by Josh Orendi
During a recent visit to a Big 10 school, I had a unique experience with a chapter of fraternity men. This story has all the makings of an amazing tale – hazing, alcohol, sorority chicks…. If you're a small chapter on a big campus, this story is especially for you.
In an auditorium room prepared for 300+ people, I sat waiting for the crowd to arrive. Ten minutes after the designated start time, I found myself sitting at a small table in front of 20 foot projector screen with the only 4 men that chose to attend the recruitment session. That's right … a total of four men showed up. All four were from the same chapter and only 2 of them knew why they were there in the first place!
I asked them to teach me about their chapter and their recruitment process. I heard about Big Events, beer pong, BBQ's, and basement parties. I also heard a million excuses. You might as well have backed up a dump truck to the table and unloaded 1000 lbs of trash. "We're one of the smallest chapters " our house is in the worst location " we have an awful reputation " we're broke " the alumni put pressure on us but don't provide any support " the school hates all Greeks " blah .. blah " blah"."
Now that I understood them a little better, I put on my game face and we started into the Dynamic Recruitment Workshop. Within minutes, the men were deeply engaged in the curriculum asking great questions and wondering why the other 8 brothers from their 12 man chapter weren't there to hear this. As the session came to a close, they refused to leave the table. They continued to discuss, debate, and record their ideas into a personalized Action Plan.
One of the undergraduate men had a look of serious concern on his face. He said, “Can I be honest with you?” “Of course,” I said. “I don't think we can get the rest of our chapter to do all this.” I looked at each of them and answered with a clarifying question, “You're the 4 men that do 90% of the work in your chapter, right? That means the other 8 don't do much of ANYTHING, let alone something like this. Hell, just the 4 of you are nearly 50% of the chapter anyway. I haven't shown you anything that requires their help or an extra dollar of chapter money. Horses recruit horses. I think you might care more about their involvement than they care to be involved.”
I thought that witty reply would be the magical answer to get them over the hurdle, but the real issue was about to come out. “I'm not worried about them not getting involved, I'm worried about them causing all the guys we recruit to quit!” There was an awkward pause at the table as his brothers stared at him. “Look, we have some old traditions that are splitting the house. If we recruit the best men on a values-based message with promises of being something great, they're going to quit the moment we start our pledge process.”
Now the truth was on the table. This is a hazing chapter with traditions that this group of leaders was not particularly proud of. I invited them to bring their entire chapter to a 1 hour afternoon session with me on campus. I told them we would use it to ’catch up’ the guys that weren't there on Dynamic Recruitment training, and I promised to spend a little time addressing their hazing virus.
Meanwhile, as I was working with my “crowd” of 4 men, Jessica was trying to manage a room down the hall that was literally standing room only with sorority women. Over 100 ladies were participating in their advanced recruitment training session. Toward the end of the session, several women from a small chapter with around 25 sisters asked her for some special help. We decided to partner together by bringing my chapter of boys together with this chapter of need. The results were magical.
The next day, Jessica prepared for the evening session while I prepared to meet the 8 mules (including the recruitment chairman) who were too busy to attend the recruitment training the day before. We did our best to catch them up on the curriculum they missed. Most were verbally receptive, but their body language screamed, “screw you!!” Finally, the recruitment chairman said, “If you expect me to start all over, I quit. We already have a party schedule for Rush.” A senior member said, “I’ll just be honest with you all, I'm focused on other things right now….” Another guys jumped on the hate train, “We TALK about stuff like this all the time, but there's never any ACTION. This won't be any different.”
Clearly this meeting was going well. So, I simply made the point, “We don't need your help! We're not asking for your help. We're asking you NOT TO GET IN THE WAY. We wish that you would get involved, but we're done with the carrots and sticks.” I looked at the 4-6 men that were on board for approval. They nodded, so I continued. “Those that want to use the Dynamic Recruitment model are asking for your support as a brother. They aren't asking for you to do more, they are asking for you not to stop their progress. Can you make that commitment?” The glances shot across the room as they eyed each other. I waited until we reached agreement from each individual man in the room. “Gentlemen,” I said, “Not getting in the way means that you won't interfere in the process of attracting and RETAINING the best men on this campus. To retain top prospects, all hazing will need to end today. As brothers you need to make a decision to be involved or uninvolved in the process. Choosing to be uninvolved in Dynamic Recruitment means forfeiting your say in the new member process.”
This intervention had been coming to a head for weeks. The values-centered brothers of the chapter simply needed a voice and a turning point. They got both. They were no longer saying to their brothers, “you can't haze.” Instead, they were saying, “only those members that are doing the ‘work’ get a say in our pledge process.” Hazers are rarely the proactive leaders. In fact, hazers are some of the laziest people on the planet, until it's time to haze. It continues to amaze me how apathetic, dope smoking, ex-jocks will turn into outspoken sergeant generals the moment they have the opportunity to mentally and/or physically exploit the weaknesses of those around them. What a sad, sad group of 6th year seniors.
