In the Clear

An Aleph recently complained to me that his advisor would not allow his chapter to hold events if they did not clear them at least a week an advance. Some of you reading this might say this is perfectly reasonable – the requirement ensures that there is plenty of time for the advisor to review the event for safety and policy concerns, and ensures that the planners have really thought out any issues ahead of time. Others might suggest this requirement is unreasonable – as it does not offer enough flexibility for members to deal with and resolve issues in cases where something goes wrong in the planning.
Both views are valid, but as you’ll see, one is more valid than the other.

Chapter 911

LA in AZ writes:

My chapter is falling apart. Girls hate each other, very few feel they can depend on other girls. It has turned into a high school situation in which theres the “cool” girls with power and then the others. I, as well as my sisters, have lost the love we once had for our chapter and for this organization.

I want to go back to the way i felt in the 8th grade: obsessed with my sister BBGs. It seems that no one LOVES our chapter anymore. We have lost the vital BBG spark we used to once have. Now, with over 10 seniors leaving, i fear my chapter will take a turn for the worse. I see my 40 member chapter dwindle each day and the prospect of our chapter folding is a serious posibility if something doesnt change soon.

What do you suggest we do? What programing have you seen in you time as an advisor that strengthens your chapter’s closeness? Should we just accept that this is what it is and try to do the best with what we have?

I know things seem bleak, but I find grounds for great hope in your words. First, it is not fair to say that no one loves your chapter or that you have lost that vital BBG spark the chapter used to have. It is clear that at least one person, you, does still love your chapter. And it is clear from your words that you carry that spark. And though you may feel you carry it alone, remember that carried within the very nature of each spark is the ability to light a flame. All that flame needs is fuel.
And fuel you have – for even after losing 10 seniors, you have 30 girls who have the potential to bring back that feeling and spirit that you remember.
The question that remains is how to light that fire?
The answer is both simple and hard. There is no magic program or activity that will change things overnight. But the principle of what to do is clear. The way sparks work in communities is through communication. Start by talking about your concerns with individual girls. Share with them your feelings and concerns and ask what they think. I’ll bet you find others who feel as you do. In addition to finding people who will join you in striving to improve things, by sharing your vision and memories of what the chapter can be, you’ll give hope to others (including some of the “outsiders” who may find in your words the hope to stick around and work with you to improve things).
After you’ve spoken to individuals, or small groups of 2 or 3, move up to other ways of communicating. Perhaps a report at a business meeting or event. Perhaps an article in a newspaper.
If you have an advisor, talk to her as well. In addition to providing you with additional insights, she can, through her own interactions with the chapter, reinforce your message. This is the kind of issue where it is difficult for an advisor to take the lead, but very possible for the advisor to play a strong supporting role.
In terms of building chapter closeness, the single best program I’ve seen is a good and welfare – where everyone passes a candle or flashlight around a darkened room and takes turns speaking without interruption. If you have a large group, set a time limit so that everyone has a chance to speak – then go around the circle again if time is available. This is a particularly good event at overnights, or the last event in a sisterhood program.
Best of luck, and do post a note to let me know how things go.
The Ghost

Leading from afar

You have to pity the regional and international boards. They often have great leadership skills, vision, dedication and ideas. Yet they are completely dependent on others to implement those visions. Consider the Grand Aleph Godol, International N’siah, any regional board member for example: they can have a great idea, but to make something happen at the chapter level is challenging. A visitation once a year hardly cuts it. Releases and powerpoints are very nice, but will they be read? Advisors are a mixed lot – and to be perfectly frank, tend (rightly) to be much more concerned with the functioning of the chapter and basic issues than pressing grand visions. So IBoard must rely on their regional counterparts, and the regional counterparts have to rely on their chapter counterparts… well, it’s like the old game of telephone: much is lost in translation.
Regional board members to a lesser degree have the same frustrations. In many cases they may have the title and the glory, but it’s the chapter leaders who have the power.
So what’s a poor regional or international leader to do beyond what they are already doing?
Perhaps, a slight change in perspective may help.
There is a very natural tendency when leading from afar to focus on working with counterparts: for example: the GAG on a visitation might spend most of his time with the regional Aleph Godol and chapter Godolim. The International N’siah might rely on the regional N’siot to communicate with the regions and chapter N’siot.
And I’m not suggesting this is wrong.
But consider this: the regional leaders are busy. They have big jobs. Plus, they are already leaders – top of the heap (so to speak). Even if a program is of great value, promoting it is potentially either a distraction, or more work. To put it bluntly – the personal incentive to promote the international agenda may be limited. So if IBoard comes up with a great program they want every region or chapter to do – it can be a tough sell.
But what if there was some magical way to get that vision or program in the hands, not of the regional presidents, or even the chapter presidents, but in the hands of some young or up and coming chapter leader. Someone who aspires to be chapter president or on regional board?
Now things are different. This program could be the opportunity they are looking for – the one that will get them some visibility – maybe even on the regional level. By adopting that vision, they can establish themselves as leaders. It can be the cornerstone of their election speech! They probably also have more time available to dedicate to the project – since they aren’t currently holding one of the top jobs. And if they might not yet be as skilled as the older members, enthusiasm and commitment can more than make up for that.
This may seem a bit crass. You might think that somehow self-interest compromises the value of the vision or program because there is an ulterior motive involved. But in my experience, when self-interest coincides with positive vision, great things happen.
Right now, much of the leadership at the regional and international level consists of various forms of “push” – ideas coming down from the top and (hopefully) suggestions and feedback coming up from the leaders at every level.
But if there was some mechanism for every member in the order to feel they had the opportunity to directly embrace and execute a program – you might get some “pull” – with these members reaching out to resources, grabbing the ideas an opportunities, and running with them. “Pull” can’t and shouldn’t replace “Push”. But especially given the ability of technology today to flatten hierarchies, one can’t help but wonder what would happen if this was tried.

