July 28, 2010

Traditions Can Change if You Lead

Who woulda thunk it... Dez Bryant is a leader.

If you haven't been keeping up with what's happening in the Dallas Cowboys training camp right now, it goes like this... A rookie wide receiver on the team, Dez Bryant, refused to carry a veteran player's shoulder pads off the field after practice, taking a stand against the decades old professional sports tradition of rookie hazing. In reading the stories surrounding it this week, many people are saying that Bryant should have just gone with the tradition and dealt with it because "it's the way it's always been done".

As someone who works for an organization that has a lot of tradition (we've been around for over 110 years), my experience is that not every tradition is one that should be embraced or continued. Whether it's hazing of new members, an event that has worn out its welcome at an annual meeting, or even something as small as printing out membership forms when they come in online - some may call it tradition, but in reality, people are in the "it's always been done this way, and we don't want to change" mindset...

What people often don't realize is that just because something is a tradition today doesn't mean it will be in a few years... If you are willing to lead NOW and put a stop to some of the outdated traditions from the past, a few years down the road there will be all new traditions for your members/staff to embrace. In my organization specifically, where we work with college students, our turnover rate is four years (i.e. if something hasn't happened in the past four years, the undergraduate members we serve don't necessarily realize it ever did because their tradition is only what they've witnessed in the last four years...)

I don't claim that changing tradition or the "we've always done it that way" culture is easy or popular every time, but by thinking about the 'why' of something (i.e. what's the purpose of this tradition) before thinking about the what or how, it seems as though you might be on the right track.

Will you be the next Dez Bryant in your organization - standing up to the tradition that has lost its purpose? Here's to the leaders who are willing to lead change to make our organizations/associations better.

Do you agree with me, disagree with me, or have additional thoughts to share? I certainly hope you'll share in the comments (particularly if you have had success in changing traditions that no longer make sense)...


David M. Patt, CAE said...

Dez Bryant did the right thing. If rookie baseball players had the spine to refuse to dress in women's attire in public (it's a tradition), we could reduce hazing and throw a lot of tradition in the trash heap where it belongs.

Jeff Hurt said...


I live in the DFW area the reports from our local TV stations are supporting Dez. Many locals feel it was time for someone to stand up to hazing and obsolete traditions.

Sometimes it's harder for organizations to forgo traditions that have lost meaning. Sometimes our fear of the unknown is greater than the need to change. Tradition and the ways things have always been done is comfortable and doesn't require much thought or action.

Kyle said...

There is at least one person out there fighting the good fight: