Category Archives: strategic planning

Creativity: The Unsung Leadership Quality

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

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

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

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

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


Rule #76: No Excuses. Bake Like a Champion

Carol Tice at the BNET blog has a short post comparing and contrasting Panera and Cosi.

Two bakery-cafe chains have been in the news recently — Richmond, Mo.-based Panera Bread (PNRA) announced growing sales despite the downturn, while Cosi (COSI) of Deerfield, Ill., said its sinking sales have led to a delisting warning notice from the Nasdaq. Both chains began around the same time, and Cosi certainly got as much positive initial press and consumer raves. Some of the key differences that made Panera the winner:

The parallel with fraternity life should speak for itself:

Sticking with the concept. For years, Cosi toyed with being a bar by night and a bakery by day, or just selling liquor along with its food, possibly creating customer confusion and disappointment as they evolved. Panera just kept being a great bakery-cafe.

Chapters that “stick with the concept” of a brotherhood based on shared ideals and positive experiences will always outperform the chapters with a faux brotherhood based on unearned respect, personal servitude and partying.

I like this example because it also offers a lesson in not making excuses.  Cosi probably tried to tell their investors, “We’re in a recession, you know, so our plunging stock is just a reflection of the bigger economic climate.”  We often hear chapters rationalize poor performance with similar rhetoric.  “Our recruitment effort may appear like an utter failure but numbers were down for everyone this year.”

So what.  When their competitors’ stock was taking a nosedive, Panera embraced the environment and increased value despite the recession.  Next time campus recruitment numbers are at an all-time low, you be the chapter to defy the trend.

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.

Ignore the Outsider’s Advice at Your Peril

Here’s a recent conversation I overheard between a collegiate officer and one of my esteemed colleagues:

Collegian: We can’t just stop recruiting with alcohol.  We wouldn’t be able to compete with the other elite chapters on our campus.  Everyone does it and we have to keep up.

HQ Staff Member: What if I told you there were other chapters recruiting without alcohol that are not only getting by but are excelling more than any other chapter on campus?

Collegian: That may work some places but it could never work here.  It’s different here at _______ University.

HQ Staff Member: What if I told you that we recruited the men to start this very chapter without alcohol?  (And did quite well I might add.)

Collegian: Wait, hold on.  Where are you from?

HQ Staff Member: I grew up and attended school in the ______ region of the country.

Collegian: See, that explains everything.  Things are different here in the ________.  There’s just no way you could understand how things work if you’re not from here.

So goes the conversation, so predictable in its nature, that every Greek Life professional has had many times over with their student leaders.  Here is what the well-intentioned collegian really means:

TRANSLATION:  I don’t care if recruiting with alcohol attracts members who are causing us to fail.  I would rather continue to fail than accept information from an outsider.  I’ve made up my mind and I’m so stubborn and arrogant that no amount of contrary evidence is going to change my decision.

Sometimes it’s natural to be skeptical of outsiders, but eventually we all learn the hard way that automatically dismissing outsider’s advice makes us one step closer to failure.  A brief mention of two historical figures shows that outsiders can teach us more about ourselves than we ever imagined.

Take philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand, author of bestselling novels Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.  Rand, originally named Alisa Rosenbaum, grew up in communist Russia and eventually emigrated to the United States.  Surely a woman raised in such an authoritarian, collectivist culture could never be qualified to write novels about capitalism and individualism.  Who in their right mind would listen to her?  To the contrary, many would argue that this outsider (putting aside her controversies for this particular example) has taught us more about our way of life than any homegrown American philosopher or economist.

Or what about Alexis de Tocqueville, the famous French politico best known for his work Democracy in America.  Born and educated in France, Tocqueville traveled the United States providing an outsider’s perspective on the American way of life.  Widely regarded as one of the most influential political philosophers of his time, Tocqueville is still quoted in speeches by American politicians to this day.

