Dungy’s book Uncommon, Tipton introduced “The Uncommon Man Award” to help team members recognize the importance of doing well on and off the field. Every week, during their devotional time with the team, Tipton read a chapter from the book. The player who most illustrated what it means to be “uncommon” over the last week received the award before the pre-game meal.

Building a team of uncommon men wasn’t going to happen overnight; and it certainly wasn’t going to happen without help. Over time, at least 200 other volunteers served at Manassas in one way or another. Courtney eventually gathered a full staff of volunteer coaches; and members of local churches cooked pre-game meals, sent mentors to campus and hosted football camps for the team. “Every day it seemed someone new was asking how they could help at Manassas. Over the course of six years, with so many volunteers surrounding the team, it became a program,” he says.

And that program was attracting some attention. In Courtney’s sixth year, documentary filmmakers T.J. Martin and Dan Lindsay had heard about O.C. Brown, a promising lineman at Manassas; they wanted to create a 30-minute film about him. But once they saw the bigger rising-from-the-ashes story of the Manassas Tigers, they decided to temporarily relocate to Memphis to film the whole story. What resulted was an inspiring documentary that is well-illustrated by its title: Undefeated.


Most of the kids Courtney coached didn’t have a father at home; many had at least one relative in prison. They were hungry to learn about life and how to be a man. Courtney understood those desires; he’d faced them growing up without his father.

Not Just about Football

The film, however, isn’t just about a once-failing football team’s rise to success. Courtney would be the first to tell you there were far more lows than there were highs in those six years. Four of his players were shot and killed in the course of his time at Manassas. This was about far more than the game of football.

In his words, “Undefeated has nothing to do with what happens on the field. It’s about being undefeated by your circumstances, and this group of people was not going to be defeated by their circumstances.”

And, it seems, the “people” he’s referring to aren’t just the kids on the team. “This is about two very diverse groups of people from very different socio-economic walks of life who put aside their preconceived notions and social inhibitions and just came together to work for a common goal. That’s the beauty of it.”

But just like football, it was a combination of pain and triumph. Every bit of those six years with the team was excruciating as Courtney worked and coached 16 hours a day before coming home to spend a few moments with his family. But he says it was all worth it.

“The rewards were immeasurable as more kids came to the program, as they started to win on the field and as they started to change the way they were approaching their lives. In our last two years, we graduated 36 seniors, and 35 went to college. When you see change happening in kids’ lives, you’re absolutely drawn to it. That’s the satisfaction you get by giving of yourself,” he says.

Creed Pull quote_Low res

“What builds character? It’s a commitment to integrity, hard work, honor and keeping your word. All of that comes straight out of the Sigma Nu Creed. The guy who wrote that meant it. The whole idea is to think about those words and make them a part of who you are.”

In those years Courtney changed, too. “Ten years ago I would have told you, if you don’t succeed in this country it’s your own fault. I’m here to tell you today, that’s just not true,” he says. “That sounds right, and it should be right. But the truth is, even in a country with all the opportunity in the world, until that opportunity is explained and that path is illuminated, you can’t expect a kid to just find it.”

To continue to help illuminate that path, Courtney and Tipton created The ManRise Foundation — a mentoring program for young men in Memphis schools. Mentors encourage morality, good character and responsibility through biblical principles and personal encouragement. Now that Courtney is no longer coaching at Manassas, several local churches continue to carry the torch and invest in the lives of the young people in Memphis through the foundation.

In 2003, he just wanted to coach football. A decade later, Courtney has a platform to spread the word about what it takes to impact the life of another human being. “All the money in the world is never going to fix this problem [of poverty]. This is a very human problem. The only thing that fixes it is in-your-face compassion, mentoring, real-life love and teaching about the healthy ways to live life. These kids are lost. But you light that human spirit with a little bit of hope and a little bit of guidance; and it’s amazing what can happen.”

And all it takes — is character.

Undefeated is currently available on DVD, Blu-Ray and Netflix streaming.

What “Excelling with Honor” Really Means

By James Ehrmann (Iowa)

Excelling with honor – that’s what we strive to do as Sigma Nus.  That’s the vision of our organization.

But what does that mean?  How, exactly, does a brother meet these broad expectations?

You lead with honor.

In this post at his LinkedIn page, former CEO Douglas Conant presents four ways to influence people with honor every day.

“…people are watching what we do and how we do it.  The people we seek to influence are acutely aware of our actions.  They notice dismissiveness, lazy thinking, and lack of integrity.  They also notice careful listening, offers of help, consensus building, and trustworthy behavior.”

Wise words; especially as hundreds of chapters prepare to elect new executive boards.

