4 Things I Learned from my College Fraternity

I attended my college fraternity chapter’s 65th Anniversary Celebration this summer. As I reflected back on my time in the chapter, here are some things I learned during my four years as an undergraduate at Arkansas State University.

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1. There is strength in diversity.

You couldn’t put a label on my Teke chapter because we didn’t fit nicely under any one description. We had varsity and intramural athletes, ROTC cadets, scholars in various majors, musicians, artists, comedians (lots of those), and members with many other talents and gifts. We had and did it all. I am convinced that is why we won Top Teke Chapter so many times, won Greek grade point average, had ROTC cadet commanders, Student Government presidents, sports mascots, won intramural sports competitions. We excelled at  just about everything we did.

2. Teamwork makes the dream work.

I learned a lot about teamwork. Nearly everything we did as a fraternity was in teams or groups. Even when someone did something as an individual, there was always a team supporting him in the background.

3. A cause or a purpose is the key to excellence.

When we won something or did something great, we always had a purpose. Whether it was going for Top Teke Chapter, rolling kegs for St. Jude, competing in intramural sports, competing in homecoming displays, sorority follies or working on grades, we had a purpose that drove us and focused our efforts. And a lot of the time it was a purpose greater than ourselves.

4. There is a leader in all of us.

We had a lot of leaders in the chapter but time and time again, I saw individuals step out of the background and take the lead on something in their strength or area of interest. The chapter provided opportunities for everyone to find the leader inside them and influence others to action.

I continued to see these four things in most all of the successful organizations I’ve been in or observed:

  • diversity in skills, talents and passions
  • teamwork
  • a cause or purpose
  • an environment that provided opportunities for leader development

What about your organization? If these four elements are not present, what can you do to add them? What other critical elements of successful organizations would you add to this list?

Steal Your Way to Becoming a Better Leader

“The best leaders are the best note takers, best askers and best learners – they are shameless thieves.” -Tom Peters

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This is an interesting quote by Tom Peters but it points out that good leaders are continually working on improving themselves. How do you rate yourself at taking notes, asking questions, continually learning something new and always looking for ideas to adapt or implement yourself?

One of my favorite little books is “Steal Like An Artist” by Austin Kleon. His thesis is that nothing is original. All creative work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.

This is encouraging to me. I have always believed that I was not that creative. But I can “steal” a good idea and make it better, adapt it to something I am doing or build on it. I feel less pressure to create when I am freed to take what is already out there and put my own ideas and take on it.

Kleon writes about how Conan O’Brien has talked about how comedians try to emulate their heroes, fall short, and end up doing their own thing. Johnny Carson tried to be Jack Benny but ended up Johnny Carson. David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson but ended up David Letterman. And Conan O’Brien tried to be David Letterman but ended up Conan O’Brien. In O’Brien’s words, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”

One of the best ways to learn how to be a leader is to watch and emulate other good leaders. I have always tried to do this. I will never be able to become the great leaders I watch, but I can learn and “steal” from them to help me become the best leader I can be.

The flip side of stealing is to be open and share your ideas. Kleon adds that if you are worried about giving your secrets away, you can share your dots without connecting them. If you share with others, you can learn from them and they can help make your ideas better. From a leadership perspective, sharing power by empowering others is a foundational principle.

I hope this helps you look at your heroes and other people’s ideas in a different light. Become a better leader. Keep taking notes, asking questions, learning everything you can.  Steal the best ideas and practices and improve on them, learn from them, add to them or just be inspired by them.