I was recently asked (and paid) to attend a leadership conference in Brookston, Indiana as a representative of my social fraternity Beta Theta Pi. The conference is known as Futures Quest, and was set up by the North American Interfraternity Conference a few years back.
Before Futures Quest
As Futures Quest is designed for newly initiated members of a fraternity, I fit the bill in that regard (as I joined Beta in spring 2009). But, as a junior, I was skeptical as to whether or not the conference would come in use to me.
My chapter of Beta, known as the Tau Sigma chapter, was recolonized in 2006 after being shut down several years prior due to various reasons. Before I left, I knew my chapter was struggling with a few things:
- We were denied a national charter (a charter says, “OK, you’re a chapter again” on the national level) this past summer due to a concern over our membership and housing numbers, which brings me to the next point:
- We’re having trouble getting brothers to live in our house. Nationals set a directive of having at least 40 members living in and 50 active members upon the next charter request (which would put the house at capacity). We have nearly 30 living in, and nearly 40 signed, so we’re short in that aspect.
- Brotherhood and participation is a problem. It seems as though some folks are apathetic and don’t feel the need to participate in recruitment or brotherhood activities, which usually involve hanging out or playing games. As we all live in a house and depend on each other to keep the chapter alive, it’s important that we foster a close sense of brotherhood.
So, going into the conference (and the 7-hour drive to Indiana), I knew there were things that I could come back and help fix afterward.
During Futures Quest
Upon arriving, we split up into four groups of about 10 people each and did trust building exercises. An exercise called “Crossing the Line” involved everyone standing in a line and being asked to step forward based on a certain criterion (e.g. “Step forward if you’ve been hazed”). Another exercise involved holding hands in a circle and facing different directions before falling away from the circle. I enjoyed the activities more than I thought I would, especially in the 30-degree weather outside.
We then spend time inside talking in small groups about values, how values impact our decisions, and charting our values. This involved going through and ordering our own values, and my top six came out like this: Achievement, Advancement, Performance, Quality, Recognition, and Self-Actualization.
I was consciously being very honest with myself, and after I found my results, I knew that the values I wanted to be at the top were: Family, Religion, Relationships, and Integrity. With that being said, I’ve set a new goal for myself.
We also spent a lot of time during the weekend discussing leadership. First and foremost, we defined leadership. The definition we reviewed can be chunked easily: Leadership is the work of individuals with shared values who, through collaborative relationships, bring collective action to elevate an organization.
We were also asked to look at several poems and reflect on them. I found that I could relate these to my life in various ways, so I’ll share some of them with you:
Courage is the strength to stand up
When it’s easier to fall down and lose hold.
It is the conviction to explore new horizons
When it’s easier to believe what we’ve been told.
Courage is the desire to maintain our integrity
When it’s easier to look the other way.
It is feeling happy and alive, and moving forward
When it’s easier to feel sorry for ourselves and stay.
Courage is the will to shape our world
When it’s easier to let someone else do it for us.
It is the recognition that none of us are perfect
When it’s easier to criticize others and fuss.
Courage is the power to step forward and lead
When it’s easier to follow the crowd; their pleas resound.
It is the spirit that places you on top of the mountain
When it’s easier to never leave the ground.
The foundation of courage is solid,
The rock that doesn’t roll.
Courage is the freedom
Of our mind, body, and soul!
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
-William Earnest Henley
To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else, means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
– e e cummings
As a large group, we discussed something each of us had in common: a Ritual. This was something I was somewhat familiar with after having served as the Ritual Chairman of my chapter the past semester. Although I knew practicing a Ritual in a fraternity was important, I had no idea that it carried the importance I learned about.
The leader of the group demonstrated the balance of Ritual, Brotherhood, and Club within a fraternity. Ritual stood for religious and/or idealistic purpose, Brotherhood stood for people living together in harmony, and Club was the social purpose of the organization – the side that the public sees. For Ritual, he held a hard-cover ritual book. For Brotherhood, he held a folded fraternity sweatshirt. And for Club, he held a tennis ball.
He asked the group how we thought the three objects should be held (or built) upon one another. First, he tried holding the three objects by holding the tennis ball (Club) and stacking the sweatshirt (Brotherhood) and book (Ritual) on top. Obviously, the objects toppled onto the floor. He also tried putting stacking them in a different order without success.
Finally, he put the book (Ritual) on the bottom, which supported the sweatshirt (Brotherhood), which then supported the ball very nicely (Club).
Most importantly, this made me realize that every fraternity, in order to be successful, must base everything it does on its Ritual. Our Ritual is everything we’ve stood for, stand for, and will always stand for. Our decisions regarding brotherhood, activities, our constitution, everything – must be made based on the values set forth by our Ritual. Furthermore, our Ritual must be lived DAILY by our members. Each brother must have a ritual – the way he lives his life, the way he lives out the Ritual of the fraternity.
Throughout the course of the weekend, I realized a few important things:
- EVERY fraternity has its problems. There were members talking about things ranging from hazing to alcohol abuse within their own chapters. There were members from chapters that were thriving and had few things to fix. It made me feel like I was in the same boat with everyone at the conference: we all wanted to fix the problems our chapters had.
- I gained more respect for men from fraternities outside of Beta Theta Pi. We were all fraternity men at the conference; none of us could be classified as “frat boys,” and that made me feel really comfortable.
- I was really impressed with how great of a grasp freshmen and sophomores in attendance had over the issues involving their fraternities. While I’d already had leadership experience inside and outside my chapter, I know I can work to take greater pride in Beta Theta Pi – especially with my other leadership experience.
After Futures Quest
At the end of our session, we took cloth “action flags” we’d worn all weekend and wrote our action plans on them. The action plans had no defined parameters other than something dealing with our fraternities. I thought about what needed work in my chapter (from before Futures Quest) and applied the things I’d learned in Futures Quest to my action plan. He it is:
I PLAN TO help earn our national charter by:
- Increasing quality recruitment and inspiring others in the chapter to be a part of the recruitment process.
We’ve got to have members who WANT to be a part of the fraternity and who want to work for its betterment. Recruitment will help solve our housing and numbers directive set forth by nationals.
- Bringing the values of our fraternity and Ritual to my daily life and the lives of my brothers.
At the beginning of the conference, I struggled to recall the specific values of my fraternity. Although the true values are found (AND TO BE LEARNED!) in our Ritual, our Men of Principle Initiative offers several guiding measures. I hope to apply these values to the decisions we make in our fraternity – regarding scholarship and brotherhood especially. We can’t get caught up in politics and what’s convenient. If we do, then we will fail altogether.
- Implementing a plan to make our pledging and membership education process one that it should be,
not an easy class or a pushover process. Each and every member should play a role in the education of new members of the fraternity. The values of our fraternity should be instilled to their core, and the pledges should feel that the active members have an active presence and serve an important role in their education. To be completely honest, I didn’t feel like this was the case at all during my pledge period, and I don’t think it was this Fall, either.
I know that not all of my brothers will see the changes in the same light I do, but I’ve got a ton of motivation now.
“The stars are hiding
and the moon is nowhere in the sky
And clouds are riding
and there’s no light to guide you by.
If you’re a Beta all along the way,
the Beta stars will make your darkness day.
For light or darkness
shine the stars of Beta Theta Pi.”