What to Do when things don't go according to plan

What Do You Do When Things Don’t Go According to Plan?

by Branden Stewart


I’m one of the most “Type A”people I know. Throughout my adult life, I’ve been the man with the plan and someone who can be trusted to get things done. I thrive in the black and white of it all, and I recognize my shortcomings when it comes to navigating through shades of gray. How I wish I could be the guy who can sit back and just go with the flow sometimes!

I can trace so many of my organization and execution skills back to my time as a student leader in my fraternity in college. Looking back, the biggest hurdles I had to worry about were related to things that seem so silly in retrospect: making sure we had a large enough room reservation, micromanaging our campus award applications, navigating a new council-implemented recruitment rule, or scheduling retreats around everyone’s busy calendars. All of those things pale so drastically with what’s facing chapter leaders, advisors, and campus professionals today.

As the man with a plan, these last few weeks have been… rough.

And if they’re rough for me, with a decade of professional experience navigating all the hurdles that life and work throws at all of my carefully laid plans, I can only imagine how rough they might be for you right now. I’m especially thinking about all my “Type A” get-it-done planners and executors.


…I’m thinking about all of the sage New Member Educators and Intake Chairs who were working hard to cultivate a welcoming member experience for their newest brothers and sisters.

…I’m thinking about all of the chapter presidents who were working with their executive boards to execute carefully curated calendars and strategic plans.

…I’m thinking about the talented recruitment leaders who were getting a jump-start in Fall Recruitment by building their names list, training their members, and collaborating with council leaders and headquarters teams.

…I’m thinking about all of the seniors graduating this semester who have suddenly had their final months on campus thrown into uncertainty, perhaps not being able to participate in traditions and rituals they’ve waited years to experience.

…And I’m thinking about all of the plans I’ve had over the years that didn’t go exactly how I’d hoped. Like I said, I’m most comfortable when things are a clear-cut black and white. But what I’ve learned over the years is that so many things rarely go according to plan. Sometimes, all you can see in front of you is that gray area. What we are experiencing today is on a whole new level. Right now, no matter which way any of us turn, everything is gray and unknown.

So what can you do as a “planner”? As someone who “gets things done”? As someone who hates to be sitting around, waiting for direction? I’ve got a few ideas.



1) Take a moment and call your fraternity brothers or sorority sisters. I’m so often caught up in “the plan” that I forget the people who help make the plan happen. I bet some of you are the same way. You can’t have a thriving chapter without members who are committed to it. And leaders sometimes unintentionally distance themselves from their people. Chapter leaders like you can make a big difference for some of your members by simply picking up the phone, making a call, and connecting. Connection is comforting, and desperately needed, especially in times like these.

2) Reflect on your performance so far. Rarely do we get a moment to step back, analyze, and be introspective about how we’re performing as leaders. It’s even more rare to find a chance to do that mid-semester! You’ve been given a special opportunity to slow down. What are some of the things you’re proud of so far in how 2020 has been going? Double down on those things going forward (to the best degree that you’re able)! Are there areas where you could improve your performance or planning? Now is a great time to hit the reset button on yourself, and recalibrate to get things back on track.

3) Make a plan to make the plan. We don’t know everything about how today’s pandemic will affect tomorrow’s reality, but we have some ideas of how things might go. Do you have a strategic plan for the semester, philanthropy goals, recruitment benchmarks, or other measurable standards you were hoping to reach this year? Now is a good time to assess the current reality of where you are, what’s coming next, and what may truly be attainable. Perhaps you can schedule some mini-meetings virtually with your fellow leaders within your chapter, or even peers from your council, to talk through what needs to happen next to achieve and modify your goals.


You don’t have to wait for the storm to pass, feeling crippled by the lack of certainty of what’s to come. You can take time to reconnect with your chapter brothers and sisters. You can reflect and take stock of your year so far. And you can make a plan to make the plan.

Here’s what we do know: This is an unprecedented time for all of us. We are all doing the best we can with the information we have. No one is quite sure what’s next, but we can count on each other moving forward as we begin making plans for the future of fraternity and sorority in the wake of this watershed moment in our global society.

You have been given an exceptionally difficult task: to remain a leader in this time of great uncertainty. And I’m confident that you can navigate through the gray areas ahead of you to make a plan which will get things in your chapter and on your campus back on track when the time comes.