Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Volunteer Leadership

How many of you volunteer in your community? You know, Scouting, Rotary, Kiwanis, Lions, Toastmasters, etc. Whenever I attend an initial meeting in a new group, I am always amazed that the same old problems are still the same old problems. To wit:
  • No one comes to our meetings.
  • We can't get the volunteers to do what the group needs them to do.
  • Where are all the new members?
  • A few people wind up always doing all the work.
  • People do not speak up because they are afraid of offending someone, even when someone desperately needs to speak up!
  • Leadership, true Leadership, is weak.

People mean well. Their hearts are in the right place. It's just that many of them have not had good examples of leadership to model and have not been trained to be leaders.

I am definitely of the school of thought (and experience) that leaders are made, not born. That being said, once a person develops their leadership talent, they become a magnet for leadership roles, especially in volunteer organizations. The caveat to this is that those with true leadership skills are, unfortunately, few and far between.

Often the mantle falls on the person who thinks they can lead because they are a manager in their daily job position. The trouble is that leading volunteers takes a whole different level of leadership skills, most of which work-a-day managers do not possess, because:

  • Volunteers need to be led by their hearts, as well as their minds.
  • Volunteers can walk away with little to no consequence.
  • Volunteers are not short on opinions, all of which must be valued in some way.

Even classically trained and successful leaders are put to the test in this environment.

Here's one recipe for success as a leader of volunteers:

  • Set your expectations of members up front and with the consensus of existing memebers.
  • Engage all members as if they are the most important part of your club...they are!
  • Listen for opportunities to praise and include everyone you can as often as you can.
  • Thank them constantly
  • Walk the talk. If you have a position of responsibility, make sure you understand what's required and if you can accomplish it on a regular basis. Then make a personal commitment to do it better than expected.
  • Be creative.
  • Let others take the credit. Your efforts will not go unnoticed.

Leadership is humble. Leadership is firmly rooted in service. Leadership is unselfish. If you can't lead humbly, unselfishly, and with a sense of service to others, don't frustrate yourself with a leadership role. You're not cut out for it.

Finally, if you'd like to learn how to develop these skills, I can mentor and coach. Drop me a line.


Salesdiva said...

Wow. That was right on time. As President of the DC/Baltimore Chapter of the National Sales Network, preparing for our State of the Organization and I am sitting here asking the very questions you posed. Sigh. Back to the drawing board.

Terri said...

I think that is so true. It can be so difficult to manage volunteers!
You are so smart!