Lines, Circles, and Arrows oh my!

Spence Pelfrey, Graduate Assistant for Leadership Programs offers his thoughts on the #NoTitleNeeded campaign.

As one of the planners and coordinators of the 2015 #NoTitleNeeded Campaign, I thought it would be helpful and innovative to create a new way of thinking of non-positional leadership. I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve explained the idea of leadership without authority or position and received a blank or confused stare or a multitude of follow up questions about how that’s even a thing.

I spent the summer working in the corporate world and saw just how rigid leadership can be. That’s not a shot at corporate structures, just an observation! In fact, many (and most) organizations are set up this way as well. As someone who wants to return to the corporate sector, my ultimate goal is to change that mentality. I found that while out of that arena, I needed to write or make something that identifies the themes and helps anyone think outside of the box.

My solution this go around was to make it a little easier for people to understand in a way that was fun, engaging, and easily applicable. So I created this video. The foundations come from our office’s approach to leadership, with hints of the video that Joe Wheeless created for last year’s campaign (that was our first video as an office and generated lots of great discussion!). My hope was that we could continue the discussion into this year and help students more deeply understand how non-positional leadership applies to them.

That’s where the shapes came into play.


First, there’s triangles. If you look at pretty much any organizational chart of a large company, it’s structured, rigid, and downright frustrating if you’re at the bottom. When we’re trying to flip the idea of leadership on its head, it’s simply not conducive with triangles. Anyway you flip a triangle, it’s still a triangle, and there’s a group of people who are working to create the base and people at the top who are reaping the benefits of their hard work.

So let’s think of leadership as lines – people are helping one another and each has their own unique skill that they’re contributing to the team. True lines are never ending, and thus there will always be a need for every person to contribute in order to reach checkpoints and goals.

If we look at circles, there’s everyone is contributing something to the circle and it’s being disseminated outwardly. All within the circle can contribute and clearly see (and be inspired) by others’ contributions. This inspiration is infectious and hopefully starts new circles around new goals.

Arrows are pointing towards progress. Sometimes we may not know the end goal simply because we are challenging something that’s never been challenged before. This takes innovation, strength, and willpower to push forward and create a movement. People exercise courage with arrows because of their willingness to not fear the unknown.

My question to you is, what shape is your organization? Is it flexible? Are you playing to your strengths?

Defining Success

One morning, while scrolling through my regular digest of blogs and lifestyle websites I visit, I came across this video titled “Success.” As I watched, light bulbs were going off in my head and I found myself elated to find this. I just had the share it.

You see, this semester, Student Leadership Development began to talk with students about involvement differently. The norm around involvement has morphed into a culture where one may never do enough and students are constantly adding to their plate. Too often we find their involvement gets to a level where it can create negative outcomes. Lower grades, increased stress, increase overwhelm, etc. and it can easily get out of hand.

Then I found this video.

It added a different perspective to what we believe about involvement. We believe that deeper involvement in a few things has greater impact on a student’s experience then shallow involvement in many things. This video reinforces the notion that involvement can be whatever and however you decide to get involved and that success from that involvement might look different than your peers.

Your success in whatever you do is determined by you. It can look like whatever you want it to look like. In applying this line of thinking to involvement, one should ask, what does success look like?

We also know this can be a hard to do. When launching the #NoTitleNeeded campaign last year, it was eye opening to see many people struggle with the prompt “Where do you lead when no title is needed?” As this campaign kicks off again next month, we invite you to ask yourself these questions and reflect on what your success looks like.

It’s election season…

Fall. It’s the season of football, Halloween,  homecoming, leaf watching, and elections. I’m talking about student organization elections. Many of our student organizations transition officers towards the end of the fall semester and with that time approaching T.J. Sullivan recently posted a video blog about that transition titled “Don’t Choose Your Successor.”

He offers some great advice to students in a leadership role who may be concerned about who will take their place after them. There is also a companion written blog on the topic of elections you may want to check out.

Follow the link to the video blog Don’t Choose Your Successor.

And don’t forget to let SLD know who the new primary contact person for your organization is once you have elections!


Book Review: Motivating the Middle

Recently, T.J Sullivan was the featured keynote speaker for The Leadership Event. Kaitlyn Schmitt from Student Leadership Development, offers her perspective on T.J’s book, Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations.

If I had a nickel for every time a student leader suggested motivating others by making something mandatory, I could buy a cup of coffee at The Grind. (But if you think about it, that’s a lot of nickels.)

Student organizations often struggle with apathy. Groups are constantly looking to increase attendance, get members to take on additional responsibility, and just generally motivate their members. Many student leaders suggest mandating attendance and threatening removal of group membership, but rarely do they actually make good on those threats. It’s hard to kick someone out of a volunteer group. But if requiring participation doesn’t work, what does?

T.J. Sullivan, a fraternity/sorority-advisor-turned-educational-speaker, had an interesting idea: stop trying to motivate everyone. Focus on the members who need a small nudge rather than a big push. These are the members in a group he dubs the “middle third.”

