The question came about halfway through a presentation I was giving on the topic of standing up in order to prevent or address problem situations, including alcohol abuse, hazing, mental health challenges, and sexual assault, among others.
We had just finished watching American University's Step Up video, which had brought chuckles from some of the participants. Afterward, I asked those men about those parts of the movie they had laughed at, and how they might respond differently in those very same situations, while still addressing the issues shown.
After two or three examples, a man who was near the center of the audience asked, "I have a question about the hazing web site," referring to a campus' website for anonymously reporting hazing incidents.
"Are those for real?" he asked.
One or two of his peers from other campuses responded that they had sites like those on their respective campuses.
"If you don't agree with hazing," he said, "just quit. Don't go to the university and ruin it for the rest of us."
The room stood still. I patiently waited for one of his peers to speak up, to show him that it is possible to have a prosperous, thriving organization without a culture of hazing.
But it didn't happen. In a room full of leaders, not one person spoke up.
The focus of the presentation was on the execution of leadership in the present, compared to the successes of the past or the visions of the future.
We are only successful, I encouraged them, if we do the right things the right way, thereby controlling those things that are in our control.
I replied with a leading question, "If you are choosing to haze, are you keeping things in your control, or allowing them to move out of your control."
"If we don't recruit weak members,... If they don't report us,... If..." the man responded.
"Sounds like a lot of 'if's," I observed.
"Does that sound like things are in your control?"
The answer, of course, is not at all.
When we actively disengage our leadership and leave the future of our groups to little more than a roll of the dice, those "if's" become "intentional failures" (IFs) because the house always wins. If you play long enough, the house takes you down.
As a leader, there is an inverse relationship between the number of "IFs" in your strategy and the probability of success.
However, as opposed to your favorite Las Vegas game, you can change the odds of every hand you play, every event you host, and every program you implement, by doing the right things the right way.
A common axiom says that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. In the same way, the path to success is to plan the work, then work the plan.