The words “I” and “me” seem to be replacing “we” and “us.” As I scroll through Facebook posts of friends, colleagues, and students, people seem to focus more attention on themselves and less on others around them or the collective. ”My” or “mine” pops up more frequently than “ours.” We are removing others from the equation and taking sole ownership of things that belong to a collective.
A prime example of this from my work is seeing newly elected presidents talk about retreats and trainings with executive boards. “Lots of bonding with MY [emphasis added] amazing executive board” was the status that prompted this post. Well intentioned by the student. Problematic nonetheless.
The executive board was selected by the organization, not the president; therefore, the president taking ownership of the E.B. as “hers” (in this example) creates friction whether the president knows it or not. Elected officers were selected to guide the organization, but are still selected by its members. Often times, executive board members and presidents lose sight of this fact. They were selected to lead the chapter, not own it.
Too often, I talk with presidents and other executive board members about apathy within their organization. More often than not, the issue is not apathy but a lack of engaging chapter members. Mainly because the upper echelon of leadership sees the chapter as “theirs” and not the collective “ours.” They forget to ask members what they want; why they joined the organization. These leaders get caught up in awards and recognition as the ways to prolong “their” legacy in the organization. Winning the top award is more important than members having a fulfilling experience. Checking criteria boxes on a piece of paper is more important than people. The people and their experience becomes a byproduct.
Recently, a chapter president commented that she should have been asked more questions during their chapter’s Greek Awards interview because she knew more about the past year of the chapter and that it was “my baby.” I was shocked by her comments. I was at a loss for words. She is a president that I respect and I was taken aback by her immediate reaction to the interview. Instead of her supporting her chapter members on their responses to their questions in the interview, she was more concerned about the questions she wasn’t able to answer because she knew better than them. It was the perfect example of “mine” instead of “ours.”
The leaders can be doing a much better job in engaging the average members, and shifting the balance from “mine” to “ours.” These average members who pay their dues on time. They show up to weekly chapter meetings. They participate in the service and philanthropy events hosted by the chapter. They have a leadership role in an outside organization. They probably work part-time. They are decent students who help the overall chapter GPA. Often they are forgotten, or asked to do more without really asking them what they want to do more of.
Two simple questions “What are you passionate about? What excites you?” could change how chapters operate. The focus transitions from “mine” to “ours” through a conversation over coffee to get to know a member of your chapter better. Creating opportunities around these passions and excitements is what engages average members to have ownership of the chapter. They are being heard. Their perspective switches from “yours” to “ours” and that is what the shift needs to be. For chapters to be a collective and collaborative process, not held in the hands of a select few.