The Buck Stops Here

In just over two weeks, Chi Psi’s newly elected #1’s from all over the country will be travelling to Nashville to take part in our 4th Annual Mid-Year Leadership Retreat. It is fantastic programming that is only possible because of consistent alumni support. While here in Nashville, TN, our brightest undergraduate leaders will be educated on a variety of topics and given time to strengthen their bonds with Brothers from other Alphas. They will gain new perspective on what Greek Life really is as they learn about how differently it manifests from school to school. As they go back to their respective colleges and universities (because there is a difference!) they will have a better sense of how to make decisions as the head of their organization.

My entire life I have been fascinated with history. I do not put a lot of stock into the adage that those that forget history are condemned to repeat it, but I do think that above all it teaches us perspective. And perspective is important when making decisions. Equally valuable to developing leadership is being able to inspire. Our #1s are often judged by their ability to motivate others, but the process of how effective leaders self-start is often taken for granted.

Putting politics aside, one of my favorite presidents is a legendary self-starter, Harry S. Truman. He overcame a lot of failure to eventually live in that awfully nice White House in Washington DC. He was our most recent president to have never graduated from college, though not for lack of want. His childhood dream was to go to West Point, but he was denied his appointment due to poor eyesight. He decided to join the military anyway and faked his eye test by memorizing the board. After his service he failed at nearly every private business venture he attempted and decided his skill-set might best be employed elsewhere. My favorite thing about Truman is the iconic sign that he had on his desk. It is well known that the front of the sign read, “The Buck Stops Here“, but what a lot of people do not know is the back of the sign read, “I’m From Missouri”. Too often we take that phrase and make it mean that leaders are responsible for everything that their organization does, even if it is outside of their scope of control. In actuality, it means that when faced with a situation that requires a decision, the proper response is to make a decision and stand by it instead of passing that decision on to someone else.


How does this all apply to Chi Psi? Because too often we have Alphas and #1s that pass the buck. The choice of inertia is just as much of a decision as the choice to act. Too frequently in recruitment Alphas will put too much of the burden on the Recruitment Chairman. Habitually Alphas will have some self-diagnosed externality that is holding them back from their goals. It gets repeated over and over again until it becomes a rally-cry-mantra-self-fulfilling-prophecy-TRUTH. Every single Brother has the ability to help improve the Alpha, regardless of whether they hold any leadership position. Unfortunately, Brothers make the decision to leave the bulk of the work that needs to be done to those in charge.

#1s also like passing the buck in different ways. I hear this a lot on the road, “James, I would really like to implement that, but…..” But what?! I get that you have might have some apathy in the group or your reputation on campus is lower than low or that this is the way that your Alpha has always done things (usually means that it’s been done like that for the past 3-5 years). These are excuses and limitations that you help create for your Alpha. By giving into that attitude you help facilitate the process described above! You give your Alpha ammunition in this woe-is-me narrative. Organizations that are able to take steps forward do so for two simple reasons: their leaders are able to articulate a vision and get buy-in from members that will work towards realizing that vision.

To every single #1 that is still reading this- I want to challenge you to do the following things.

  1. Make it a rule that anytime someone complains during a meeting that they have to offer up a solution to what they are complaining about. Eliminate environments that do not generate valuable solutions.
  2. Come up with three goals that you want to accomplish during your time as #1. Just three. Make them goals that will move the organization forward, but that are limited enough in scope that you can accomplish them during your time in office.
  3. Get organized! You are running an organization. You need to know everything two steps before anyone else.

If you follow those three steps than you will take ownership of your Alpha. You will be successful. And you will help cement a legacy.


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