In that one speech, Rusty Cartwright, a polymer science engineering major summed up some of the most impressive facts about fraternities.
I don’t know if you’re aware of the following statistic, but 2% of the American male population was in a fraternity. That’s not a lot of people, but that 2% represent some of the most influential men in this country. 43 CEOs of the top 50 US companies are ‘Greek’ and all but 3 of the US Presidents since 1825 (the founding of the social fraternity) were in fraternities. Prestige aside, I like the idea of having a group of friends that share a tradition fostered by an institution that is over two centuries old. — Rusty Cartwright
Rusty Cartwright, was the reason I wanted to join a fraternity. Rusty, a Polymer Science Engineering major, was quite the social outcast upon being admitted to Cyprus Rhodes University. Hoping to change this, he joined a fraternity. He developed a relationship with his brothers, admiration for his big brother, self-confidence, and most of all the leadership skills that would allow him to take the lead of Kappa Tau Gamma during one of its most grim moments.
So how exactly did Rusty go from the person he was in the first video, struggling to fit in and join a fraternity to this master of oratory seduction and leadership. He joined a fraternity.
If you ask many people in the community and my Alma Mater about me, I’m sure you’ll hear many things. Some people might mention my grades, community service, how friendly and outgoing I am, dependability, the list could go on and on. But while many people might have different opinions of me (good or bad), the one thing they will all fact about me that would probably first come to everyone’s mind is: He’s in the fraternity. Now more times than not I’ve had that been used against me as a negative connotation, but the point is everyone will attest to my love and pride in my fraternity. It will always come first. For if I didn’t join it, I wouldn’t be any of the other things anyone say about me. Even for my personal statement for law school I wrote a big section about my fraternity.
I enjoy striking up conversations with people and giving advice. It’s a combination of desire to help and probably more due to the fact I love to talk and hear myself speak (probably a quality I need to work on if I want take up my life dream of becoming a guidance counselor). Anyways, I was talking to a friend of mine who was a freshman. She had just recently changed her major from chemistry to business and I told her some tips that I think would really help her get noticed in the business program. After talking for a while, she asked me what my opinion was of joining Greek life. Clearly, she knew I would be biased as I flaunt my pride of being a NY Lambda SigEp, but I gave her my honest opinion. I told her that leadership in a fraternity sets you apart because it requires you to build skills that no other leadership position will truly help you built and that these could all be great marketing tools in interviews.
But how could this be many people wonder? Aren’t fraternities just about getting drunk, sleeping with girls, doing stupid mundane tasks, and paying for your friends? If so then why are all these successful people in fraternities and why do they continue to give back?
So without further ado, here are some of the reasons I find fraternity leadership a unique experience and why the world’s most successful people have been shaped by fraternities. We’re going to compare a fraternity to a fictional video game club, where people come together to play games and share interests. I just want to note that in no way am I trying to say anything bad about any club or that “unless you are a fraternity leader, you aren’t a real leader.” In fact, most fraternity leaders are leaders or members of other clubs! The goal of this exercise is to show you how you can market being a Greek leader and shedding light on the negative stereotype.
1. Fraternity Leaders Must Be Role Models
I know what everyone is thinking right now. Mr. Frat Boy, isn’t every leader a role model in their club? Quite frankly, I respectfully disagree. Unlike most clubs, fraternity members tend to be involved a lot more often in each others’ lives. You can’t get away with doing something negative without being exposed to the other members. As a leader of VG (video game) club, your responsibilities are to lead your executive board to plan events, come up with new ideas, and run meetings. If you are a role model in your responsibilities to the club (what we named before) then you have done your job. What you do outside of the meetings, however, isn’t going to be scrutinized by your club. Maybe outside of the club you prefer to read instead of play video games and that’s your prerogative. A fraternity is different than a club though, it is an institution of people who come together to dedicate their lives to a certain value. So you better bet that if you aren’t following those values as a leader it will negatively affect the fraternity. You need to be the ideal representative of those values and create an environment for others to be able to live those values as well. If you don’t take studying seriously, why should your members? If you don’t open the door for others or volunteer your service regularly, why should your members? This makes added commitments and forces you to check your image on a regular basis.