Be aware of what you do, not just what you say.  And, as you prepare your leadership platform and goals for future positions, utilize Conant’s suggestions as tangible ways to drive you chapter towards the fraternity’s ideal of Excelling with Honor.

James Ehrmann (Iowa) is a former staff member and current assistant director of fraternity and sorority life at University of Washington.

7 Leadership Lessons from Geno Auriemma

Bill with Auriemma

Leadership Consultant Bill Morosco with UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma.

By Bill Morosco (Florida)

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in June of 2013. Bill Morosco is currently the Men’s Basketball Head Coach at Independence Community College in Independence, Kan.

University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma has won over 800 games at the college level – eight National Championships and fourteen Final Four appearances. Though Coach Auriemma is most known for motivational and recruiting skills, his success on building championship teams has also relied on his talent for teaching his players to be leaders.

I had the opportunity to meet and learn from the legendary University of Connecticut coach earlier this spring at the Nike Championship Basketball Clinic in Chicago. While the clinic focused on the fundamentals of coaching basketball, the sessions also gave me a chance to observe up close how Coach Auriemma teaches leadership and gets the most out of his teams.

Be a People Person. Coach Auriemma said that one of the most important keys to his success is being a people person. You have to understand what motivates each individual person and how to harness that inspiration to get them to do what’s best for the team.

The same holds true for fraternities and other student organizations. All of your members have different strengths and motivations. It is your job as a leader in the chapter to understand your members’ motivation and to cultivate those desires to help them reach their personal goals as well as the chapter’s group goals.

ESPN Sigma Nu logoBe Realistic. Coach Auriemma says “It doesn’t matter how many plays you run if your players can’t shoot. You still won’t score.” You need to understand your situation and limitations and decide what a realistic vision of success looks like. A leader needs to know what his or her team is capable of.

It might be unlikely that your chapter can produce weekly alumni newsletters if your chapter has never created one before. Set goals that will improve your chapter but make sure they are attainable. This will build confidence and keep the chapter moving towards bigger and better things instead of causing frustration and low morale by failing to reach an unrealistic goal.

Treat People Equally. Auriemma believes in treating his players equally. He has his forwards and centers do the same dribbling and shooting drills as his guards to build a more diversified offense and to improve each player’s skill set.

Treating team members equally is important for a fraternity. Give each chapter member/officer the same set of expectations. If a 3.0 GPA is required to be an officer in your chapter, why not make it a requirement to be a general member in good standing? This will help hold your members to a higher yet achievable standard and better improve the entire chapter.

Constant Gentle Pressure. Coach Auriemma described his approach to the yearly development of each of his teams as constant gentle pressure. Similar to Coach Knight, Auriemma ups the ante in every practice, making each session more challenging than the previous one – all while making sure the drills are relevant to the team’s mission to play championship basketball.

“It doesn’t matter how many plays you run if your players can’t shoot. You still won’t score.”

At the chapter level, this concept can be used to get the most out of all officers and committees. If committee deadlines are strictly monitored and constantly enforced, chapter officers will be ready for greatness when it’s time to complete Pursuit of Excellence documentation and award applications.

Do Everything at Game Speed. During practices, Coach Auriemma has his players do every drill with the same speed and intensity that they would do in a game. This increases the focus, effort, intensity and results of each practice and makes the game just as hard if not easier than practice.

Have your officers run their committee meetings just like they would a chapter meeting. This way chapter officers know exactly how to present in chapter and committee members better understand their role in the larger meeting.

Own What You Teach. Auriemma also talks about the flaws in trying to teach things you don’t fully understand. If you don’t fully understand the topic, the first question when adversity hits could derail the entire operation. Become an expert, study and learn how to apply what you want to teach in every situation.

Similarly, if you find an idea you really like in the Best Practices Library, be sure to reach out to the chapter that created it to ask questions to fully understand the material. If your Leadership Consultant brought up a great idea during his visit, follow up with him to get additional advice on implementing the new approach.

Have Contingency Plans. For the NCAA Tournament or other conference tournaments, Coach Auriemma likes to plan as if what he wants to do won’t work. For instance, Auriemma is known for drawing up three different ways to start each play, just in case the first approach doesn’t work.

At some point, something you wanted to do – be it a social, philanthropy, or chapter retreat – won’t work. So always have a backup plan.

Pat Riley’s Legacy of Leadership

By John Bauernfeind (Indiana)

Pat Riley (Kentucky) and the Miami Heat begin their search for another NBA title tonight as they face the San Antonio Spurs in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Pat Riley is a man of his craft. He has won NBA championships as a player, coach and, most recently, as Miami Heat team president, a post he’s held since leaving the head coaching position in 2008. Championships define success in sports, and multiple championships mean greatness. His basketball legacy is unmatched, and he isn’t stopping anytime soon.

