A lot of marketing slogans state that “bigger is better” and to most national fraternity/sorority headquarters, bigger is better because it indicates a healthy chapter with enthusiastic members. My sorority chapter was quite large for the relatively small size of our school but we didn’t always think bigger was better.
Yes, having an increasing number of members was necessary for chapter survival but it wasn’t so awesome when it came to decision making, planning, and leading. How does one plan anything when there are 100+ opinions to take into account? How does a chapter president and her small council lead such a gregarious group of women?
In a chapter everyone is equal, thus, you can’t just “pull rank” and make a decision. Leading a unique, opinionated group of intelligent women through the hurdles of college life is hard and you learn a lot about working with others and yourself.
Some of these lessons were as basic as learning when to say you were sorry and actually doing it. Others forced you to smile in the face of tragedy, put on a brave face, and lead a community in mourning. Many of these lessons can be learned in a multitude of organizations—girl/boy scouts, 4-H, and internships (as many of you, readers, have pointed out)—but sororities challenged you even further by forcing you to work and live with hundreds of women that were different from you. Sororities and fraternities are fiefdoms of a great empire—and they are small businesses. The men and women who took the process of running one seriously came out of the experience different people—more mature, more balanced, and better-equipped leaders. Here are some of the lessons we learned from a few years in Greek Life.
1. How to View Power as an Honor—Not a Right
As executive council members on our sorority board, one thing that we were constantly told was that holding our respective offices was an honor—not a right. The women of the chapter decided that each of us was the best person to hold XYZ office, one who would carry out the duties fully and nobly. Being selected by peers to take a leadership position was a priceless honor. There were no campaigns or speeches. Everyone was selected based on their character and personal gifts. It was humbling and everyone worked all the harder to make the chapter proud.
The best leaders are those who don’t have power trips, who don’t stomp on their fellow employees or associates, and who view their influence and power with a shrug. They are humble and they view their high-positions as a delicate honor not a platform of power. This isn’t an innovative thinking by any means. The Romans elected a “protector” for their city in times of crisis and it wasn’t romantic to accept the position—it was duty. Classy.
2. How to Consider Everyone in the Equation
Imagine being 20 years old and in charge of 100+ women, a house, a mortgage, and the direction of a 93-year-old chapter which carries the name of a distinguished, 143-year-old-organization. Awesome! Bills, house payments, rules—pssh! You can do what you want because you’re the sorority president! Right?! Wrong. You carry the torch to something great—and you have to find a way to make sure 100 components in the machine work well together in order to achieve goals. These goals are from as simple as making it through a chapter meeting without an interruption to trying to organize campus-wide philanthropy events.
Organizing an event in a sorority chapter is like trying to plan a wedding with 100+ brides—everyone has an opinion, likes and dislikes, and a comfort level. Everyone must be taken into account before any decision can be made—and that decision must also be the best for the chapter as a whole. Being able to create strategy and think in terms of the “whole,” as well as consider “the parts,” is very valuable.
3. How to Take Responsibility for a Team Failure
Sometimes people mess up big time. As a leader it is your job to a) be honest about the mistake b) apologize to higher-ups and c) to take the punishment without whining. Being a leader sometimes means being the figurehead of an organization in both glory and shame. It is a tough lesson in humility.
Those who willingly take responsibility for mistakes even when they didn’t necessarily make them are the most dignified and respected. Admit it. Fix it. Move on.
4. How to Put the Need of Others First
Bustling around in a house with a family more than 10x the size of the Brady Bunch sometimes made us grumble like Jan. All decisions were made with everyone in mind—not just the desires of a single person. Why can’t anyone just think of me and my problems? Marcia Marcia Marcia!
It was during times of trial that we realized how superficial and unimportant some of our selfish needs and troubles really were. We rallied around the man or woman whose family member was tragically killed or arranged a scholarship for a member who couldn’t pay their emergency medical bills. We put our own petty grumblings aside and focused our attention on the person who needed help most. Some of the hardest yet most rewarding moments I spent as an active sorority member were ones I spent working with a team to solve a crisis. Something tragic had just happened to a member of our own–why was I whining about my long homework assignment?! Things didn’t matter. People mattered–our team mattered. In sororities and fraternities, a heartbreak to one is a tragedy felt by all.
Being able to set your own comfort and needs aside to assist others is a special skill. Humans were hard-wired to protect and look out for themselves (and young)—not to be selfless 100% of the time. The best among us are those who give without asking for anything in return. They are the unsung leaders among us–and, usually, the most inspiring.