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Leadership Skills

This paper discribes some of the leadership skills I have gathered durring my time in college.  Through these experiences I learned not only a lot about leadership, but also a lot about myself.


Nick Palmer

EXL 3020
Dr. Raffo

April 23, 2008

Spring 2008 Leadership Practicum

            Throughout this semester I have been the Vice President of Recruitment for the Inter-fraternal Council where I have logged in far more than 75 hours. Yet this is not where I learned much of my leadership experience from. I learned most of it from my time being president of the Kappa Alpha Order for the calendar year of 2007. This experience changed me for the rest of my life, and is something that I would go back and do a hundred times.
            I carried this experience with me to the Inter-fraternal Council when I was elected to the executive board after serving my term in office of my fraternity. I brought a lot of my leadership knowledge to this position which not just helps me out in my position, but I am also able to help out the other members of the executive board with their problems.  
Leadership Experience:
My leadership experience started in the fall of 2004 when I accepted my bid to the Kappa Alpha Order.  To be honest, I really did not know the complete concept of a fraternity; it just looked like a lot of fun.  I finished my pledgeship and immediately volunteered for the position of Community Service Chair.  I can not think of my reasoning behind it, all I knew is that I could see the organization doing bigger and better philanthropic things.  I held that position for two and a half years and then found myself being president.  I had no idea what I was up for.
            My previous experiences in the organization were only event planning and running around the fraternity house with a mullet wig, Billy Ray Cyrus cut off tee-shirt, and a bottle of cheap whiskey in my hand.  Still to this day I have no idea how I was ever elected.
            I must say, my initial plans were to party more.  It was something everyone seemed to like, as did I.  We did do this for about a month or two before I found the organization loosing its founding principles which I believe so strongly in.  I thought, what makes us different from any other organization if there is not some kind of stronger bond or a common set of ideals and beliefs?
            In early January every president in the country of the Kappa Alpha Order is sent to an extensive leadership course in Greensboro, North Carolina.  This is a three day course full of everything from finances, leadership, to counseling and of course ritual.  This course helped me become a leader and out of the many, many, leadership retreats I have been to, is by far the best.
            My term in office did not start on the best track.  I was nearly forced to choose sides between our alumni and National Office.  There was a falling out with the two.  Being a young president I just decided to play cards, stay neutral, and focus my efforts on the chapter.
            Through that year I grew as a man, as a leader, and as a communicator. It was a life changing experience that I am so thankful that I was able to be honored with holding that position. We went through our ups and our downs, I had my sleepless nights worrying and asking questions to myself; is everyone going to get home safe? How do I deal with the $98,000 debt? What reports do I need to file this week? Is the IRS out for us again? Then I told myself that I still needed to be a student and get my work done, I still need to have a social life and have fun even though I am constantly leading by example. This is a lot to balance, but through my year as president I learned how to do so, and how to do it successfully.
    Moving On:
            After completing my term as president I was at first relieved. It felt as though a giant weight had been lifted off me. As the days turned into weeks I had so much free time I did not know what to do. I felt like I was going insane, I started buying puzzles and putting them together, doing anything to find a problem to fix. It was not before long my good friend who is a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon asked me if I wanted to run for the Vice-President of Recruitment for the Inter-fraternal Council. I agreed to run even though this was the position that nobody wanted because it is the position with the most work. I was elected to the position and I finally had things to do again.
            I have had a lot of fun working in this position, I have been able to meet and work with new people form different organizations and get to see Greek Life from a larger perspective. I have grown to become great friends with my fellow executive councilors on the Inter-fraternity Council.  
            My position as Vice-President will be used for the practicum, this is the position I will log in my 75+ hours for this semester, but it was my position as president of my fraternity where I truly learned my leadership experience.  
Lessons Learned as a Manager in a Leadership Position:
Planning is the first step a manager must take before accomplishing a task. A good plan must come with a good strategy. This is done best at a meeting or a think tank where there can be many different ideas expressed and viewed as a whole. You have to plan out an event with the pros, cons, and everything in between. Once the event is planned, you must then organize it.
