At the beginning of my junior year at Syracuse, I was elected treasurer of my fraternity, Fiji.
That position turned out to be a great lesson in allocating money - and also in politics.
Let me explain.
When I became treasurer, the soda machine in the basement of the house dispensed cans for 25 cents. But one day I was going over our books, and I discovered that the sodas were costing us 26 cents apiece to buy. We were losing a penny every time some guy stumbled downstairs and bought a soda. I knew this small discrepancy was adding up; it was intolerable to any treasurer worth his salt.
Raising the price of each soda to a mere 30 cents would make a significant difference to the fraternity’s finances. So I proposed this increase at the next house meeting.
I could not have imagined the outcry this suggestion would produce. I had to sit there and listen to two hours of anger, fear, and disbelief – over a 30 cent soda. By the end of the meeting, I felt like A-Rod at Fenway two nights ago.
“When my grandfather was at Syracuse,” one brother said, “he chose this frat above all others for the 25 cent soda.”
“I have a stack of quarters in my room,” another guy said. “I started it because I knew that when I felt thirsty, I could take a quarter and go downstairs and get a soda.”
Where was this going?
“Now I have to make a stack of nickels,” he continued. “In addition to the quarters.”
“What if you have a girl over and you want two sodas?” someone said. “You might even need dimes!”
“You’re planning on us making money off of ourselves?”
“How capitalistic can you get?!”
“We should absorb that money.”
At the time, it wasn't funny at all. It was intense!
I came home one day shortly after that, and some of my belongings had been chucked on the lawn outside the house. To send a message.
While the whole thing was beyond insane, it was a teachable moment.
When you make a change that affects your team – no matter how insignificant it seems – you first have to get people on board, whether it’s your employees, your friends, or your family.
Change is always difficult for some people, no matter how small. A good leader will make his team comfortable with a change before he puts it in place.
It doesn’t matter if the change is obviously the right way to go. There is no sense in being right if you can’t get it right.
In the end, I couldn’t get the soda increase approved. Not because it was a bad idea. Because I didn't execute it correctly.
For all I know, the sodas are ten cents by now. And the house is slowly paying down a 30-year soda mortgage.