Sorority lessons for the workplace: Are you the captain, crew or along for the ride?

Wow- Callie Lately died, but it is time for a revival. With each new adventure I believe there are things to be said. Knots to be tied. Doors to be opened. I think while people are excited to move on and learn, grow and change — every book has a last chapter, every award-winner gets a speech, for centuries people have gotten to say their final words. So while I am here as a new graduate with a Master’s degree and “moving on” yet again, it’s time for some closing remarks. It took me two years to really understand how my sorority experience translates to my role in the workforce, but today I have think I know, and I think this information can help all transitioning sorority/fraternity/involved graduates.

Recently, I attended my sorority’s “graduation ceremony” at my collegiate chapter. I went as a gesture of support for my roommate and the last remaining girls I spent time with (remember I became an alumna two years ago!) While sitting there watching the water works as girls expressed how the past four years were going to be “the best of their lives” and how nothing will come between them and their fellow sisters, I had an epiphany. There are many different kinds of women in this world, and if you can bear with me through the sorority part, I will explain how it is important to decide how your sorority/fraternity/leadership experience will translate into your life.

First of all, I realized that my passion for the chapter I graduated from has remained a constant presence in my life even two years later. However, this is not the case for all alumni, some people put in there time and checkout after graduation. While, every member has a different experience, I’d like to highlight a few characters that can be found throughout life: there are captains, crew members, passengers and an occasional few who fall overboard. Each category has pros and cons, which will now be expressed using this ship/sorority analogy to the workforce.

Ship Captain

This image portrays a captain for a ship. Photo by Bronksi Beat

Captain: Captains are literally the face of who is driving the ship. The president of a sorority generally runs all the meetings, gives speeches at any important event or in emergency situations and of course has the title. Captains are generally leaders who are there to mold crew members and guide them so the ship runs smoothly. However, in addition there is always a “Captain’s dinner” and photo shoots with the captain. Captains get a lot of credit for their service. The passengers don’t really know how the captain is performing his/her duties, but they assume as long as nothing major goes wrong, based on the title, this person should be thanked and praised. Every ship needs a captain, just like every sorority needs a president. These people will go into the workforce focused on making it to the top. This is where the cons come into play. Sometimes, these captain characters are really just taking advantage of the crew and taking all the credit. This is something to watch out for when making friends in the office, these emerging leaders (you’ll know because the ones to watch out for will probably flaunt their credentials) may be so driven to succeed that they are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top. Thankfully not all captains are like this but be wary. 

Crew Members: While the captain gets the credit, it’s really the crew who are planning the course of the ship. Crew members get passengers ready for any emergency scenarios, they entertain them, feed them, etc. Crew members keep the ship going day in and day out and the ship wouldn’t go anywhere without them. These people exist in a sorority as well, they are usually on the executive board or in director positions. These people are the true movers and shakers, the thinkers, or sometimes as a dear friend put it, the fighters. Crew members have different leadership styles and values but together they make everything flow smoothly (we hope). They may get a brief thank you at the end of the ride, but generally they are faceless individuals. These are the ones that employers should be hiring and putting their creativity to good use. However, instead as a society we always focus on the “captain” while these crew members probably get overlooked when they might be the best candidate for the job. These thankless crew members do what they do each day because they have PASSION! If you do not have passion for what you’re doing, kindly get off the boat and find a new one. The pro of being a crew member is that through thick and thin, you love what you do so much that the praise is unnecessary. The con of course is that while the captain is at his/her fancy dinner and photo shoot, you might be the one who is really driving the ship. No one will thank you for this gesture, and crew members have to maintain a healthy balance of commitment without letting others take advantage of them. Crew members are also charged with the responsibility of being a check-and-balance to the captain. This part of leadership is not only thankless but sometimes can place them as the “black sheep.” As much as it may be difficult to assume the role of someone who is seen as challenging the leader, this is a very necessary and very important role.

Passengers:  The passengers are the majority of people on the ship. They are there for the ride and expect to get out what they paid for (not what they put in, this is strictly a financial transaction). They are either happy because everything is perfect or mad because they aren’t getting what they thought they signed up for. In  the workplace, these people are only there for a paycheck. They come in when they are told to, network with whoever they desire, complain when things are bad, and leave as soon as possible. The passengers expect to be told what to do and if they don’t like it, they expect someone to listen to what they have to say and change things immediately. Just like in school when you get a group project and end up doing all the work, the workplace is often plagued with a bunch of people who are just there to look busy (or look pretty!) Passengers are important because the ship can’t take off without them, each sorority has to have members and I guess the workplace needs people to do the grunt work.

My suggestion in this area is to never find yourself as a passenger (unless you’re seriously going on a cruise/airplane/etc). You definitely don’t have passion if you are just a passenger and there will always be things to complain about in life, if you’re not doing anything to fix/improve the issue…stay home. The pro of being a passenger is the fact that you will still get all the benefits/paycheck without doing much work. The con is probably that you will be overlooked and stay in the passenger role until you wake up one morning and decide to join the crew.

Overboarders: There is not much to say about people who fall overboard. They couldn’t make it. In this arena ships and sororities are generally the same: the passenger tried to party too much, didn’t pay attention to the fact that they were going in a direction the ship wasn’t headed and they fall off. If the overboarder is lucky, someone in the crew will save them and bring them back. In the workplace, sometimes people are struggling for a variety of reasons. It is dangerous to associate with overboarders because they can pull you off the ship with them, however, crew members or passengers should try to help if possible. It may be as simple as offering to help with something. However, some overboarders cannot be saved.

Whether or not you understand the whole ship/sorority workplace analogy, it is important to decide what your role will be in the workplace. Try to be a crew member and remember, when you get that captain role, spend some extra time thanking those who make your job easier. In conclusion a quote by Franklin Roosevelt, “Sail, not drift.”

Till next time,

Callie L.


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