            To properly organize an event the manager has to bring in different advisors, organizations, or businesses in order to accomplish the task. This may also be done at a meeting where you can start to delegate tasks to the committee members. This brings us to our next element, command.
            Once the work is delegated, you will then have to command the committee by directing them into the way the committee wants the task to be carried out. Commands must be clear and assertive, but not over-assertive. If you are over-assertive there is a risk of hurting the feelings of an employee or committee member thus hindering their performance. 
            The manager must then coordinate. They must be able to take all the delegation and put it together. This can be tricky but with a well thought out plan and strategy everything should fall right into place. To bad this rarely happens, therefore while coordinating the manager must be a good problem solver and be able to think on their feet to be able to accomplish the task. 
            Our last element is control. My experiences as a fraternity president has taught me that events can escalate quickly, therefore it is always good to have a risk management plan. This plan may include various security polices as well as organization polices to ensure that all events taking place are controlled.
            A leader/manager must also possess the three pillars; the mental, spiritual, and physical. This was expressed to me in a conversation I had months ago with my mentor, Jason Potts, after being swamped with work and a young, stressed out president.
            This first of the pillars is the mental pillar. “You must keep your mind sharp” is what I was told. You can not stop thinking, and you cannot over think. The pillar must remain at balance.
            The second pillar is the spiritual pillar. “You must keep your spirituality and your faith.” Loss of faith and in what you believe can lead to a tragic downfall.
            The third and final pillar is the physical pillar. “You must exercise your body, as well as your mind and soul in order to stay balanced.”
            Now imagine these three pillars side by side holding up a roof. If one of these pillars is higher or lower than it should the roof will fall, thus putting one off balanced and in a position where it is near impossible to succeed.    
Relational Leadership Model Components in Application to my Experience                                                   as a Chapter President:
            The first few weeks that I held my office, I thought very introverted towards the chapter.  I had never been involved with anything else on campus but the fraternity and traditionally, the culture of the chapter was just that.  Later in my first semester and attending leadership conferences, I sat down with Greek Advisors Gentry McCreay and Carrie Youell to discuss the state of the chapter.  They really helped my out by teaching me that the organization was much bigger than the chapter alone.  As stated earlier the chapter traditionally kept to itself and did not get too involved on campus and in the community.  I took this information and had a meeting with my vice-president John Carter.  At that meeting we discussed what needed to happen in the next five years in order for the fraternity to be on top of campus.  We decided it would be best to make a culture change. 
            This was much harder than what we thought it was going to be; the chapter did not take it well.  Since we had never really got out of our shell and started doing service for a positive good, the chapter just looked at it as work.  Our plan was to teach the new members that this is what you have to do to be in the organization.  Our new members took upon this kindly, and the aphetic members either left the organization or graduated, and the chapter now is in one of the best states it has ever been in.
            We are the brothers of the Kappa Alpha Order, with an emphasis on Order.  This means we are an organization of many different types of people united under the same beliefs of Christianity and gentlemanly conduct towards women.  Yet in the past, we were stereotyped as racist white rednecks.  We knew that this had to change.  We initiated more open minded individuals and under my tenure as president, I was happy to initiate members in to our Order who come from many different races and backgrounds.  This was a ground breaking accomplishment on behalf of the chapter.
            I did find myself early in my office playing favorites.  This you cannot do.  Members of an organization do not forget any favoritism you show.  As time went on I did find that everyone can make a difference, especially when everyone works together. 
            One thing that I did fail to do but did make progress in was establishing a committee structure.  In our organization this is the job of the secretary.  My secretary did not help me out much, I think he was more in it for the resume and not the organization and I hated that.  We did start an informal committee structure that was successful but it would have been better if it was a formal chain of command.
            Though my experience, I definitely gained talent as a leader, communicator, and manager.  I did not know what leadership was.  The night I got elected I went straight to the book store and bought "Leadership for Dummies."  I read that and many other books on leadership but I found that the only real way to learn it was to get in there and do it.  By doing it I was able to spread my knowledge to others telling them about my past experiences and the mistakes I made, hoping they could learn from it. 
