Five Minutes With . . .


In "Five Minutes With...," we look to both members and friends to sit down for a brief conversation about their experiences, the lessons they've learned, and any advice they might have for our readers. Through these conversations, we hope that readers can learn a little more about leaders and friends of the fraternity while also receiving some advice about leadership, fraternity and more.

T.J. Sullivan, Alpha Psi (Indiana)

Written by Star & Lamp

T.J. was initiated as a re-founding father of the Alpha Psi Chapter at Indiana University in 1987, and he worked on the fraternity staff from 1989-1991, first as assistant executive director of The Ability Experience, formerly Push America, then as the foundation's director of education.

During his last year on staff, he wrote the 1991 edition of "The White Diamond", the document that has been the base for all editions since.

He is a recipient of the Merit Citation Award and has been chapter advisor for four chapters: Queens University, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and most recently, the University of Northern Colorado. He has also served the fraternity as a regional governor, member of the Strategic Planning Team, and as a founder of the Pi Kapp Pride group.

T.J. is a professional speaker and has keynoted for the fraternity at countless leadership events and staff trainings. In 2012, Wheatmark Press published his book, "Motivating the Middle: Fighting Apathy in College Student Organizations," which is now used in leadership classes at more than 100 colleges and universities.

Recently, the Star & Lamp was able to sit down with T.J. to ask him about his Pi Kappa Phi experience, leadership and more.

If you had the opportunity to start your collegiate career over again from scratch, is there anything you'd do differently? If so, why?
If I had to do it over again, I would have gotten involved with the program board. In 25 years, I've seen every imaginable campus club and organization, and my informed opinion is that being on the program board is fun as hell. Also, I should have traveled abroad. Not doing that is my single biggest regret from my college years. I wish someone had pushed me to do that.

As an alumnus, you've clearly been a leader for Pi Kappa Phi. How has the concept of leadership changed for you over the years?

When you're young, leadership is about achievement. It's about getting things done, making a splash, and impressing others. Now that I'm older, I understand that you can't be a leader without investing in relationships. Managing people and leading them are deeply different. You can't lead if you don't take time to listen, empathize, and lend a hand to those climbing up behind you.

What are some of the most important pieces of advice you've received in your life?
Durward Owen told me the best parenting advice I've ever received. When my son was in middle school and was making us crazy, Durward told me, "just remember to give more love than you expect to receive in return." That absolutely saved my sanity. Another that sticks out to me is a piece of advice I got in marriage counseling: "Start by assuming he didn't do it to piss you off." People more often act based on their own crap than to simply provoke you. It's not always about you, even when you're impacted by it.

What have been two or three of your most meaningful Pi Kappa Phi experiences?

I remember feeling tremendously proud when the fraternity passed a Supreme Law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. I was bracing for a very ugly fight, and it passed without discussion. I couldn't believe it. Losing my mentor, former national president Dr. Phillip M. Summers, was really tough. I miss him a lot. I'd also say that working with Ken Kaiser at The Ability Experience for three years after college was one of the most formative experiences of my life. I've never felt more professionally alive when I worked with and for Ken.

Between all of the undergraduate and alumni members of Pi Kappa Phi, there are brothers that span so many different "ages and stages" of life. What have you learned about brotherhood, and also leadership, that could apply to all of those men, no matter their stage of life?

The best things in life are those you give away – love, kindness, friendship, faith, opportunity. Fraternity is best for me when I'm giving it away. I love talking to a new initiate, helping a brother struggling, or sharing a leadership strategy. I don't care if you're 20 or 80, you get the most out of Pi Kappa Phi when you're giving it away to others.

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Last modified on March 11, 2015

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