Why this will matter to your boss: This will show that you understand the responsibility that comes with maintaining a proper image for leadership. You will be the employee who is more likely to stay in late and come early in order to show your team that you are dedicated, which will motivate them to be dedicated too. If my manager is giving in extra time and doing the small tasks then he must believe in us.
2. You Have to Care for the Individual Outside The Club
This is actually the opposite of point #1. It’s not just enough to care about your image as a role model outside of the club you have to care about the other members as well. How many clubs have a GPA requirement? How many clubs have a set of values that each member needs to abide by? In the VG club, the president isn’t looking for each member’s interest outside of the club. Just like they don’t necessarily have to follow what he does outside of the club, he doesn’t have to follow up on what they do. If someone chooses to drink every day, get bad grades, develop bad habits, run an attitude problem… as long as it doesn’t affect their actions in the club and events, it gets by. In a fraternity, however, a leader has to care for a member who is skipping class. It becomes your responsibility to actively check up and motivate others by inviting them to the library to study or offering them help with their homework.
Why this will matter to your boss: Because this teaches you the essence of “Servant Leadership” the idea that building a relationship with your employees outside of the work place will build trust, commitment, and overall success in your unit. It teaches you to be checking up on your employees needs outside of the company, which will make them more dedicated and inclined to come to you.
3. Financial Expertise
Fraternity finances are much more complicated (and usually a heavier budget) than most other clubs. This is because you have to deal with money coming in and going out from multiple sources. You have money coming in from dues, from alumni, but you have to balance it into activities, paying nationals, and giving your members the experience that they want. Why is this so different than other clubs? Well learning how to maintain dues teaches you skills that leadership in other clubs won’t. It becomes a tax revenue system: how much can I charge to give people everything they want? If you charge too much, people won’t pay or will pay reluctantly and complain. If you charge too little, they will be upset with what comes on the agenda throughout the year. You have to find the perfect balance and itemize it. People want to know exactly what they get for each dollar they spend: ($20 for a retreat, $20 for a date function, $10 for a social event, $10 for a T-shirt) etc. You also need good financial organization to keep track of all the inflow and outflow, because money for events will come partly from dues, your budget, alumni, and nationals all for one instance. In addition to that, you need to collect money from people who can’t necessarily afford it, but yet they are your brothers and you want to keep them involved.
Why this will matter to your boss: It shows your boss that you have the ability to maintain finances and stay organized. Most importantly it shows him that you understand the value of a dollar and the importance of balancing your spending decisions when you are using finances that don’t solely come from your personal wallet. This is a skill that any employer would consider a plus.
4. Understanding the Hierarchy
In your VG club, you probably don’t have anyone but the school to answer for. Unless you are a national organization in which there are rules and regulations you must follow to keep the charter of your VG club. As a fraternity, there is a hierarchy. Your members are liable to you the leader. You the leader represent the chapter to the national fraternity. And the national fraternity represents the manifestation of your founders (who are probably not around still). This hierarchy can be similar to the hierarchy of a corporation. Your branch is liable to the region which is liable to the national headquarters. You already understand the importance of a hierarchy and how regulations that get passed down work. Each level has their own responsibilities, but fall liable to the ones above it.
Why this will matter to your boss: If you can understand how the hierarchy works, you are more likely to be an efficient worker within the company. Your experience in hierarchical leadership represents the leadership you will have to have in the company. Leadership is a hierarchy in the real world and most clubs do not prepare you for that: but a fraternity does.