            Learning to be a better communicator was hard for me, it was something I had to practice a lot.  When I first came to college I was that kid in class who got worked up inside when I said "here" in class.  This was a must to get over.  I found myself giving speeches before not only the chapter but the Greek community.  Being an Organizational Communication major was a huge help to me learning to be a better communicator. 
            Management was also something that was new to me.  Being in charge of a $160,000 budget and taking on the responsibility of possibly being sued for another member's actions was intimidating.  But through my experiences I learned how to do this effectively, mostly by trial and error.
            When I first came into office, my knowledge of power was very small.  The only real way that I knew how to empower others was to lead by example.  Learning how to use my power as a president and learn to empower others was something I quickly learned in the first few months.
            The way the Kappa Alpha Order is set up, all the power of the chapter is invested in the president.  When I came into office I started changing some things with my new power that many members of the chapter did not agree with.  I started to asses fines that had not been assessed in previous administrations and also fined people for not showing up to events.  All of this I did legally by our by-laws. 
            I also started holding people accountable for the other subordinate leadership positions in the chapter as well as members without an office.  In the past, the other officers did not do much but hold a title.  There are six appointed officers in our organization, at first when I appointed them grades had yet to come out.  When grades finally came out I replaced five of the six.  This did not go over well; no president in the past had ever removed officers for grades.  When they asked why they were removed, I just showed them the KA National Law that states an officer must have a 2.5 GPA to hold office.  I quickly found that the laws and by-laws were great tools for holding people accountable.  I still do not realize why no president before me used them as such. 
            I have always firmly believed that in an organization, everyone has something to offer.  I hated it when people would become initiated and never hold and office or a committee chair.  It baffles me to see people join an organization and never get involved in it.  This is something that my administration did change for the better.
            Kappa Alpha Order has many principles.  Its ritual is a philosophy and way a good man should live his life.  At our chapter we have always had an exceptional performance of the ritual and have always taken it very seriously.  What the chapter did lack is its understanding and how we should live the ritual. 
            Things were getting out of hand, we had brothers cursing in front of women, dinking obsessively, and destructing chapter property.  This is not living the philosophy we believe.  We started implementing more ritual classes so our members could learn to better understand it.  We also started to get guest speakers to come and give lectures about the history of the National Organization as well as locally at Middle Tennessee.  This helped the member appreciate the organization more and respect its rich history. 
            When making a decision I very rarely kept the information behind closed doors.  Most of the time I opened the floor for discussion to the chapter at meeting, by doing this I could see all the members views of the situation before making a decision.  When I needed to keep information behind the closed doors I always talked to my vice president and advisors during the process.  I was never one to jump to a conclusion.  I put in many calls to my mentor, who is the alumni chapter president, Jason Potts.  Jason pledged Kappa Alpha Order in 1992.  For me, it was always great to get advice from someone who had "been there, done that."  We became great friends and I could always count on him and his advice to matter what hour it is when I call him.
            I learned quickly that there is information that needs to be shared and information that does not.  For example, information that needs to be shared consists of events, intramural sports, and regular business.  Information that does not need to be shared is that of what I am being advised, brothers who have alcohol problems, alumni falling outs etc.  I am not saying that I kept a lot of stuff from the chapter, but if they did not need to know it I simply did not tell them.
            A great way to empower someone is to help them learn in individually or at a team level.  Many times if I thought a member could do a good job at a position but was not taking any authority in getting involved, I would appoint him to a position and let him get his feet wet.  By making him a committee chair it gives him the learning experience and also the leadership experience in working with his committee.   Committee chairs is where everyone starts if they want a higher office and is somewhat of a stepping stone.
            When working with our new members we encouraged self leadership.  We encouraged them to be a leader in everything they do not only in our organization, but in many other organizations on campus.  As a result of this we have members in leadership positions in the Inter-fraternity Council, the Student Government Association, the Martial Arts Club, and the list goes on.  This is definitely progress, and empowerment leads to progress.
