Leading a Sorority/Fraternity Community through the Lens of the Gallup StrengthsFinder

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Laura Anderton, Director of Sorority/Fraternity Life & Leadership, University of South Dakota

October 1, 2018

As I sat down to write this month’s blog, I struggled – and not just because it is the end of September and I am still not sure where the last 6 weeks have gone; but rather I struggled with what to write about. Do I pick from the low hanging fruit of national trends regarding hazing prevention, or alcohol polices? Conversation piece for which most professionals and students are almost certainly wearing thin on discussing? Or perhaps I should focus on how we, as a profession, should be leaning into the next 100 years – one of the themes of this year’s NASPA national conference?

Alas, as I sit down to write this month’s blog, my mind keeps wondering back to the root of our profession – behavior development – the core of what motivates our work and the students we work with. How can I/we capitalize on our core competencies to impact the changes we must see in our communities and those across the country right now? In particular, I think to the lessons I learned recently about human behaviors and motivation through the Gallup CliftonStrengths Accelerated Coaching Program I was fortunate enough to attend this past July; and how we might focus on what individual students and constituents naturally re-occurring patterns of thought might be to encourage the good behavior we desperately seek from our community (bystander interventions, risk mitigation and management, peer to peer accountability).  If you are familiar with Strengths, that is totally my Individualization coming out.

For those not familiar, the Gallup CliftonStrengths is an inventory rooted in the history of business psychology originally aimed at figuring out how to maximize productivity of employees in the workplace. Through over 70 years of research in this area, Donald Clifton and his team found that “compared with those who do not get to focus on what they do best, people who have the opportunity to use their strengths are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life” (Rath, 2007), or in another words when people get to work within a space where they engage their naturally re-occurring patterns of thought, they simply get more done and have a more positive impact.

This seems like a no brainer for the behavior modification and changes we wish to see in Sorority and Fraternity Life. Engaged student leaders that actually like holding their peers accountable, mitigate risk and step in when necessary; and feel engaged with the work to be done in their community! So how, as professional leaders of our national community, do we get there?

The seemingly simple solution would be that everyone in Greek Communities around the country should take the inventory and have certified coaches lead sessions to develop the local leadership teams. Unfortunately, being both an insider of our fraternal community and a certified strengths coach- I know that is just not realistic. But there are little things I believe we can do within the strengths framework to move us closer to capitalizing on individual’s talents, until this utopia can be met.

  1. Try to understand the motivation and naturally re-occurring thought patterns of the students you work with (both leaders and students of concern)
  2. Fight for student buy-in and try to utilize leaders naturally re-occurring patterns of thoughts to influence their actions
  3. Ask before acting (this is my learner coming out)

So let me quickly debrief why I suggest these three steps.

Understanding naturally re-occurring thought patterns.   I have always been a strong believer that you cannot work with or appreciate people you do not know. And likewise, you cannot motivate students that you don’t understand. Getting to know why someone acts or behaves in a certain way can help you to appreciate their perspective and ultimately identify how to motivate them.  For example, exploring why I start each day by creating a list, even on Saturday and Sunday (my achiever shining through) can help you to understand the circumstances needed to get me to act. Make a list, make it worth my time (my significance talent) and set me to it. Similarly when you identify what makes student leaders tick you can then tailor the message to their talents.

Second, get student buy-in.  I have preached this one before, but I will say it again, if you don’t get the students to buy in you will constantly be talking to the walls. Think about how your student approaches issues, tasks, and relationships and suit the conversation to where they are. Simply use what you learned from step one. For example, someone like me, with Gallup defined empathy – or the ability to “sense the feelings of other people by imagining themselves in others’ lives or others’ situations” (Gallup, 2012) – being one of my least dominate talent, isn’t going to approach an emotion driven conversation in the same way as someone with empathy towards the top of their list. I can, however, be bought in if you help me think about the significance of the situation or how what we are talking about effects the individuals (significance and individualization). Figure out what makes your key leaders in your community tick and tailor conversation to their natural tendency of thought. Finally, Ask, Ask, Ask. As mentioned before, this particular statement comes from my personal talent of learning and a desire to explore new content; but more generically it can be the method to help you attend to steps one and two. Learn all you can about your students and their thoughts, hopes, dreams and desires for their community. What do they want to see, how do they think XYZ will work. Get their perspective first before any action, and continue to ask questions as you implement shared changes.

While these three steps are not fool proof, and definitely are not rooted in scholarly or peer-reviewed research (yet…), they are rooted in practical application. And you may agree with me on this connection/perspective; or you may not, but if you get nothing else out of this blog offering, I implore you too to dig deep into the core of our profession and the root of behavioral development to draw your own connections on how we can motivate our student leaders to act, as we together look to create change in our shared communities. For as Donald Clifton has been quoted numerous times over as saying, “What will happen when we think about what is right with people rather than fixating on what is wrong with them?” (Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. psychologist and business executive, 1924-2003)

For those curious minds, my top 5 themes, as defined by the CliftonStrengths are:  Self-Assurance, Learner, Achiever, Significance, and Individualization.

Works Cited:

Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York: Gallup Press.

Your Themes Sequence Report (Rep.). (2012). Retrieved September 26, 2018, from Gallup website: https://gallup.com

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