The Bossy Factor: Great Hiring Means Going Beyond College Frat Brothers

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Mar 20, 2014

I don’t know much about fraternities.

I am too young to have seen Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, and I was well into my HR career by the time Mark Zuckerberg came around and tried to democratize campus life through technology.

I just assume that most fraternities are full of young dudes who want to get their drink on. That sounds right, doesn’t it?

What’s really happening on campus?

In The Atlantic’s March 2014 issue, Caitlin Flanagan writes about the dark power of fraternities. During her year-long investigation of campus life and the Greek system, Flanagan exposes an epidemic of binge drinking, hazing, and sexual assault within fraternity houses.

She links the financial power of the fraternities to an inability to institute real reform and change on American campuses. And Flanagan challenges her readers to ask question about the power of fraternities — wholly unaccountable constituencies who seem to care more about their brands than the safety and security of the pledges in their care.

The situation on campus is complicated. There are powerful alumni and lawyers who argue that fraternities have the constitutional right to organize, assemble, and boss around college administrators like it’s no big deal. But the Greek houses allegedly jeopardize the health and safety of students.

So do we ban bossy or do we ban fraternities?

Is the problem of bossy, powerful fraternities overstated?

The Atlantic reports that only 8.5 percent of American male college students participate in the Greek system, but the young men who pledge are an impressive group of leaders. Marina Kornikova reports that “Fraternity men make up 85 percent of U.S. Supreme Court justices since 1910, 63 percent of all U.S. presidential cabinet members since 1900, and, historically, 76 percent of U.S. senators and 85 percent of Fortune 500 executives.”

So there is either a system on most American campuses that either trains the next generation of leaders, or a system that turns a blind eye to binge drinking, date rape, and physical assault.

Or both.

This explains my career working with executive leaders.

When bossy can be helpful

If fraternities create leaders among the few, how do we address the training and development needs of the many? How can we encourage a new generation of executives, entrepreneurs and civil servants without creating a new generation of misogynists or brosefs on campus?

Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice and Beyonce would like to start by banning the word bossy. In order to level the playing field, Sandberg teamed up with the Girl Scouts of America to help parents and teachers understand that far too many young girls are misclassified as bossy when they are simply demonstrating leadership.

Words matter, and it’s believed that if we make small and incremental changes to the way we describe young girls, we might build confidence in girls who have to battle the overwhelming and unfair sexism in big government and big corporations.

In order to compete against the entrenched nodes of power that reside in fraternities, girls must see themselves as powerful and not just bossy, overbearing and meddlesome.

I think that’s right; however, sometimes we need to teach young men and women to be the boss of their character, their lives, and their safety. If you have a red solo cup in your hands and you are putting yourself in danger for a cause greater than God or Country, you need to exert control and remove yourself from a potentially tragic situation.

Can leaders be bossy, too?

As human resources and recruiting professionals, we value referrals and recommendations when trying to determine a good “cultural fit.” A man who is referred by his fraternity brother might seem like a better fit than a strong, opinionated woman who doesn’t have as many connections in your company.

I would suggest that you move away from labels in the hiring process and take advantage of the amazing HR technology in the market — including cloud-based recruiting, screening and assessment tools — to help you determine ability, aptitude and cultural fit. Algorithms trump emotions, which is why you should challenge executive leaders who try to skip the formalities of the interview and assessment process because they used to know the guy in college.

Finally, I believe it important for HR to help lead a discussion on the attributes and qualities of a great hire.

What does your data tell you about people who succeed at the office? Who does well? When you compare personnel-related performance data to financial data, what do you learn?

As you dig deeper, you might just learn that bossy beats bro-code every day of the week.

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