Monday, February 05, 2007

Report from the Underground - CLA Destin

As we have done for the past 2 years, our operatives have infiltrated the Carlson Leadership Academy sessions in order to bring a true flavor of the leadership training weekend back to those who were not able to attend. In the coming weeks we will have more reports, but here is the first one, from Florida - the land of sunshine, Super Bowls, and pledges covered in catfish bait...

Take it away, "Brother Incognito":
Waves lapping at white sand beaches. Palm trees waving in the breeze. Crystal clear blue water swimming pools just outside your room. A tropical paradise except for the fact that it was, oh, forty degrees outside. Such was the setting for the Carlson Leadership Academy held last weekend in the resort town of Destin, Florida. Everyone was disappointed by the chilly temperature but the location itself was pleasant and welcoming in spite of the fact we shared the Hilton hotel with 800 Mary Kay Cosmetics saleswomen with, in some cases, their husbands in tow. Of course it did make finding a parking place among all the pink Cadillacs (and at least one pink pick-up truck) something of a challenge. Having that many women in the hotel did cause a few problems: Headquarters was forced to cap attendance at 190 and some registrants were forced to move to off site lodging locations.

While I’d like to report that the event was abuzz with talk of the recent incident at FSU the fact is it was little more than a passing comment. Perhaps it was discussed more vocally than behind closed doors. It should be noted, though, that there was no one from the chapter’s alumni in the alumni session. [note: emphasis added] More about that later.

As academies go there was little difference between this one and most of the others I have attended. No collocation with a sorority (unless you count the Mary Kay Commandos) and no day long simulation of a campus environment. This one did what CLAs do best: Disseminate information and training. The event began (or at least tried) with the perfunctory advertisement for the coming Conclave in Atlanta. Not that much of it got seen since technical problems forced the staff to jump ahead in the schedule of events. That item, a lecture entitled “Execution!” was ably given by Billy Maddalon, the District Governor for North and South Carolina. The session focused on recruitment (where it all starts) and concentrated on recruitment salesmanship as a learned skill rather than an innate ability. Much of what was said in the seminar has been heard before (especially by one who’s attended as many of these as I have) but it was given in a logical manner I must admit I found more engaging than that of past CLAs. Recruitment is a skill one can learn. If a chapter does not recruit the best men possible it will not succeed. People and organizations that have written goals are far more likely to succeed than those who do not. Quality of men is directly related to GPA and vice versa. Too many chapters are using the “Social Worker” model, looking to men they can make better, and so forth.

Unfortunately I had leave in the middle of this talk to retrieve my undergraduates who were driving aimlessly around Destin having gotten lost trying to find the gated resort grounds. By the time I returned with them I was hopelessly perplexed by the material and so can’t really report more on it other than to say toward the end it seemed a little too much had been pressed into what should have been a 90 minute talk. The session on recruitment was followed by a session on chapter evaluation that used parts of the Buchanan Cup application as a guide. For me, I worked with my undergraduates to complete the form and then, exhausted from the days drive and ensuing activities bedded down for a well deserved rest.

Breakfast on Saturday morning was the typical bacon and runny eggs punctuated with a basket of bread, hash brown potatoes, OJ and coffee. But special mention must be made of the cantaloupe cut and garnished to look like a sailboat. One must wonder how much extra we paid for that special touch. Academic and manpower awards were handed out during the morning meal and while I certainly congratulate those that received awards, I’m sure Richmond will be publishing a complete list of winners so I will not list them here.

Following Breakfast the undergraduates remained for an additional full group session of “building balance” while the alumni retired to the boardroom to discuss “volunteer best practices.” In small groups, the twelve volunteers who attended the session discussed their best practices in a variety of situations. Those small group answers were then shared with the group at large. Examples of the type of “best practices” that came out of this session included having the entire alumni board run in a marathon to promote the sound mind sound body concept; re-initiating the oldest alumnus who returns for homecoming as a way to promote life long living of the ritual; strategic plans to drive undergraduate success; and working as an advocate with university administrations to support undergraduate manpower initiatives. Following this, alumni were free to join the undergraduates in officer training modules or sit and further discuss topics among themselves. This, in my opinion is the best part of the event when volunteers can seek real world advice from, shall we say, the more seasoned alumni in attendance. I hope they keep the break in the schedule for future CLAs.