Like design and visual arts, student organizations have a Rule of Thirds. Every member of every student organization can be classified as a top-third, middle-third, or bottom-third member. These thirds may not be exactly 1/3 of your membership, but roughly speaking, you can divide your membership into thirds based on level of involvement in the organization.

Somewhere between the most involved (top-third) and the least involved (bottom-third) groups are the middle-third members. These members care about the success of the organization but are not so wholly committed that it’s their top priority. They show up because they like being a part of the group and believe in its mission. They enjoy some aspects of the organization but not others. They’re willing to help out, but only if they understand the commitment, are confident they can meet expectations, and feel needed. And most importantly, they are juggling their participation in the organization with all their other commitments. Unlike the top-third members, this organization isn’t necessarily a ball that doesn’t get dropped.

Motivating the Middle

Most students focus on the bottom-third members and trying to improve or remove those members. But they would likely have more success if they worked with the middle-third members. Since the students in the middle third care and want the organization to succeed, they are already motivated to help out, to complete tasks, to attend activities, and to be held accountable. They just need some barriers removed for them. They need to know that their contributions are valued but not expected to be above and beyond. They need to be able to participate at a level that makes them comfortable and happy, without the expectation of being or becoming a top-third member.

The best strategies for motivating members focus on the middle third. What can be done to give them more responsibility while respecting their middle-third membership? How can the organization remove barriers to their participation? What do they want to get out of the organization, and how are these expectations not being met? Talk to your middle-third members, answer those questions, and you will likely see a marked increase in your need to motivate your members!

Ideas for Motivating the Middle Third:

  • Start by asking them for their opinion, nothing more.
  • Learn what they like and don’t like about the organization’s operations/activities and why. Problem-solve ways to make the aspects they don’t like more similar to the aspects they do enjoy.
  • Find out why they joined the organization and try to help them achieve their own goals in the group.
  • Let them work on projects or tasks that interest them.
  • Ask them to complete tasks that have defined start and end times.  They may be more willing to take on a leadership role if they know it won’t last the whole semester!
  • Thank them for their participation. They are often overshadowed by top-third members, yet the organization couldn’t function properly without them.

Questions for reflection:

  • In which organizations am I a top-third member? Middle-third? Bottom-third?
  • Who are the middle-third members in my organizations? What are their ideas for making changes?
  • How can I help my organization’s members each get what they want out of the experience of being a member of this group?

If you’d like to learn more, read Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations by T.J. Sullivan. It’s an easy and quick read, taking only an hour or two. You can also visit TJ’s blog at

Book Review: The Power of Habit

To be honest, I first picked up this book up because of the bright yellow cover with bold red type face.  In hindsight, it was great foreshadowing for my time spending reading The Power of Habit: Why We do What We do in Life and Business b

Power of Habity Charles Duhigg.  I realized I have a habit for going to Barns and Nobel to kill time before a movie and picking up books with interesting covers.  Part knowledge and understanding of the subject, and part self-help, The Power of Habit is a great read for many different audiences and applicable to many stages of one’s life.  Duhigg offers stories to back up scientific facts and data points with the cadence of a TV series writer.  I found myself more than once wanting to get through the next part of chapter and get back to a story that took a pause, just like a well timed commercial break during your favorite TV show’s finale. The book begins in the most logical place; the habits of individuals.  The subsequent chapters do a wonderful job breaking down a habit and looking critically at the different parts.  Duhigg ultimately taking the stance that one only needs to change the behavior, not the trigger or the reward, to make a habit positive.  All while riveting stories of people’s lives are sprinkled about the pages. An aluminum manufacture, a football team, and Target all have one thing in common: their organizational habits are profiled in this book in a way that reads like a prime time investigative news show.  By far the realization a company such as Target has figured out how to individualize coupons to customers based on what they buy and even predict their next shopping experience is unnerving.  What part two if the book focuses on primarily are the habits of organizations, but the secondary focus is on the difference of positive and negative uses of understanding the power of habits.  Alcoa, a large international aluminum manufacturer based in America, is profiled in a way where the company focused on the safety of its employees and changing the culture of a large company while increasing profits over the years.  Alcoa essentially harnessed the power of habit by creating, changing, and introducing habit into a culture. So how does The Power of Habit relate to leadership?  For someone whose time is in high demand, this book can help you analyze some habits in your life.  It provides some helpful tips in working to change a habit or introduce a habit. If you are a member of an organization that is frustrated with how things are run, I recommend this book to improve the inner workings of your organization, like Alcoa. Overall, the time investment on the front end, should outweigh the long term benefits of the books teachings.

-Joe Wheeless

What is So Bad About Hazing?


A guest blog post by Linda Knight, Director of Campus Recreation and member of the board of directors of, and organization dedicated to empower people to prevent hazing.

I few years ago W&M was sending a team to the Novak Institute for the Prevention of Hazing.  Because I was in the process of hiring someone to oversee the sport club program, I decided I would attend the institute.  As a college athlete myself, (granted that was quite a few years ago) we did some low level hazing but no one really talked about hazing at that time, we all thought it was just initiation.  Whenever we did talk about hazing it was with reference to a fraternity or sorority doing something to their “pledges”.  We now know that is a problem at all levels and organizations.  As I sat through a very intensive institute, I thought about all the ways we could help our organizations make better choices, but was still having trouble getting the thought out of my head “are the things they are doing really that bad”.  Then about halfway through the institute we had a guest speaker that talked about the hidden harms of hazing and I never asked that question again .


