Mariah Pfundheller, student leadership and marketing coordinator for the Student Involvement and Employment Office, wanted to bring famous professional leadership speaker T.J. Sullivan to campus.
“I am co-president and co-founder of the Knitting and Crocheting for Charity club,” Pfundheller said. “We have members that come to almost ever meeting, but they never want to take any leadership roles. I am personally excited on how to motivate the middle third of my organization.”
On Tuesday, March 10, Sullivan will give a talk based on his book “Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations.” The book is intended to help student leaders relate to members of their organization who have a supporting role.
Pfundheller’s boss recommended Sullivan when she was searching for a leadership speaker. She was pleased with what she found.
“He is hilarious,” Pfundheller said. “When I watched his videos it was extremely enjoyable and informative. He will help student organizations grow and expand.”
Within his book, Sullivan said in every student organization, members fall into three categories: the top-third include student leaders, the middle-third include supporting members and bottom-third are members who belong to the organization, but do not play an active role.
“Anyone involved in student leadership will tell you the greatest frustration is getting members motivated,” Sullivan said.
One problem Sullivan addressed is top-third leaders are often too focused on disciplining bottom-third members. As a result, they forget about middle-third members.
Sullivan said student leaders live and breathe their organization’s fate. Conflicts between members arise when student leaders expect others to be as passionate as them.
Sullivan said problems are usually in top members’ leadership styles.
“I am different than other speakers because I tell leaders it is probably not the other members. It is them,” Sullivan said.
In order to combat this problem, Sullivan said leaders should adapt to all levels of member engagement. He said middle members usually have lives outside of the organization, so they cannot dedicate as much time.
Casey Cornelius, founder and CEO of For College For Life, created a seminar based on Sullivan’s book that he presented across the U.S.
For College For Life is a group of inspirational speakers and writers who travel the country. When Cornelius saw a draft of the book in 2011, he knew it would be a hit among student leaders.
“From early on, I could see the inherent values of introducing people to the idea and having them act upon the core concepts of the book,” Cornelius said.
In his seminar, Cornelius has top-third members imagine themselves in middle-third members shoes. He then has top-third members create minimum standards of involvement, differentiating middle-third members from bottom-third members.
Cornelius said leaders should not drill those who do not meet their standards, but focus on those who do.
“In a 100 person organization, it is better to get 66 people moving in the same direction rather than complain about 33 members who do not work,” Cornelius said.
He said top-third members should realize motivation problems are universal.