            As stated earlier, my administration knew that change was a must.  What we did not know is how we were going to do it.  It was the culture that needed the biggest change, everything was lackadaisical and unwilling to get involved and work; therefore, it was hard to get anything accomplished when only a few people are doing the work and everyone else expects the work done for them.  We made it our mission to change the culture of the chapter.
            Organizational culture and change was something that I knew almost nothing about.  I was fortunate enough to not only have my mentors and advisors to talk to, but also my professors in organizational communication.  This helped me greatly. 
            My professors helped me come up with new and creative ways to get the members of the chapter to have a better attitude.  In the past it seems that the glass was half empty, now the glass is half full.  We worked really hard in our endless jobs to make the organization improve.  What we found out is in order for the organization to improve, the members of the organization must improve as well.  Once we got members out of their shell and involved, the organization started to turn around.  
            Something we challenged our members to do inside and outside of the fraternity was to have meaning or purpose for their actions.  If you are going to chug a beer and throw the bottle through the window, make sure you have a good reason behind it.  If it helped at all it at least gave the members a chance to look at their actions from a third party view.
            During my tenure and afterwards I find myself to be a very goal oriented person.  I set three kinds of goals, my big long term goals, my goals in whatever I am doing at that time, and also my daily goals.  I have found the daily goals just to be a fun way to relieve stress and take my mind off of work.  The daily goals are not like things to do on a "to do" list, which I will get to later, but are more like small challenges to complete throughout the day such as, go talk to a teacher after class, eat lunch with another chapter president, open doors for some ladies.  After setting these goals I found myself getting into the habit of doing it every day without thinking about it.  This kept my mind balanced.
            I had a strong vision for the chapter when I was starting out, I just had no plan.  I wanted to the chapter doing things they had never done before, being involved, living by the ritual, and having a strong presence on campus once more.  All of which we succeeded in.   We did this through much creative collaboration, not just internally in the organization, but working with other organizations, having mixers with sororities, themed parties etc.  If you want to get a little you have to give a little.
            Once we had the moral and attitude of the chapter up, we could then start getting the members involved.  We had a brother who really liked to party but always complained it was not good enough, so we put him as chairman of the social committee and had him arrange and coordinate the festivities.  He found out that it was a lot harder than he thought it was going to be.  After gaining his newfound respect for those in the chapter that do everything, he in turn wanted to get involved and is now holding a position on our executive board.
            This is an example of how we involved someone who was not part of the "working chapter" into our vision-building process.  He in turn got those other members to hop on board and get more active, therefore, improving the organization.
            As a president I knew my values and the values of the organization but when talking about ethics in the Kappa Alpha Order, I think you have to relate that to our ritual and our founding principles.  I guess you are lucky you are reading this and not having a conversation with me, I have a tendency to give people long history lessons and whenever KA history is brought up at the fraternity house my brothers tend to run away from me because they know they will be there for a while.  Our history and founding principles are the building blocks of the organization and our ethics, if you better understand the history, you better understand the Order.
            What we know today as the Kappa Alpha Order was founded December 21st 1865 at Washington College (no Washington and Lee University).   Its principle founders fought for the confederacy during the civil war and decided to attend Washington College because Robert E. Lee was the new president of the college.  Lee was a very humble man; he turned down many jobs with much higher salaries to be the president of Washington College.  He was the savior of the south and a role model for all. 
            During the Civil war many college organizations died out so there were numerous new organizations being created throughout the late 1800's.  One of our founders wanted to start a society based on the principles of Robert E. Lee.  The principles that he stressed most to his students at Washington College were that of gentlemanly conduct, duty, and honor.  Our founders created our organization revolving around these principles. 
            These are the things I constantly thought about when I was president.  If I came to a tough decision I would think to myself, "What would Robert E. Lee do?"  I studied his decision making process and learned from it.  Lee is the Spiritual Founder of the Kappa Alpha Order, and every brother looks up to him and his values.
