Fraternal Lessons to be Learned from Lance Armstrong

Posted by: Doug Russell - January 18, 2013

Questions, frustration, disappointment, anger, sadness and fraud: all of these are words I have heard or read in the past 48 hours regarding the story about Lance Armstrong finally admitting to doping. For years Lance Armstrong was more than just a man. He was a symbol of hope. His actions seem to emulate everything a role model should be. He fought to become a cancer survivor, and he became one. He began to train to become one of the best cyclists in the world, and he became one. He started a charitable organization with the goal of becoming a leader in the fight against cancer, and it became one. He became living proof of the old cliché you can do anything you put your mind to. He embodied his values of hard work and determination. Now, this is all up for debate.

It is ironic that this week a professional development group I am taking part in is reading Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. His overall message is of organizations understanding why they are in business to achieve their goals. He believes great leaders and organizations understand their cause, purpose and their reason for existing. From there, they figure out a strategy of how to implement the purpose, and then they determine what they will do to execute the strategy. It is his golden circle of: Why, How and What. An organization’s “how” and “what” must always coincide with the “why.” This is where Armstrong fell short; it is why Livestrong had to let him go. Armstrong may have created his charitable organization with a strong purpose, but when he, the image of the company, deviated from the “why”, he became a liability. Prior to Armstrong being let go, the decision seemed so obvious and evident to the public, but it would be my guess it was much more difficult inside the walls of Livestrong.

This same struggle happens inside the walls of fraternity and sorority houses and campus buildings. As fraternities and sororities we all have a mission. We all have a purpose. A lot of these are very similar. It’s our Ritual. Thousands of Greek men and women are living this out every day. I know in my own organization we have seen this through our members embracing our new philanthropic initiative. We have seen it in a colony forgoing the timeless college tradition of tailgating to help its university’s recycling efforts. It is not just in my organization. It is in all organizations across the country. Great things are happening in the Greek world.

However, there are unfortunately times when we step outside our mission. It can be a large headline in the paper, but more often than not it can just be a Friday night out at the bar. We become a liability to our organization. Many times when this happens, to the outside observer the next step appears to be a pretty obvious decision. The observer becomes the public looking at Livestrong. We become the Livestrong board. We have to look at our brother or our sister who helps shape our own organization and say, “You did wrong. You forgot our ‘why.’” This is what makes joining a fraternity or sorority such a valuable experience. It puts us in the board room of Livestrong. We have to think critically and make life-impacting decisions.

The shame in all of this is if a better decision had just been made earlier, we would not have to be the Livestrong board. This is a lesson we all should learn, both undergraduate and alumni members. All of our decisions and all of our choices should reflect our organization’s mission. Luckily for us we have our brothers and sisters there to remind us. It is our responsibility to do this for one another. None of us are bigger than our organization; none of us are better than the Ritual. When we forget this, when we forget our values, we become a liability. I couldn’t imagine my life without Delta Tau Delta, but then again, I couldn’t imagine Livestrong without Lance Armstrong.