The following was written by Eddie Francis, a public speaker who was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha at Loyola University New Orleans in 1989.
I love to cook and I love it when a dish comes together. Born in New Orleans, I grew up in the Tremé neighborhood (like the HBO show) where my life was surrounded by brass band music and the aroma of delicious Creole cuisine. When my father and brother—both musicians—taught me to cook, I gained an appreciation for how herbs, spices and fresh chopped vegetables create compositions of flavor. I was throwing together a nice pot of Gumbo one day when it occurred to me that fraternity and sorority chapters can perform better if members understood how to make the ingredients work together.
On both the college and alumni levels, I served as a chapter president. Both chapters experienced growth but I always imagine how much more we could have accomplished if I understood how to manage diverse personalities. It made me think about a conversation I had with an old co-worker, J.P. who once told me in his cool Cajun accent, “Eddie, cookin’ takes love.” Mind explosion. When I think of leadership in terms of cooking, I expected to get a great dish without figuring out how each ingredient contributed to the final product.
That’s how I came up with “The Gumbo Theory,” the most popular segment of the Black Greek Success Program. I do the program on college campuses to help students understand how their Greek life experiences translate into important leadership skills. As a professional and former student leader, I want to show college Greeks and those interested in joining our fraternities and sororities how to use those skills to create true impact in their communities.
So, what are these difference-making ingredients?
Water represents the fraternity or sorority. This is especially important for folks who believe their chapters are bigger than their organizations. Just like water is an existing element, your fraternity or sorority is the foundational existing element. Without the fraternity or sorority, you don’t have a chapter.
MEAT AND SEAFOOD
Fans of Gumbo probably enjoy the meat and seafood more than anything else. Can you blame them? Getting a nice ladle full of Creole hot sausage, shrimp, andouille sausage, chicken, beef or crab is like finding prizes. When that good stuff gets into your system, it just fills you up!
There are frat or sorors who fill the chapter up with their actions. They are first to arrive and last to leave for almost everything—parties, service projects, student organization fairs, inter-organizational events, etc. Because of their work, your chapter gets respect. They give the chapter substance just like meat and seafood give the Gumbo substance.
One of the secrets of Louisiana cooking is how we use herbs and spices. This the fun part of eating Gumbo. You do that child-like butt dance at the table with each spoonful of spicy goodness.
Spicy members bring a different kind of substance. They are flashy, outspoken, energetic, and fun. On a more serious note, they are the communicators who put critical issues that need to be resolved on the table. Because these members have so much personality, leaders must be especially skilled at managing group dynamics just like the person cooking the Gumbo must manage the spices. Too much overpowers the dish and not enough lets everybody down.
The roux is the thickener that creates the broth for the Gumbo. Everyone who cooks Gumbo will tell you that if you mess up the roux, you’ve messed up the Gumbo. The roux is your chapter’s leadership.
The leadership—as in ALL the officers—sets the tone for how the chapter performs. Negative attitudes create a negative vibe and positive attitudes create a positive vibe—simple. I warn students, however, that no one has to be Greek to recognize the effects of certain types of leaders. Chapter leaders must ultimately understand that they accept the responsibility of praise and criticism along with the titles and attention.
Being able to understand the diverse personalities—the ingredients—in your chapter is a great lesson in leadership. You learn the role of character on a team, how to manage pettiness (which is not unique to Black Greek life), and even how to identify key prospects for your team. And if you really pay attention, you understand the importance of your identity and the value you add to any community.
Remember that making ingredients work together is a skill, and skills are learned. My first pot of Gumbo wasn’t nearly as delicious as the last pot I made because of the learning curve. It has been that love of cooking, however, that has helped me improve. Use the love for your fraternity or sorority to learn and develop your leadership skills.
Watch The Gumbo Theory being explained in the video below.
About the Author:
Eddie Francis is a speaker and talent acquisition professional who was initiated into Alpha Phi Alpha in 1989 at Loyola University New Orleans. He publishes the Black Greek Success blog and has written about Greek life for HBCU Lifestyle, the Huffington Post, LinkedIn, the H.O.P.E. Scholarship, and the Greek Ladders. He has also provided commentary about Greek life for the HBCU Nation Radio Show, the HBCU Lifestyle Podcast, Al Jazeera America, and College Summit. Eddie is active in the Rho Nu Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha where he is chair of the public relations committee, and he is pursuing his master’s degree in Strategic Leadership from Tennessee State University. Eddie is the proud husband of Halima Leak Francis, a member of Zeta Phi Beta, and the proud father of Stevie. You can learn more at EddieFrancis.com.
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