So what does the hidden harm of hazing really mean?  For me the best way to think about it is: “we do not know what we do not know”.  We do not know what is in someone’s past, whether it was something that happened to them, or someone they know.  Most people or groups that haze others do not do it with the intention of causing them harm, they want to have an experience that makes the person feel like they have earned acceptance or bonded with their group.  What the group often doesn’t think about is that they do not know someone’s past, and what is nothing to one person, can cause severe emotional or physical damage to another person.  Thinking about doing something that seems like no big deal to me, such as getting in someone’s face and screaming, or making them dress a certain way, could take someone else to a very dark place in their life. That had such an impact on me that I have stayed involved in the prevention effort on campus as well as nationally.  We all deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and some of the activities that take place do not lend themselves to respect or dignity.

When asked to serve on the Board of Directors for HazingPrevetion.Org I said yes immediately.  I wanted to help an organization that was mostly focusing on hazing with Fraternity and Sorority organizations see that is was a much bigger problem than just Greek organizations and that others were there to help with the prevention efforts. I also wanted to be able to share with them some of the successes we have had at William and Mary with our efforts.

I would love for there to be a time when we do not have to think about hazing prevention because it is no longer an issue.  We are making a lot of progress here at W & M but have a long way to go.  We are considered one of the leaders in the collegiate world for our prevention efforts, and we are honored and proud that others view us that way, but we know we have a long way to go.

The area that I am very proud of, is that some of our organizations are reaching out to those involved with the prevention effort to discuss, and ask for help, providing alternative activities that achieve the goals and mission of the organization in a more positive manner. For the last two years we have had organizations take advantage of our outdoor program to schedule trips that bring the members closer together and allow them to bond in a very challenging, but supervised activity.  I hope that more groups will take advantage of this opportunity as well as other opportunities.

I know our efforts at W&M are not to stop people from feeling a part of an organization, but to provide guidance and opportunities to achieve the same result in a healthy and positive way. Also getting our W&M community to realize they can make a difference. If something is happening to you or someone you know that feels like hazing, you can step up and stop it.  When we were coming up with a phrase to represent our hazing prevention efforts we came up with:  My Tribe, My Responsibility: A Home without Hazing.  It really is your responsibility to help your fellow students be treated with respect and dignity in a safe environment and we are here to help in any way we can.

An Open Letter of Understanding

At the beginning of the spring semester, a few student organizations hosted themed parties in which the theme and resulting costumes marginalized members of the W&M community. The following is an open letter written in collaboration by two of our Student Leadership Development staff members, Trici Fredrick and Joe Wheeless.

January 29th, 2015

I am an “administrator.” I spend my days working with students. I share in their joys. I share in their triumphs. I also share in their disappointments; their missteps; their “why on earth would you do this” days. Each morning I wake to a new day just like many other people. However, no two days are alike. My work with students brings forth opportunities to educate, engage, and learn both with students and my colleagues at William and Mary. These past few days have been no different. You are likely aware that over the past weekend a few student organizations chose to host social events where the themes and/or related costumes were hurtful to members of our community. These are not the first groups to host such events and sadly, they will likely not be the last. However, events such as these provide an opportunity for all of us to reflect on, learn from, and process the world around us. They present us with questions like: “Why do groups hosts events like this?” or “Why don’t they understand the implications and why this is hurtful to others?” I will admit, even as a seasoned “administrator,” I don’t have all the answers. I struggle to determine how to best support all students in their learning from and processing of recent events. But I have my ears open and am willing to learn.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have my biases too. I grew up in a privileged environment. I rarely wanted for much. I made mistakes. I learned from those mistakes (and some of those lessons were tough). And every day, I am still learning. None of us are without scars, without burden. We are all human. We all have a story to tell. And I have a deep desire to bring all of us to a conversation and a place that weaves together the beautiful, vibrant, and unique fabric of our William & Mary community.

College is a place for learning; for exploring and building… not just our resumes but also our minds, our hearts, our souls. It is a time of discovery of who we are, what we’re made of and where we might be going (at least for the next chapter of our lives). But it’s also a place for making mistakes; for taking responsibility for our mistakes; for allowing for forgiveness; for being able to stand up and say “This doesn’t feel right” and to hear “What can we do to make this better?” in response. When you find a member of the Tribe who needs to hear this statement or be asked this question, tell them so. Ask them for their story. Share yours. This is the only way we can wade through the waters of uncertainty and find the “right” answers and create a better community. We have to trust each other to ask the hard questions but more importantly we have to be forgiving and gentle enough to be able to work through the answers…together.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. It’s hard work, but it’s the right work. And I commit to working on bettering our community and encouraging people to be better versions of themselves every day.

I need your help though. I can’t do this alone. I can’t do this with closed hearts and closed ears. I respect the voice of others where words come not from a place of revenge or doing harm to others, but from a genuine place to improve the lives of others.