Riley’s basketball career began in Schenectady, NY, where he grew up the youngest of six children. A star on his school’s varsity basketball team, Riley chose to play college ball at the University of Kentucky after legendary head coach Adolph Rupp personally recruited him.

Kentucky was where Riley’s basketball persona began to take shape. He became a star at the University of Kentucky, earning SEC Player of the Year his junior year. It was also at UK where Riley joined the Gamma Iota Chapter of Sigma Nu.

“Rupp’s personality rubbed off on Pat,” said Brad Bounds, who played with Riley at Kentucky from 1964-1967. “Riley is the best competitor I ever played against.”

Riley’s first interaction with a championship game came his junior year when he led the 27-1 Wildcats against Texas Western with the 1966 NCAA Championship on the line. Bounds said that he and his teammates overlooked them, even though Texas Western had only one loss coming into the game. Louie Dampier, Kentucky’s starting point guard, who was All-SEC and an AP All-American that year, had the ball stolen from him three times in a row by Texas Western’s point guard, Bobby Joe Hill. “That’s when we knew we couldn’t take these guys lightly,” Bounds said. The story of the Kentucky vs. Texas Western game was made into a movie, Glory Road, as they beat Riley and the Wildcats, 72-65.

Bounds described Riley as “one tough hombre.” A very competitive person, he said that those traits have served Riley well in his successes in the NBA. In a recent phone interview, Bounds, who currently resides in Frankfurt, Ill., told the story of LeBron James’ free agent courtship by Pat Riley. Bounds said that his friends, who were Bulls fans, were excited at the prospect of signing one of the best players in the NBA to their favorite team. Bounds tried to quell their excitement, however, telling them to look out for Riley, who he predicted would successfully bring LeBron to Miami. Needless to say, James did not end up in Chicago thanks in large part to Riley’s role as team president.

After Kentucky, Riley was drafted by the San Diego Rockets in the first round of the NBA draft. He played limited minutes before bouncing around to the Portland Trail Blazers, and then signing with the Los Angeles Lakers, where he found himself teammates with the likes of Jerry West, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain. Riley played sparingly, coming off of the bench for just nine minutes a game during his first year with the club.  Riley became known for his tireless work ethic, to the point where West would occasionally have to coach Riley in harnessing his intensity during practices.

In 1972, Riley and the Lakers embarked on a 33-game winning streak, an NBA record (coincidentally, Riley’s Heat team this year challenged the streak, tallying 27 wins in a row). Riley came off the bench that season, quickly becoming head coach Bill Sharman’s go to sixth man. That team in 1972 went on to win 69 games and defeated the New York Knicks for the NBA title. The 1972 Lakers are widely considered to be one of the best teams of all time.

Riley played three more seasons for the Lakers, a total of five, before being traded to the Phoenix Suns three games into his fourth season. Riley would play only one season with the Suns, retiring in 1976.

In 1977, Riley, longing for a return to the game, found himself hired as a radio play-by-play man for the Lakers. Riley called games for two years, until during the 1979-1980 season a twist of fate changed Riley’s second act in basketball. Then Lakers head coach Jack McKinney was injured riding a bike to play tennis with Paul Westhead, a Lakers assistant coach. McKinney crashed and, upon being found unconscious, was rushed to the hospital. McKinney’s vitals were fine, but doctors kept him in the hospital. The Lakers, now without a head coach, needed one in a hurry. They promoted Westhead who, after six games, was allowed to continue coaching throughout the season. Westhead had one demand, however: that Riley serve as his assistant coach.

In Riley’s first year as a Lakers assistant coach, the team won the NBA title. Led by veteran Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and rookie Magic Johnson, the Lakers defeated the 76ers on their home court, with Johnson recording a near triple-double in game six in place of injured star Abdul-Jabbar.

The 1981 season was a disappointment as the Lakers managed to win 54 games but would stumble in the playoffs as they watched the rival Boston Celtics defeat the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals.

The 1982 season began similarly to how the previous season had ended and after eleven games, Paul Westhead was fired as head coach of the Lakers. The Lakers wanted Jerry West to be head coach. West wanted Riley to be coach, and an awkward compromise formed: the Lakers had asked West to be the team’s offensive coach, whereas Riley would assist on defense. West thought he’d be merely helping Riley out. Riley didn’t know what to think.

In the end, everything worked out. Sporting the Western Conference’s best record midway through the season, Riley was coach of the West for the All-Star game. His Lakers team earned the number one seed in the playoffs, and cruised to the Finals where, once again, they defeated the 76ers in six games. In his first year as a head coach, Pat Riley had himself a championship ring.