Back to the story…. The next night, the entire chapter of Jessica's ladies were working on interpersonal skills training when 8 surprise guests showed up — my boys. Eight of the 12 men decided they wanted to use Dynamic Recruitment to turn the ship around. There they were eight awkward men standing cold sober (probably the first time in days) in a classroom facing 25 female strangers. Almost in perfect formation, the ladies stood up and approached the men with warm smiles, eye contact, handshakes, and an appropriate introductory conversation.
Though the interpersonal skills session was going well, there were clear areas where some polishing was needed. I took the gentlemen with me for about 20 minutes for some coaching while Jess worked with the women. The majority of our time was spent preparing for the big finish. One of the men in the group would make a brief presentation and ask the entire sorority for referrals of men they could approach about membership.
“Does anyone want to volunteer?" I asked. The brothers quickly appointed the guy they thought most capable. After 2-3 practice rounds, it was clear he was NOT the man for the job. With time running out, a sophomore member raised his hand and said, "I'll give it a shot if it's okay with you guys."
After a little coaching, he made his first attempt. We role played what he wanted to present as the brothers looked on. Laughter bounced off the walls as he stumbled over his words. But " there was a glimmer of hope. I asked him to try again. In his second attempt, there was no laughter. It was far from smooth poetry, but there was raw sincerity and emotion that made his request feel real. By the end of the third practice round, the entire group agreed that he was ready.
As the men made their way back into the room, the group quickly began to mingle. The ladies were much better using "bridging" and "plus one" techniques to move the men around from sister to sister. There was a natural flow to the room that we could see developing from a distance. Connections were being made. These were real relationships that transcended the exercise. Body language was genuine and engaging. And as one of my men would later point out, "it was hard to believe we had such great conversations with so many women without any alcohol in the room."
As the activity closed, the big moment was upon us. This was the moment of truth. The men were about to make their presentation to the sorority and request referrals. Our white knight stood up, and I could visibly see his knees shaking. He made his way to the front of the room, closed his eyes for just a moment to compose himself, took a deep breath, then looked at the group of women and said, "Ladies, it's been a real pleasure for us to come in here tonight to help you. We all feel like you're a really cool group of girls ‐ different from most of the sorority women on this campus. You're individuals, you're real, you're fun. And, we owe you an apology."
The posture of the entire room changed as the women leaned forward in their chairs. He continued, "We want to apologize to you for not doing a good enough job in the past of making sure the best gentlemen on this campus are part of the fraternity community. I love the brothers we have, but we can do better and to be honest you ladies deserve better. We want to be a chapter committed to scholarship, service, integrity, leadership". We're ready to step it up and create a fraternity for gentlemen that creates better men."
A woman in the back of the room interrupted his off the cuff speech when she yelled, "we just need more guys like you." The rest of the room nodded in agreement.
"That's really nice," he said as he fought the blushing on his cheeks, "but I know that we can't do it alone. We need help. We'd like your help. We know that you know true gentlemen who are not Greek. They're choosing not to be Greek because there's not a fraternity that offers them what they're looking for. We want to become the type of chapter that those men would proudly join."
Just then, another brother began passing out pieces of paper and pens.
The speech transitioned into an appeal for help, "We'd like your help telling us the names of the non-Greek men you know who are true gentlemen. We want to get to know them and present them with the opportunity to do something more through a quality fraternity experience."
In those few minutes I watched a timid boy present himself to 25 women like a confident man. He quite literally found himself and his deepest beliefs about the organization. He left himself 100% vulnerable as he poured his heart out and communicated the true value and values of his fraternity.
The women began writing. Several women pulled out their cell phones and started scrolling through their contact lists. Nearly 5 minutes passed. As the last few women finished writing, he thanked them for their recommendations and promised them that they could look forward to a much improved chapter of gentlemen. He also took that opportunity to secure a follow up social event with their new friends (smart kid).
As the 8 men left the room, I asked them how they felt. Their smiles and glazed eyes told the whole story. I asked, "Do you feel like values-based Dynamic Recruitment is something you can embrace moving forward?" One of the men said, "it seemed to work." I asked, "How many names did you have on your prospect list before tonight?" The chapter president said, "Almost 20!" I asked, "How many new leads of gentlemen' did you just get tonight?"
The men huddled around the stack of papers they had just collected from the women. They began to count, "5, 10, 17, 25, 35, 38, 44, 50, 55, 60 " Holy Crap! We have over 60 names here." Looking them in the eyes I said, "I guess putting your values first works. Have a good night gentlemen."