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LEAD: Programs that Make a Difference

We begin with the belief that every collegiate brother has the ability to become a leader. Every collegiate brother has the ability to gain skills to help them lead a group, set the example, encourage others, challenge the process, and set a vision.

For Ryan Ashburn (Colorado State), a quiet introvert who didn’t hold any formal leadership roles in high school, leadership was something that he thought was for others or “something that was reserved for someone like the captain of a sports team.”

For Will Daughton (Southern Methodist), who was involved in several different student organizations in high school and held many formal leadership positions, Sigma Nu was an opportunity to add to his base of knowledge and sharpen those skills.

For both brothers, the LEAD Program was a life-changing experience and an important part of their collegiate Sigma Nu experience.

Reflecting on his understanding of leadership when he was in high school, Ryan said, “As a senior, I did not really have a concept of what leadership was all about. In high school, I thought people were leaders because they had a title or formal position. I thought leadership was about someone in a position of authority.” He added, “When I think of my leadership skills now compared to when I graduated from high school, I think I have grown immensely. Sigma Nu helped me become a leader.”

After joining Sigma Nu at Colorado State, Ryan settled in and started paying more attention to brothers who held leadership positions in the chapter.

“I saw the way my Marshal was a leader,” he says. “I remember him telling me that he was there for me if I needed anything. That really impacted me. Through LEAD Phases I, II, and III, I was able to learn more about real leadership and began to build my knowledge and understanding of myself.”

From there Ryan held some small leadership positions in the chapter. First, he was elected by his candidate class to be the Candidate Class Lt. Commander. While the position had narrow responsibilities, he was able to shadow the chapter’s Lt. Commander and learn how the Executive Board functioned. Ryan added, “Holding that first position helped me get onto the Honor Board and Community Service Committee during my first semester as an initiated member.”

Those committee roles soon led to Ryan being elected as the Community Service Chairman. “These first few leadership positions helped me grow as a leader and develop those skills. Sigma Nu gave me the chance to test myself in smaller leadership positions in the chapter. From there, I went on to serve as Lt. Commander, Commander, and now as Interfraternity Council President.”

Ryan remembers one of his “aha moments” a few years into his time in the chapter. “It was towards the end of my term as Lt. Commander, close to election time. Our chapter had gone through some growing pains because we had grown to almost 100 brothers from about 50.”

When Ryan heard that there were not many other brothers thinking of running for Commander, he started considering it. “Part of me thought that maybe I should, another part of me was telling me that I should not.”

As he heard feedback from other brothers, he took time to reflect on the opportunity in front of him. Ryan remembers that moment. “I think this is what I should do. It was a defining moment. I realized that I am good at this. I have the capability to lead.”

During his time in Sigma Nu, Ryan said his thoughts on leadership evolved. “I tend to focus on Servant Leadership. I think there is a big difference between being a leader and being a boss. To me, a boss is someone who stands in the back and tells people where to go, but a leader is the person in the front, who sets the example and has gained enough trust so that people will follow. And by doing this you are serving those who you are leading.”

Ryan also said he learned the importance of building relationships with others as part of the leadership process. “For me, leadership is about making connections and building relationships. It is about empowering them to take ownership and develop themselves. This creates a shared sense of responsibility and ownership so that everyone is working to improve not only themselves, but also each other and improve the organization as a whole.”

As Ryan enters his senior year at Colorado State, he said that Sigma Nu has made a big impact on him. “My experience with Sigma Nu changed my view of leadership experience. I realized that there can be bad leaders who hold official positions and great leaders who do not hold any formal position. This shifted my view so that instead of thinking that someone is a leader because they have a title, I now think that generally they have a title or formal position because they are a leader.”

For Ryan, LEAD has been an integral part of his growth as a person, student, and leader. His leadership journey has tested him, shaped him, and pushed him to develop his skills. “The LEAD Program was something that I value. The LEAD sessions helped me be introspective and think about myself.”


