Are you Just Balancing or Building Relationships?

by Devin Hall

As fraternity and sorority professionals, our actions and decisions shape how we support organizational success. Oftentimes we either find ourselves feeling appreciative for a productive conversation with colleagues, or frustrated when our approach is dismissed due to varying viewpoints. Those conclusions are often based on our lived experiences, potentially leading to conflicting situations that leave us in a state of “if they only knew.” As an industry, let’s shift our energy from just balancing viewpoints to building collaborative relationships.

When reviewing the Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word “our,” we recognize its connection to ‘belonging to’ or ‘associated with’. As a campus-based or headquarters professional, it’s easier to associate “ourstudents with our employer writing the checks. Which unintentionally can eliminate collaboration and relationship building. Somedays it feels like I’m walking on a tightrope balancing my needs against those of others, wondering if I’m effectively communicating and even headed in the right direction.

Here are four things I wish others knew about supporting “our” students, followed by considerations for practice.

One. Focus on Building Trust

When forming relationships with colleagues, it is okay to be vulnerable. Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team may have crossed your desk as a student or professional. Recognizing the role trust plays in our industry is arguably fundamental. When teams and communities are genuinely open about their mistakes and weaknesses, they build a stronger foundation for trust (Lencioni, 2002). Here are considerations for practice:

  • Effectively communicate your intentions and outcomes. Being honest and vulnerable in conversations between campus-based and headquarters professionals can build trust. Talk openly about the hard things and work collaboratively on solutions.
  • Engage in active listening, creating connection, demonstrating empathy, and focusing on shared interests and goals.

Two. Transparency is Key

As professionals, we must be transparent about our challenges and collaborate on innovative solutions. While that may not always be easy, progress can feel attainable when we are vulnerable and transparent with one another. It’s easy for our work to become focused on self-interest, so actively listen to each other’s intentions. Here are considerations for practice:

  • Collaborate or partner on organization conduct, while being transparent about the process. Headquarters staff and volunteers balance their internal practices with the nuances of each host campus’s policies and procedures. While navigating the complexity of these experiences, strive to collaborate and streamline processes to help our students.
  • Disclose relevant information with necessary stakeholders. As we seek to change culture on campuses or within organizations, utilize headquarters resources and institutional assessment to inform our practice. Being transparent about our decisions and how we reached a solution can be a gateway for connection.

Three. Leverage Chapter Consultants

Chapter consultants can have a meaningful impact on campus support models. As organizations evolve and our industry grows, so does the need for campus specific support models. At Alpha Chi Omega, there is an intentional investment in chapter success through a consultant support model. While our industry has varying levels of consultant support from staff or volunteers, their commitment to organization success remains the same. We have to modify leadership consultant programs to deepen relationships and better understand how different models meet the needs for today’s collegiate members (Sasso, P. A., Biddix, J. P., & Miranda, M. L. 2019). Here are considerations for practice:

  • Invest in robust leadership consultant training experiences that allow individuals to be adaptable to chapter needs. Consultants are asked to be subject matter experts on multiple industry topics, so equipping them to answer questions and navigate complex situations is inescapable.
  • Create a pathway for consultants to build relationships with collegiate officers, alumni volunteers, and campus-based professionals. As industry practitioners, we can serve as an avenue for consultants to establish meaningful connections and focus their energy on individualized chapter priorities.

Four. Coaching Student Leaders is Critical

As we collectively support the unique needs for different student leaders, coaching can have a great impact on student development. As educators, we find ourselves moving through different developmental relationships with students: mentoring, coaching, and advising. Incorporating coaching for leadership development provides an individualized process intended to increase understanding of behaviors and the impact those behaviors can have on personal and organizational effectiveness (Hastings, L. J., & Kane, C., 2018). Here are considerations for practice:

  • Develop resources for staff and volunteers that incorporate skills to efficiently coach student leaders. By identifying a coaching model that effectively connects with fraternity and sorority leaders, there is opportunity for a customized developmental process through relationship building.
  • Don’t start with the answers to their challenges or issues. Whether establishing a new chapter or following an investigation, it’s easy to provide solutions based on expertise or research. While we should call upon that valuable knowledge, we can’t lose the opportunity for learning. Through effective coaching, students can be more reflective, leading to increased self-efficacy and enhanced mental well-being (Hastings, L. J., & Kane, C., 2018).

As we center student and organizational success, our awareness for belonging and association becomes heightened. By building trust, fostering transparency, leveraging consultants, and committing to coaching, we can find a path to harmonious relationships supporting “our” students. This way our work can feel less like walking on a tightrope, and more like a community building a village.

 

References

Hastings, L. J., & Kane, C. (2018). Distinguishing mentoring, coaching, and advising for leadership development. New directions for student leadership2018(158), 9-22.

Lencioni, P. (2002). The five dysfunctions of a team: A leadership fable. Jossey-Bass.

Oxford University Press. (n.d.). Our. In Oxford Languages. Retrieved July 5, 2022, from https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/.

Sasso, P. A., Biddix, J. P., & Miranda, M. L. (Eds.). (2019). Supporting fraternities and sororities in the contemporary era: Advancements in practice. Myers Education Press.

About the author

Devin Hall (he/him) currently serves as the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Butler University. In this role, he provides a transformative learning experience focused on well-being, belonging, safety, and leadership development. Since earning a Master’s in Higher Education from Iowa State University, he has served fraternities and sororities for eight years as a headquarters staff member and campus based professional. Devin is a member of Alpha Tau Omega and actively volunteers for industry organizations.

 

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