Today, my fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon, celebrates the 112 anniversary of its founding. This special day has gotten me to look back and really look at what I learned in my four years of involvement as an undergraduate member and my three years as a graduate member. I still maintain that being the President of my chapter was one of the most demanding and rewarding leadership experiences in my 4 years at Quinnipiac University. From those lessons, I pulled out a few that are worth passing on.
Keeping a mission or values in mind: In the book, Switch, the authors discuss change as being like riding an elephant; you need to be able to direct the rider (the rational part of your brain) and the elephant (your emotional attachment). Being a Greek President is often like being the rider, and trying to direct your chapter (the elephant). You will have to constantly remind them what your values are, and how your activities should reflect those values. While it may seem really fun to host a 30 keg beer bash, as President, you need to be able to discuss calmly why that may not be the best way to show your values to the student body or the administration. Every day you are the face of the group to other chapters, administration, alumni, and other groups that want to see you be successful, or in rare circumstances, not successful. Internalizing the values and mission is a lesson that cannot be taught, it simply needs to be experienced.
Holding your peers accountable: I was a young President. I ended up being elected less than a year after I was initiated. At that point in my leadership development, I didn’t have a lot of experience holding others accountable. Instantly, I was where the buck stopped. If something went wrong, or if a brother was not doing what he vowed to do, I was the one asking them why they did it, how they were going to fix it, and sometimes, why they wanted to continue in this role. Never before did I have to hold others accountable, and there was a very steep learning curve for me. I learned about giving respect in order to get it, and position counts for nothing without earning respect from the people you lead. After getting hit over the head with it several times, it was a lesson that I couldn’t have learned any sooner.
Interacting with Alumni: As undergrads (Warning: Generalization Upcoming), we typically don’t think about our relationships with alumni of the institution until we are about to graduate and need a job. As a Greek, you have alumni of the chapter around you all the time. You will learn how to talk to them, how to joke with them, and how to ask them for money. My first experience in fund raising for a cause came when I had to ask alumni for major donations to start a scholarship fund for a fallen brother.
Collaboration with other groups: I had a chance to work with other Greek groups (there were only 4 on campus when I joined), student organizations, offices on campus, and administrators through my Greek experience. There are many groups on campus working to enhance the student experience, why not work together to do it. Greeks especially have the person-power to take events from good to great, utilize them outside of the Greek silo.
No matter what happens, there are always people there to support you: Perhaps the number one thing I learned is that I am not an island. Whether it was help for a project, a study group, or to talk about my latest break up, I always had someone there for me in my fraternity. I have expanded this to my professional network, and knowing there are people out there that have my best interests in mind and want to see me be successful. In student affairs, we often feel that we need to take the weight of the world on our shoulders. No matter what, remember that there are others out there to support you.
If you are Greek, you understand how special a day a Founders Day is. If you are not, thank you for reading this far, and maybe this will help as you talk to a student thinking about joining a Greek letter organization.
And to my TKE Brothers in the Bond, thank you for all you have taught me, and continue to teach me, everyday. Happy Founders Day!