Following a lunch consisting of a club sandwich and key lime pie, the alumni were granted their audience with a member of the National Board who was none other than Grand President Archie Yeatts himself (I should note at this point that undergraduate director Joseph Baird was also in attendance at the weekends festivities). Archie’s style and demeanor is a breath of fresh air at least to one who’s survived as many GPs as have I. He discussed with us the projects he has helmed for the past (almost) two years and the great strides made by the headquarters and the fraternity at large but clearly, given the problems at FSU we still have a long way to go. But it was the fact that he actually seemed to listen to the concerns of those of us in the trenches even when (or perhaps especially when) they ran contrary to the established dogma. More than once, he paused to take notes about our questions and concerns (and was still writing them on cocktail napkins late into the evening) so that he could research the issues himself. I give him credit for much of the success of those in our Headquarters in Richmond and his impending retirement will be a loss for us all (at least until he’s rested and is ready to hit the road as a volunteer again).

And what accomplishments should he rightly be proud of? There were two major ones presented to us (one of which he is merely tangentially associated but, what the hell). Doug Scheibe introduced us to the foundations new website and mentioned feedback he received no doubt thanks to S&P readers who got a sneak peek late last year. Doug told us that since the site went officially live in January some 6,000 brothers had registered. If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to visit the site and sign-up. It really will be a great way to communicate in the future and while there are still a few bugs to work out (I pointed out that a few alumni where listed as brothers in chapters that in fact they were not affiliated with) it really is a great piece of work.

Though Brother Yeatts may have had little to do with the foundation’s website, it is an independent organization after all, he can really be proud of the work done to help find, train, and maintain our volunteers. This program, I think will be the lasting legacy he leaves in his wake and it will impact chapters and the fraternity as a whole for years to come. Gary Huff, the newly appointed director of volunteers displayed for the first time the plan to bring training to the volunteers either in person or via a web-based system called WebEx. He presented one of the modules to us and it looked professional and, though incomplete, clearly articulated information every alumni board (or the new politically correct term AVC) should know. But most important Gary will be recruiting a group of volunteer trainers who will take the information directly to alumni boards on a rotating two year basis. Gary’s work will be supervised by a now standing committee on volunteer insuring this work will last longer than any one Grand President’s term. The committee is chaired by Phil Cox who, it was pointed out, is the only past staffer in the bunch. All of the others, including Stephen Taylor long of the Boy Scouts, and Mark Kiester of the YMCA, have a professional background in recruiting, training, and retaining volunteers. They really are the best and brightest and we should look forward to what is yet to come.

If you’ve read this far then you deserve a scoop or at least a spoon. So here it is and remember you read it here first. The 2009 conclave is planned for Orlando, Florida and the 2011 conclave “will be west of the Mississippi” though how far west is anyone’s guess at this point.

Following our educational sessions we gathered for a performance of the ritual that was only briefly interrupted when one of the Mary Kays (remember them) “accidentally” walked into the room. The evening concluded with the awards dinner where the Zollinger seniors, distinguished alumnus, and a few other awards were announced, the RDs made their final(?) remarks and the keynote address was given by Grand President Yeatts. His topic was about virtue and “its close cousin integrity” and it was a great speech. I understand he will be giving the same one in Los Angeles (Woodland Hills) later this month so those of you attending that one are in for a treat.

As the night wore on and the undergraduates left the hotel for the clubs and other attractions of Destin the alumni and staffers gathered in the lobby bar to share a drink and toast another successful leadership academy. Yes, the leadership training is important but it is moments like these that remind me why I’ve attended twenty of these academies since my undergraduate days. It is moments like these that give me the charge I need to return to my campus and reaffirm my involvement with my chapter and younger brothers. Moments like these that send me on my way knowing that my quest is not in vain.
Thanks again to the volunteer who sent in this report. Oh, yeah. The links were added by the S&P staff to add definition and have a little fun.