Six Things I Wish I Knew as a New Fraternity Member

NC-State NMI

I was recently was invited to be the keynote speaker at NC State’s New Member Institute.   This is a great program run by their IFC where every new member at the school is required to attend.  I was honored and flattered for the opportunity to speak to them.

My presentation was titled “Six Things I Wish I Knew as a New Member” and was well received.  A lot of this content is taken from my book, The Fraternity Leader.  I will share the main points of the presentation below because I think there are other new members that could really value from them:

1 – How To Lead

Leadership is about being “a know-it-all, without being a know-it-all”.  What does that mean?

Let’s say that you and 3 guys are driving, and the car has a flat.  Who becomes a leader in this situation?  Obviously the guy who knows how to change the tire.  But it is more than that.  What if that guy isn’t liked by the rest of the guys?  Then it doesn’t matter if he knows how to change a tire, because you are not going to listen to him regardless of what he says or knows.

That is why a leader needs to be a ‘know-it-all’ (needs to know the answer to the problem), but also can’t be a “know-it-all” (because you actually need people to like you to follow you).

I then shared a very important lesson a commander of mine in the military shared with me.  He explained that leadership pretty much boiled down to three shapes – a line, a triangle and a circle.

He said that everyone has a place on the line.  You move up in the world by taking care of the people behind of you in the line and not worrying about the people in front of you.

The second shape, the triangle, represented balance in life.  For us, the corners represent you, you academics and the fraternity.  We will run into guys who don’t take care of themselves either through poor decisions or substance abuse, and they will be poor leaders as a result.  Other guys will neglect their academics, and will flunk out.  This means they will fail as leaders as well.  Finally, guys will forget what fraternity is all about, the friendships in the brotherhood.  Those guys won’t be good leaders either.  You need all three to be in balance to be a good fraternity leader.

The third shape is the circle.  The circle represents your area influence.  We all have things we can control, and things we can’t control.  If we focus on the things we can control (the things within our circle) and make our circle the very best we can, then we will be doing our part as leaders.  And all circles are intertwined – meaning if everyone is doing their part it won’t be long until we have a pretty fantastic organization.

2 – How to Handle Adversity

I hope that the new members I was speaking to have adversity in their fraternity experience.  Not because I want them to struggle, but because I want them to grow from the experience.

I explained that anyone can be a leader when times are good.  The true test is during the trying times, and that will put their character to the test.

I shared a story about how I handled adversity during my deployment to Iraq.  I witnessed the horrors of war, and became a better man because of it.  (FYI – complete story shared in my book)

I challenged them to handle the difficult situations they were sure to face in the future the right way, because that is how they will become respected and leaders of men.

3 – Do the Right Thing

You will know the right answer almost all the time.  But it can be difficult to act on it.

I shared three short stories about how my chapter was challenged to do the right thing with three substance abuse situations.  Each time we did the right thing, even though it wasn’t easy.  And each time we were commended for being responsible.

Too often chapters avoid doing the right thing and attempt to cover up their mistakes.  The cover up is always worse than the crime.  Ask Bill Clinton, Jim Tressel or Sean Payton.

4 – How to Motivate Your Brothers

There is an epidemic in chapters across the country.  It seems like five brothers do 95% of the work in most chapters.  These five get upset because they feel like no one else is pulling their weight.  The rest of the chapter is ticked because they think these five brothers won’t share the responsibility of running the fraternity.

The key to overcome this is two things.

First, chapters need to avoid over-programming.  Your brothers have school, studying, work, girlfriends, other friends, other student organizations, club sports, intramural sports, ect….  If you add two or three fraternity requirements on top of that, before long fraternity will start to feel like a job and will be less fun.

Second, chapters need to get brothers involved during the planning stages of events/ideas.  I told a story about a road trip my chapter took to our University of Illinois chapter.  Note that Champaign, Illinois is a long way from Raleigh, NC.

Essentially, the entire chapter got behind the idea when it was presented.  We had to work together to figure out how to get there (by chartered bus).  Then we had to figure out how to pay for the bus (by becoming carnies for two weekends – brutal fundraiser).  The point is everyone was super excited and motivated because everyone was on board for every step of making this trip a reality.  This is key to getting brothers motivated.

5 – Be Active in Other Student Organizations

To be perfectly honest, you can find everything you want in your fraternity to have a fulfilling social life and grow as a leader.  However, I offered three reasons why it makes sense to branch out:

First – For recruitment.  Fraternity Recruitment is the toughest part of fraternity life.  If you are involved on campus, you will meet people, which will make recruitment easier.

Second – For stealing good ideas.  Other student organizations may be doing some really great things in how they run their operation.  You can steal some of these great ideas and bring them back to your chapter.

Third – For life after college.  You need to look well-rounded on your resume after you graduate.  Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who hate fraternities (I know – hard to believe).  Make sure your accomplishments will appeal to a broad spectrum of people regardless of how ignorant they are.

6 – The Importance of Academics

I found a stark statistic on NC State’s website.  30% of the students never graduate.  This means that roughly 1/3 of the brotherhood will become academic casualties at State.

Because of this, it is imperative that the chapter strive to create an environment where academics are stressed.  You can do this four ways:

First – Get brothers to take classes together.  If they take classes together they will study together and hold each other accountable for showing up to class.  In the process, they will become closer brothers which will make for a stronger chapter.

Two – Have older brothers host study sessions for young brothers.  At NC State, a lot of required freshmen classes have a standard exams.  Older brothers in that same major can hold study sessions before these exams to help prepare the younger brothers.

Three – Schedule smart.  If you don’t want to be in class at 8AM – then don’t take 8AM classes regardless of what your advisor tells you.  You aren’t going to learn unless you actually want to be in class and are prepared to focus.  Always put yourself in position to succeed.

Four – Take an easy class a semester to boost your GPA.  If you do this, then by the time you graduate roughly 1/6 of your GPA will be comprised of these ‘easy’ classes.  This will have a dramatic positive impact on your GPA and will keep more brothers in school.


I finished my presentation with a very personal story of my proudest moment to be a brother in my fraternity.  It was very unexpected, and happened while deployed to Iraq.  It is one of my most treasured memories.

Again – I really appreciate the invitation from NC State’s IFC.

If you are interested in having me as a speaker on your campus – let me know – Email Pat.

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