The Essence of Leadership

Everyone knows that BBYO is a youth led organization. And in developing youth leaders your chapter and region has more than likely run leadership programs of various types. In those programs the question has probably been asked: “What is a leader?” And as part of that program you have probably heard numerous answers and opinions.
So let us consider that age old question: what, indeed, is leadership?
First, it’s important not to confuse leadership skills with leadership. Leadership skills are specific skills that you develop in order to exercise leadership. Public speaking, conflict resolution, event planning are all leadership skills.
True leadership, however, has to do with what you do with those skills.
So what is leadership? From what I’ve seen, good leadership comes down to one simple statement: A good leader acts in the best interests of the community, putting the community’s interest ahead of their own.
Now this doesn’t mean that a leader is a martyr – who has to constantly sacrifice themselves for the community. For one thing, most of the time the leader’s interests are the same as the community’s – after all, the leader benefits if the community does well. But once in a while, the interests of the individual do not match the interests of the community. In this case you see the true measure of a leader. Does he or she lead to benefit themselves, or to benefit the community?
Ultimately, this is the only question that matters, but it is not a simple question. It can be difficult to know someone’s true motivation – especially if they are skilled or charismatic leaders. Nevertheless, in my experience no matter how skilled or charismatic a member may be, ultimately a leader’s real motivations cannot be hidden from the community (at least within a chapter) – members know each other too well.
How do you spot a good leader? Here’s a hint – look at what they do when they are NOT leading the group. Do they help others without seeking recognition or credit? To they give credit where due? Do they strive to grow other leaders, or keep the glory to themselves? Can they support other’s visions or only their own? Ask yourself these same questions and you may well find yourself seeing great leadership where it matters most – when you look in the mirror.

Drugs and BBYO

It’s no secret that some BBYO members use drugs. I realize it’s not something anyone wants to talk about publicly – nobody wants BBYO to be associated with drug use (never mind the fact that members of every other youth organization do drugs as well). But ignoring the problem doesn’t solve it.
Especially if you don’t think it’s a problem in the first place.
So bear with me, and you’ll read the truth about drugs and alcohol – what they don’t teach properly in school. Please read it even (especially) if you don’t yourself use drugs or alcohol – because it will help you know what to say to your friends.
Drugs Kill Chapters
The logic is simple. Parents disapprove of drugs. Parents trust that BBYO will be a good influence on their kids. If your chapter gets a reputation or is known to be involved with drugs and alcohol parents will stop sending their kids to your chapter. It will become harder and harder to recruit and ultimately your chapter will die. I’ve seen it happen.
What you do outside events matters
I’ve heard a remarkable number of members argue that as long as they don’t do drugs or drink at events, everything is fine. There are two reason why this is wrong:

  1. You are a role model for other members even outside of events.
  2. Parents don’t care whether it’s an event or not – if their son or daughter is being introduced to drugs or drink by members, they consider it BBYO regardless.

These may not seem “fair”. But fair or not, they are absoloutely true and you can’t escape, argue, or avoid them.
Drugs aren’t simply “bad”
Most schools do a lousy job teaching the truth about drugs. They give the impression that drugs and alcohol will ruin your life. So what happens when teens experiment once or twice and discover that their life doesn’t fall apart overnight? They assume that the school was lying and that drugs and alcohol aren’t that dangerous.
Here’s what they should be teaching:
Drugs and alcohol may or may not ruin your life
Drugs and alcohol are like playing Russian Roulette – you don’t know how it will impact you. Everyone is different. Some people can use these substances in moderation and it will have little or no impact on their lives. For others, it is much more dangerous – they might become alcoholics, or move into harder drugs. Even pot can, in certain individuals, trigger serious mental illness.
You won’t know how it impacts someone until after the impact
Not only does the reaction to drugs and alcohol vary by individual – the consequences don’t become apparent for months. So the fact that someone can experiment once or twice and not see an impact doesn’t mean a thing. By the time you see the impact, the damage has been done.
Introducing someone to drugs or alcohol is unfraternal
Because you can’t know how it will impact someone, introducing someone to drugs or alcohol is literally putting their future and lives at risk. Doing so is one of the most unfraternal and cruel things you can do to a brother Aleph or sister BBG. Anyone who does so is not worthy of being a member of the organization.
The younger you are the greater the danger
One of the fastest growing parts of your body during adolescence is your brain. Bathing it in alcohol, THC or other substances can change the way your brain grows. If you feel you have to experiment in these things, do yourself a favor and wait until college. It’s not “safe”, but it is safer – by then your brain is largely constructed, your character and habits formed and stable. Starting at 13 or 14 is incredibly reckless, and the odds of serious harm happening at that age are much, much higher than for those who start at 18 or 19.
The Final World
If you do get high, smoke or drink, there’s a good chance you’ll find excuses, justifications or even reasons that I am wrong – most users won’t even admit they have a problem, even as their friends watch them self-destruct. But maybe you will see the truth here and stop (I’ve seen this happen as well) – and someone who stops and stays clean is just as good a role model as someone who never started.
In truth, I am mostly writing this for those who are tempted, or who have friends who are tempted to experiment with drugs or alcohol. If you understand the harm they can do to your chapter, and how unfraternal it is to allow substance use to spread in BBYO, maybe you’ll wait until after your time in BBYO to try these things (if you must). At least that is my hope.