Consider this example that hits closer to home.  Out of all of our excellent College of Chapters facilitators, the majority of whom are initiated Knights, the female facilitators are often the most effective.  Mindy Sopher, Kristin Morgan, Lindsay Grifford, Krystal Clark, and Kayte Sexton Fry–to name a few–are revered by College of Chapters participants by week’s end.  Hardly outsiders, these women understand our organization as well if not better than we do.

Our founding principle of Truth is often confused with honesty, an equally important virtue to be sure.  However, in the context of Sigma Nu’s founding, Truth is more closely associated with seeking sound information to make the most informed decisions possible.  It calls for the willingness to abandon a false paradigm even if it might be psychologically painful.  Seeking the Truth encompasses the process by which we make good decisions, including the consideration of all viewpoints even if it means swallowing our pride and listening to a perceived outsider.

We Must Protect this [Fraternity] House!

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

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

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

“We’ve Always Done it this Way” Part II

The fraternity world experiences ‘creative destruction‘ much like for-profit companies in the business world.  Like so many once highly successful companies, many of the best chapters eventually get complacent and give way to new innovative chapters willing to redefine the true fraternity experience.

This article explaining the newly redesigned ketchup packet offers another lesson on the importance of innovation:

“The packet has long been the bane of our consumers,” said Dave Ciesinski, vice president of Heinz Ketchup. “The biggest complaint is there is no way to dip and eat it on-the-go.”

Designers found that what worked at a table didn’t work where many people use ketchup packets: in the car. So two years ago, Heinz bought a used minivan for the design team members so they could give their ideas a real road test.

The team studied what each passenger needed. The driver wanted something that could sit on the armrest. Passengers wanted the choice of squeezing or dunking. Moms everywhere wanted a packet that held enough ketchup for the meal and didn’t squirt onto clothes so easily.

Heinz is rolling out the new packs this fall at select fast-food restaurants nationwide. It will continue to sell the traditional packets.

Sure, the old ketchup packet had some problems: difficult to open, the occasional spontaneous explosion and maybe not much ketchup for the effort.  But was it really worth the risk of changing something people had been accustomed to for decades?  If it ain’t broke then why fix it, right?

Dormant chapters know too well that accepting the status quo is a recipe for failure:

“Why would we stop recruiting with alcohol?  We’ve always recruited with parties and we’re still open, aren’t we?”


“We’ve always done this on Big Brother Night.  Why would we change it now?  It wouldn’t be fair to the members who came before us.”


“Our manpower is already greater than the all-campus average.  Why would we want to expand our membership?  We’ve always been this size.”

Sound familiar?  Creating a never-be-satisfied atmosphere in a chapter accustomed to complacency can be a challenge.  Here’s a good place to start:

“Why would we reinvent the wheel?”

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Erase these phrases from your chapter’s collective memory and replace with:

“If you are coasting, it means you are going downhill.” -C.P. Fulford Jr.

“Good is the enemy of great.”

“Good enough never is.”

“We’ve Always Done it this Way”

Utter this forbidden phrase at a Domino’s Pizza board meeting and you’ll likely have a pink slip waiting at your desk.

Domino’s Pizza, founded in 1960 in Ypsilanti, Michigan, boasts nearly 9,000 franchised locations in all 50 states and 60 countries worldwide.  With 145,000 employees and $1.425 billion in revenue in 2008, why would the nation’s second-largest pizza chain all of a sudden redesign their staple product??  Because Domino’s understands what so many other organizations do not: enduring success means seeking out criticism and innovating accordingly.

Your chapter can emulate Domino’s commitment to innovation too.

Find out what the campus really thinks of your chapter.  Ask around and talk to people you don’t know.  What pops into their heads when they hear “Sigma Nu” and why?

What you do with this information is equally important.  You’ve probably noticed a running theme on this blog: the importance of acknowledging reality.  Will you ignore the criticism or embrace it and do something about it?

Every chapter thinks it has the best brotherhood on campus.  Hearing criticism about your organization can be a hard pill to swallow (how do you think the head chefs at Domino’s felt when critics said their pizza crust tasted like cardboard?).

“Acknowledge reality” is just another way of saying “seek the Truth,” something every Sigma Nu should know something about.