Defining Integrity

Mike Beckham

As a fraternity advisor, I always make it a point to meet with each new president soon after the chapter holds elections each year. It’s great to help them put in motion their hopes and goals for the house. It’s also a perfect opportunity to talk about the challenges of leadership in a Greek house and the important of integrity in leadership.

In my opinion, there might not be a more challenging and daunting task than leading in a fraternity or sorority. In order to lead you have to be able to do many things well, but it starts with the ability to persuade others to follow you even when they disagree. Being a leader in a fraternity is usually much more challenging than leading in other contexts. It’s not like being a manager for a company where people will follow your leadership because they want to be promoted and keep their job. No, this is a totally different ballgame. To be an effective leader in a fraternity or sorority people have to want to follow you.

So how do you lead in such a way that others will want to follow you? I think that it starts with integrity.

2000 was a difficult year in the corporate world. The stock market, especially the Nasdaq, took a steep dive as many of the internet companies that had led to the boom of the 90’s were going belly up. To make matters worse, there were several high profile cases of companies that had committed accounting fraud. Perhaps the most well known was the spectacular collapse of the Houston, TX based energy company Enron. It was during these dark days that Forbes conducted an exhaustive survey to find what characteristics that people in the workplace most wanted in their leaders. Surprisingly, the number one answer had nothing to do with competence or likeability – it had to do with character. People overwhelmingly chose integrity as the number one characteristic that they desired in a leader.

Being a leader in a Greek house is challenging because you often are forced to make decisions or set direction on controversial issues. Many times the right decision is not the popular decision. In my chapter of SigEp that issue is how to handle a new dry campus policy that our university has recently implemented. I don’t know what issues are hot button topics in your house, but I would bet that there are some. These are the times that leadership is the most difficult but the most critical. How do we lead in these situations?

The temptation is to have our actions and decisions dictated by trying to gain the approval of the people that we are leading. Why wouldn’t this work? I mean, I just said a few sentences ago that the best way to lead in a Greek House is to lead in such a way that others want to follow you. The reason that this approach to leadership fails time and again is that people first and foremost want to follow someone that they respect. No one wants a leader who simply parrots the voices of others. In political elections candidates draw the most criticism when they are caught flip-flopping on an issue. Voters don’t want to elect someone to office who just says what they think that people want to hear, and our fraternity brothers and sorority sisters aren’t any different.

Leadership starts with integrity. The ability to be consistent in our decisions and our actions to the point that others are compelled to follow us – even when they disagree – because they are inspired by who we are as a person.

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