5. Communication and Membership Experience
In order to keep members in your fraternity you need to give them the membership experience that they desire. Because retention rates are tracked, your success is determined on how many members join and stay, as opposed to VG club where a few members leaving and joining is irrelevant to you. Unlike most clubs that are founded on one common goal (such as VG club where everyone comes there to play video games and have fun), fraternity members all join for different prioritized reasons: networking, camaraderie, fun, to meet new people, looking for a support group, academic opportunities, etc. You’ll be surprised the different reasons that bring people together. This means that your communication as a leader needs to be top notch. If everyone has different needs then you need to try and meet them all in the most efficient way possible. That teaches you a key unique kind of servant leadership, where your goal is to meet everyone’s needs.
Why this matters to your boss: Many leaders have accepted a leadership mentality based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs if you go up the pyramid and keep meeting the needs of your employees, then you will have the most success in your business. The non-wiki version. By being a leader in a fraternity, you actually have to meet Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and this is something your boss will look to favorably.
6. Membership Discipline
In your fraternity you will have a set of rules and regulations people must follow. When they don’t get followed, you can’t simply look the other way as in other clubs. You have a judicial system (a standards board) that looks and sees if a member is at fault at then disciplines them. If someone misses a mandatory meeting, is slipping in grades, missed an event, gotten in trouble with the school, then you have to be the bad guy in discipline them. Sounds easy, right? If they do something wrong, they should get punished. Well you try telling one of your best friends and roommates that he can’t come to your next social event for skipping out on a meeting. I once had to tell one of my biggest role models, someone who was the reason I joined my fraternity that he couldn’t come to an event because he was called for disciplinary measures. This means you have to find a way to balance yourself as a friend, a mentor, a leader, and a disciplinarian. If you are too harsh, people won’t come to you anymore. You have to develop a way of being fair and making sure the member understands you are looking out for their best interest and the best interest of the fraternity. I guarantee you at some point friendships will be challenged.
Why this will matter to your boss: If someone sees that you were a leader in a fraternity they can infer you have had to learn this key balance and the skills to be the disciplinarian. As a leader in the real world you will have deadlines to meet and you are responsible for motivating as well as punishing members who do not meet their deadlines. This will require you to be harsh, but understanding. There may be a legitimate excuse and there may not be, but either way, you’ll know exactly what to do and how to handle the situation.
I remember going to Ruck Leadership Institute, a national fraternity institute that selected the top 1% of members in the national undergraduate fraternity and sent them to build leadership skills. When I got there I was told I was going to need to create a vision statement before I left to go back to my chapter. Close your eyes. I want you to imagine exactly where your life is one year from now, what do you see? Now five years from now, what do you see? Be as specific as possible. Don’t say I see myself at law school, say I see myself at “X” Law school. I see myself working for “x” or living in “y”. Now try ten years. It starts getting harder doesn’t it? Now imagine having to do that not only for yourself, but for an institution. Take a college for example. A vision could look something like this: I envision that my college will become a premiere institute in the state of New York. It will be an institution whose members are proud and dedicated. It will offer the financial aid necessary to give everyone the opportunity to have a degree. Our foundation will be in the diversity of classes offered… etc. etc. Basically when you close your eyes and dream, what exactly do you want to see. Every leader has to do this for their fraternity and they pass their vision down to the members. They paint an exciting picture of where we can be and why we should want to be there. They articulate their thoughts so well that they inspire the members to want it too and be willing to work every second for that vision. That is something you probably haven’t done in another club.
Why this will matter to your boss: If you can paint a vision statement and motivate others to buy into it, you’re exactly the person they want in a leadership position. Look up every major company you can think of and they will have a mission statement, a vision statement, and a strategic plan. All three of these you will learn from being a leader in Greek life and if you can paint a vision to your boss about where the company can be with you, then you’ll land that job in a heartbeat.
I challenge you to ask someone older who was probably in a more “traditional” fraternity that involved hazing and even more drinking and partying. Pick someone who was successful and ask them, what leadership skills did your fraternity teach you. One of my biggest mentors recently told me, “Have you seen my apartment in New York City? Do you know how I got that on my salary? The networking skills I learned from SigEp.” So to all you incoming freshman and/or current sophomores, it’s not too late to join a fraternity and become a leader. Who knows, maybe your name will be on the same list as a president or a top 50 CEO.