Category Archives: officer transition

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.


Leave Your Chapter in Good Hands

Brian Lamb, founder and CEO of C-SPAN, announced his retirement this week after starting the television network over three decades ago. Inc. magazine has a nice piece up now about Lamb’s efforts to ensure a smooth “officer transition,” so to speak.

The practical reason for an executive to help his successor is to make certain the organization continues to survive. Leadership at its core is not about self; it’s about commitment to others. For an executive who is retiring that means devoting time to succession as well as to helping the successor understand the roles and responsibilities of the job.

Read the full story here.

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.

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.

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.