Leading By Serving

Inspired by A Leader’s Legacy, James Kouzes & Barry Posner

“Leadership is not a position.” This is something we hear all the time as a student leader. But if leadership doesn’t come with a title, why do we continue to look at those holding executive board positions when the chapter or a member is in need of leadership?

Leadership is not the private reserve
of a few charismatic men and
women. It is the process ordinary men
and women use when they are
bringing forth the best from
themselves and others.
-Jim Kouzes & Barry Posner

Let’s begin by defining the word leadership. One of the most common words used today, yet there are thousands of varying definitions.

A leader is not necessarily a person who holds some formal position of leadership or who is perceived as a leader by others. Rather, a leader is one who is able to affect positive change for the betterment of others, the community, and society. All people, in other words, are potential leaders. Moreover, the process of leadership cannot be described simply in terms of the behavior of the individual; rather leadership involves collaborative relationships that lead to collective action grounded in the shared values of people who work together to elevate an organization, cause, or community.

– Provided by the North-American Interfraternity Conference and Adapted from the Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA

Serve and Sacrifice

Did you become a leader because you want to do something, or are you a leader just for something to do? If you are a leader because you want to do something, what is it? What difference will you make within the fraternity?

I don’t expect you to readily have answers to these questions. However, as a fraternity man, these are questions you should often consider. What will your legacy be? Will you be remembered as the brother who contributed to the chapter’s success, or will you be remembered as a brother who contributed to the chapter’s downfall?

Kouzes and Posner once said, “Only leaders who serve earn commitment.” Loyalty is not something a committee chairman or chapter president can demand. Loyalty is something chapter members will grant after it has been earned. When hearing chapter presidents describe their positions by using words such as “authority” or “power,” I know immediately that the chapter’s leadership is a contributor to the organization’s problems. A chapter member will not decide to follow a leader based upon the leader’s authority and power, but rather upon the leader’s capability of meeting the needs of the members and the chapter—also known as servant leadership.

Being a servant leader in your chapter means that you are more concerned about the welfare of the fraternity than you are with your own wellbeing.

The idea of leaders serving others is not a new concept. In fact, more than three decades ago, Robert Greenleaf observed that the “great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to [the leader’s] greatness.” It has been proven time and time again that we, as leaders, release enormous amounts of influence and energy when we serve. Nancy Ortberg, an organizational leadership consultant, puts it best by saying, “Without the element of servant leadership, the furthest you will get into someone’s motivation is the ‘have to’ level. Over time, that will build a narrow, thin organization.”
Sacrifice also comes with being a servant leader. In the world of fraternity leadership, almost all acts of leadership comes with sacrifice. Just as the old saying goes—“nothing great comes without costs.” Leadership is not easy, especially within a fraternal organization. If you want to be an effective leader within the fraternity, you must be willing to pay a price. By doing so, you are showing your brothers that you are not in it for yourself. This sends a clear message that you have the chapter’s best interest at heart. A leader’s sacrifice can look differently among different groups. Some leaders may sacrifice ‘popularity’ by holding members accountable for their actions. Another example of sacrifice is not attending the chapter’s annual date party, so you can complete an assignment that has been put off due to chapter obligations.

Our Legacy

We will all be remembered for something. The question is, for what? Consider this: the life we lead is the legacy we’ll leave. What will your brothers say about you after you’ve graduated? We all live on the memories we create. What brothers will say about you will have nothing to do with your popularity or your personal achievements, but what you achieved for the fraternity. You will not be remembered for the social events you planned, but for how you left the fraternity for those who come after you.

Donald Abels currently serves as the coordinator of fraternity and sorority life at Middle Tennessee State University’s Center for Student Involvement and Leadership. Donald’s primary responsibilities include providing education, support and guidance to the Interfraternity Council in the areas of organizational development, recruitment, new member programs, event programming, and risk prevention. Donald also serves as a national volunteer for Pi Kappa Phi fraternity and Phi Kappa Psi fraternity by providing chapter education in the area of risk management. Having graduated from MTSU, where we was named the 2010 IFC Man of the Year and 2011 IFC Chapter President of the Year, Donald earned his M.Ed in Higher Education Administration (‘13) and his B.S. in Organizational Communication (‘12). Connect with Donald on social media (@DonaldAbels) or by email at Donald.Abels@mtsu.edu.