            I took my knowledge and did my best to spread it to the others in that chapter.  We have to think of the principles we were founded on while we are representing the fraternity.  There are times where we really had to stress what kind of behavior is socially expectable.   Most people knew what it was, some people just got carried away in the partying, and others truly had no clue.  This was unacceptable for an organization that emphasizes gentleman like conduct and courtesy towards women.  We started educational programming on how to be socially expectable and how to be a gentleman.  This had a good effect on the chapter and the members seemed to enjoy their times at these events.
            We have and have always had a strong brotherhood built on trust and fraternal love so when I had to trust others and they had to trust me there has never been a problem.  At times we were forced to identify issues that needed an ethical decision.  Sometimes the decision that needed to be made was not the one that was most popular in the chapter.  When decisions like this had to be made I would just refer to our ritual and what it stands for and nobody could argue with me. 
            One of the hardest things I had to do as president was expelling people from the organization, or kicking them out of the house because of their inappropriate behavior.  There are many times when drastic measures were taken for confronting members about their behavior.  Most of the time their inappropriate behavior had taken place a late night under the influence of alcohol.  Sometimes these events start occurring more and more often to where it becomes a problem.  It is hard to tell someone that they cannot drink at   fraternity house.  One member told me time and time that it would never happen again and would have a new excuse for each occurrence.  There was nothing left for me to do but evict the member from the fraternity house and ban him from all social functions. 
            After doing that I then had to confront his family and tell them why their son no longer has a place to live but is still obligated to pay for it.  Many times parents are harder to deal with than their children.
Process Oriented:
            I am a process person in everything I do, especially being a chapter president.  In order for a group to accomplish a goal they first must have a plan, and protocol to execute the plan. I believe if everything is done by process you can always go back to where you messed up and fix it, because you will mess up. 
            While conducting the process I found that it is important to encourage the ones working with you through the process. This keeps the moral and attitude of the members positive and motivated to do a good job. Trusting the other members to do their job during the process is also very important. It is part of working together as one; this is a concept that we instill in the minds of our new members. When this happens, the process will run very smoothly and there will be a great outcome. 
            Collaborating with others is almost always part of the process. You will always be working with someone new on a new and different project. Being able to adapt to this can make a great leader. It is always great to look back at the process that you took and see what was good and what was bad. This is a great learning opportunity, not just for the leader, but also for the ones being led. 
            My leadership positions on campus have taught me many things. Three that stick out to me are, how to communicate, and how to empower and inspire others. These experiences I will take to further my professional career and my life.
            Learning how to manage was a great thing for me to learn. As stated earlier, I learned most of my lessons by trial and error just like I did this one. I learned that there are steps to managing and that it is almost impossible to succeed in a task when you skip a step.
            Being in leadership positions has taught me to become a better communicator. This does not only include public speaking and giving orders, but also how to write letters properly and how to use email as an effective tool for communication.
            Last but not least I learned how to empower and inspire others to do exceptional work. I found the best way to do this is to lead by example, the ones who truly look up to you will come up and ask you how things are done, or how they can do a better job doing something. For the ones that do not come up, you have to inspire them in creative ways, sometimes you just have to sneak it in to everyday conversation. Maybe go out for lunch and ask them for their thoughts of the organization, what could be done better in their eyes, then simply ask them to get involved and give them a few words of encouragement.
            This practicum experience has been great. I have always thought students with leadership positions do not get enough credit. No one outside those organizations truly realize the time and effort that goes into being a leader in an organization. In my first position as being a chapter president, It was a 24-7, 7 days a week job for a year straight. This is no lie, ask any chapter president. As for my second position as vice president of recruitment for the Inter-fraternal Council, it has not been anything close to a tedious job, yet there has been far more than 75 hours spent on it. It has been a lot of fun and a lot less stressful.
            I guess I can not go without thanking all the people who have helped me out along the way. Teachers, brothers, advisors, they were all there to help me. That is the greatest lesson I have learned in the last year in a half, that is to always continue to ask questions, use your resources, and never stop learning.

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