by Johnny Hohenstein
Director of Chapter Operations
As of late, a few of our Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity chapter executive boards have been asking about best practices when finding an advisor. In any situation, being without a mentor can make an individual or group seem a little lost. The imagery of a ship without a captain comes to mind: what would a bunch of pirates do out to sea with no chief swashbuckler to set the course?
While our organization technically does utilize and endorse an advising model (sans swashbuckling...), we prefer to use the term "coaches" when referring to the individuals in these roles. We do this in order to encourage a more dynamic relationship that emphasizes the idea of creating a two-way street communication style. The more that both parties understand that success can come as a result of collaborating and listening, the more likely both parties will find success - and enjoy the journey along the way.
Last month Phi Kappa Theta hosted its second annual Servant Leadership Summit, during which ten new Performance Coaches began their training. These individuals – a combination of alumni and community volunteers – will act as an extension of the Executive Offices. Each has the ability to offer tailored support, guidance, and challenges to three collegiate chapters.
By adding this personal level of support to chapter leadership and operations, Phi Kappa Theta hopes to be able to challenge our members to be better leaders while supporting them through difficult conversations and decisions. Performance Coaches are gearing up to hit the ground running with their chapters in January of 2019.
These two things, difficult conversation and decision making, were large parts of the Servant Leadership Summit. We wanted to treat this Summit as the foundational beginnings to a new initiative; we hoped to get all of our coaches in the same room, have intentional conversations about the Fraternity and Chapter Operations, and have each individual leave with the same action item: guide but not decide.
This notion comes from Sanford’s Challenge and Support Theory. The long and short of it is the idea that challenging an individual too much may see them buckle under pressure, whereas overwhelming support results in minimal learning opportunities. Performance Coaches had several opportunities during the Servant Leadership Summit to discuss what that means and how to navigate tough coaching conversations.
Pirate analogies aside, here are some of the principles that we discussed with coaches. Our hope is that it can translate into your own situation, whatever shape or form that may take. Phi Kappa Theta wants to extend a challenge to you: can you identify a mentor or coach within your office, profession or community at large using these criteria?
Coaches in your community should first and foremost be accessible. They should want to speak with and listen to members within your chapter. They should be good listeners. In fact, some of the best mentors speak less and listen more. Find someone that will listen to a chapter's questions, goals, insecurities, ideas, etc. so that they can get a good idea of the executive board's strengths, weaknesses and desires.
Coaches used as sounding boards can be a great way for student leaders to “make mistakes” without making mistakes that have long-term consequences on the chapter.
Coaches should be the type of people who like to encourage others, especially coaches that identify with the mission/vision of Phi Kappa Theta. They also should be the type of individual who can gently but firmly tell someone an idea is bad without destroying creativity.
Coaches should have experience and wisdom (the two don’t necessarily always go together). That is, they should have learned from their own mistakes. Think of some alumni in your area who may have had leadership experience in your own chapter.
Coaches also should be willing to be “coached" by their chapter. Any manager, mentor or advisor should be willing to learn from others no matter how young, seasoned, educated — or not — someone is. Coaching is a two-way street: they coach members, and members coach them on how they want to be coached.