Looking at Will Daughton’s list of leadership roles in high school, you can envision a young man who was actively seeking out opportunities and being intentional. A rising Sophomore in the colony at Southern Methodist University, Will was actively involved in high school. He had roles in the school’s Student Government Association starting in his freshman year and was serving as the Student Government President by his senior year. His love of journalism led him to a role as Sports Editor for his school newspaper. An accomplished tennis player, he was named varsity captain of the team his junior and senior year.

However, Will realized that despite the different roles, there were things that were holding him back from improving as a student leader.

“I’ve always been self-reliant for better or worse,” he said. “My challenges always crept in when I had a leadership position. Even though a big group of people would have been happy to have helped me with a project, I tried to do it on my own. My thinking was that I didn’t want to burden others. It was just a lot; overwhelming sometimes. Even though I knew I had other people who could have helped.”

Will’s thoughts on leadership changed when he became a member of the Sigma Nu colony at SMU. “I think I was inspired by all the guys in the colony. It was a collective effort to get our charter approved. The brothers all had different roles, and everyone was part of the effort. My high school self would have tried to do it on my own.”

Watching how the brothers in the colony worked together was powerful for Will. “I saw that leadership is not just about leading people. It’s about who you surround yourself with. I saw the guys in Sigma Nu. They all wanted the same thing. When you have a group that wants the same thing and want it badly, it is motivating.”

The LEAD Program, a four-year leadership development program for Sigma Nu collegiate members, was part of the core experience for Will and his colony brothers. As colony members, they completed Phase I of the LEAD Program together as part of their preparation to become a chartered chapter.

One LEAD session that had a powerful impact on Will was on Emotional Intelligence. “I had always heard of the term Emotional Intelligence being thrown around,” he says. “I didn’t really have a grasp on what it meant.”

After attending the session, Will realized that, “It means to develop real authentic relationships, communicate ideas, understand yourself better. and make deeper connections.” Will saw the opportunity to build a different kind of friendship. “It is more than a fraternity brother, a brother for life. It is an extension of brotherhood.”

During the session, one of the interactive activities on Self Awareness involved being paired up with another colony brother and sharing thoughts on specific questions with each other. Due to the pandemic, this was done on his cell phone.

“We were going back and forth, opening up and telling each other stuff that we hadn’t shared with many other people. It really helped us understand each other. I remember thinking to myself, if this becomes a habit with other brothers in the colony, it is going to bring us so much closer. It will help us accomplish more.”

The session on Emotional Intelligence defined the term for the brothers, showed why Emotional Intelligence is more important than IQ to someone’s success, and focused on the five factors of Emotional Intelligence: Self-Perception, Self-Expression, Interpersonal Competence, Decision Making, and Stress Management. Self-Awareness was one area that Will was drawn to during the session. One of the key topics related to that area is vulnerability.

As Will reflected on the session, he thought about how he and the other colony brothers had grown during the past year. “As a 20-yearold, it is easy to fall into a habit of being the person that others want you to be and forgetting who you are. It is easy to struggle with your identity. Being vulnerable can be a way to help figure out who you are on the deepest level and identify the similarities that we share as humans in our struggles and insecurities. Sharing something that is near and dear to your heart is not easy. But it shows the other person that you trust them. It makes the connection that much stronger.”

The session also had Will reflect on how Emotional Intelligence was not what others would normally think of as fraternity men learning. “I think that when you hear the word fraternity, there are stereotypes that come to mind,” Will says as he considers the impact of the LEAD Program. “A lot of people don’t see our efforts to help each other grow as men and leaders who are ready and willing to have the conversations necessary to build real, authentic relationships with each other and those around us. By focusing on personal growth through LEAD, they will see the type of men that Sigma Nu is producing.”

At the end of that evening’s session, he saw an opportunity for himself. “After getting off the Zoom LEAD session, I thought to myself, wow. That (Emotional Intelligence) is something I need to work on. It could change my life. If the rest of the colony brothers bring it, we could develop our brotherhood into something really special.”

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9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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