Saturday, June 23, 2007

Bonded and open - Gamma Phi Beta

Last Friday, June 22, 2007, I was invited to do a workshop for a group of volunteer advisors for Gamma Phi Beta national sorority. A friend from LeaderShape, Kris, was kind enough to invite me to participate. The topic was understanding and working with Millennial-era students. When I started preparation for the workshop, I had a rough time. It was difficult because I view these sweeping generational stereotypes as many times very marginalizing and unfair. In my own thinking, I see some of the trends that are associated with Millennials but much of my own contact and experience contradicts it. I also struggled in preparation because generational understanding isn't an area in which I would generally claim much expertise.

That said, this workshop with the Gamma Phis was one of the most fun I've had in a long time. The group was about 100 women from throughout the U.S.A. Their responsiveness was simply unbelievable - hence the label of this post. As I came to know this group better, it became very clear that they knew each other well, had a great deal of fun, and were bonded in common purpose. Yet, they embraced me so easily and made the task of facilitating almost effortless. From the moment I stepped to the microphone until my closing comments 2 hours later, they were with me. I don't think I've ever been able to engage a group for that long and it had nothing to do with me. It was all about their enthusiasm for each other and their commitment to their task - working with, serving, and drawing forth the best from collegiate women today. Not only were they impressive in their relationships and purposes, the Gamma Phis demonstrated that groups that are tightly bonded can also be very welcoming to others who are outside their number - a lesson that many bonded organizations might want to cultivate.

I started my work with this group by saying that I was not an expert in Millennials but that I assumed they were. Then we went on to brainstorm ideas they had about Millennials, to which I compared some of the current research. We also went on to the "so what" question of how to respond in ways that demonstrate empathy for Millennials' characteristics, questions and concerns. The conversation eventually moved to my passion - leadership. I explored with them whether or not Gamma Phi Beta, or any other sorority for that matter, is really taking young women's leadership learning seriously. The response was a pretty resounding, "No." For whatever reason, there just hasn't been the focus in sorority circles on ideas about contemporary leadership and what these organizations can do to distinguish themselves as places that really foster 21st century leadership. The "Conviction in Action" definition I advocate seemed to ring true for many of the women with whom I talked over lunch. It really is about helping young people find something they care about and then providing the opportunity, development, and coaching/mentoring to call forth their own leadership potential.

I got a very positive feeling that Gamma Phi Beta may really try to tackle the leadership question within sororities. My observation and challenge is not a criticism, it is a call to work that desperately needs to be done. Collegiate women's leadership is a vast resource that could be addressed if sororities would make it a priority - a very interesting prospect...

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