Riley would win three more championships with the Lakers, in 1985, 1987 and 1988. After winning his first title in 1982, Riley’s Lakers lost in the Finals the next two seasons, to the 76ers in a sweep and to their archrival, the Boston Celtics, in seven games. The next season, the Lakers defeated the Celtics 4-2 for the championship. In 1987, after missing the Finals the previous season, the Lakers again defeated the Celtics in six games for another title. In the locker room after their victory, Riley guaranteed a repeat next year, and issued his statements once more to the city of Los Angeles in the Lakers’ championship parade. Riley delivered on his promise, as the Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons in seven games in 1988. The next season, the Lakers were swept by the Pistons in the Finals. The year after, Riley’s team failed to reach the Finals and he resigned from the team. Ironically, 1990 was the first year Riley had been named Coach of the Year.

Riley then went on to coach the New York Knicks, leading the team to the 1994 NBA Finals where they lost in seven games. Riley spent another year with the club before moving on to be the head coach of the Miami Heat, where he has served in various roles ever since.

Riley is often pictured in telecasts of Heat playoff games, usually sitting behind the Heat bench, but not too close to the players. Riley is stoic; rarely do you find him offering the slightest emotion on his face.

Riley coached the Heat from 1995 to 2003. Before the start of the 2003-2004 season, Riley stepped down as head coach and took over as the team’s general manager. Under Riley, the team drafted Dwayne Wade in 2003, and saw him turn into one of the league’s most dominant players. At the start of the 2005 season, head coach Stan Van Gundy resigned from his duties, and Riley assumed the head coach position once again. Riley took the Heat to the NBA Finals, where the Heat defeated the Dallas Mavericks in six games.

After last year’s championship, Riley had amassed eight NBA Titles; one as a player, five as a coach (one as an assistant coach), and one as an executive. Now, as acting President of the Heat, Riley is in search of a ninth championship ring.

In every level of his NBA tenure – tireless player, hard driving coach and esteemed executive – Riley has inspired excellence among his fellow coaches, players and teammates. Pat Riley has found ways to get buy-in from all players with his uniquely positive approach to leadership. If LeBron James is the face of the Heat franchise, then Riley is its protector behind closed doors.

After being named Coach of the Year three times, Riley was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. In 2012 he was honored with the Chuck Daly Lifetime Achievement Award, presented each year by the National Basketball Coaches Association to the coach who best exemplifies integrity, competitive excellence and relentless promotion of professional basketball. Riley is also the only person in American sports to have won a championship as a player, coach and executive. That makes for an outstanding career and legacy, one that won’t be forgotten by the basketball world or Riley’s Sigma Nu Brothers.

Develop your leadership skills at UIFI

The Undergraduate Interfraternity Institute (UIFI) is a five-day intensive leadership program designed to equip sorority and fraternity members with the skills necessary to lead their chapters with conviction and purpose. In the brief interview below, past attendee Aaron Taylor (Longwood) reflects on his UIFI experience and urges other Sigma Nu members to attend the institute.

How did you find out about UIFI?

I found out about UIFI through the campus Greek Advisor on my alternative spring break trip to New Orleans, LA, my sophomore year. He informed me that the Greek life office had scholarships available and encouraged me to apply.

What did you expect the experience to be like?

I expected it to be a cheesy event. I imagined everyone being overly excited, giving it almost an elementary school summer camp vibe. That being said, it wasn’t like that at all. There were a lot of people who were similar to me and that I could relate to. The types of events that we participated in all had a meaning behind it that we could discuss afterward and apply to our respective chapters.

How did UIFI enhance your leadership skills and prepare you to change your chapter?

While the workshops that we participated in were unquestionably helpful, the opportunity to network with my peers at other schools was equally beneficial. There were so many people from so many different schools and organizations that it was impossible to leave without having fresh and innovative ideas to take back to your chapter.

The mentors and group leaders were all very knowledgeable and helpful. They are loaded with ideas and advice on how to make you a better leader and how to make your chapter better.

If a chapter is struggling with philanthropy, for example, you can talk with scores of other fraternity and sorority leaders for ideas to take back to your chapter. I came back to my chapter with a laundry list of ideas on how we can change our events and make them more successful.

Would you recommend the program to other leaders?

I would without a doubt recommend this program to others. It helped put things into perspective for me. The program allowed me to hone my skills and perfect them so that I could be the most effective leader I could be. It also allows you to step and think outside of the box that your chapter is currently in, allowing you to bring back innovative ideas for all areas of chapter operations.

Visit the UIFI page to learn more about the program, including session dates and locations.