Volunteer Leadership is Real Leadership
Reminder: volunteers don’t get bonuses or performance reviews. And they don’t give a hoot whether you are happy with what they do, unless they care personally about what you think and want to exercise their own integrity and motivation in carrying out their volunteer duties. This makes them an absolutely perfect practicing ground for honing your leadership skills!
I am participating in a volunteer committee through my professional group. When things go well, everyone is so happy to be together, contributing to the group and spending time together working on projects. But I noticed recently that the “masks” we might wear at work are not on when we get together as volunteers. When a volunteer doesn’t agree with something, or doesn’t like an outcome, he wears it all over his face. If someone is disengaged, the negative body language in response is immediate. We don’t hold the same level of patience for our fellow volunteers that we do for people who control our work destinies.
It’s easy to be annoyed in that situation, and get lost in the emotional response to others’ cues. But it’s such a fantastic opportunity to observe how people respond to the way you communicate. I asked myself these questions:
- What communication approaches (in-person meeting, email, polls, social media) generate the most productive responses?
- Do I need to listen more and talk less?
- Am I using the right level of clarity, or assuming shared knowledge that just isn’t there?
- Are there members who are hanging back, waiting for assignments, but feeling frustrated about their level of involvement?
- Conversely, are there members doing too much work and feeling put-upon?
- Do people need more information to connect the work they are doing to the mission of the organization?
All of these questions make me a better leader in projects and teams for “real” work, not just volunteer activities. The great bonus in my group is that I am working with a team of effective, motivated and successful professionals who truly care about their work (paid and unpaid) and about each other. It’s the kind of high-performing team that is fun to work with and generates great results.
If you want to be a leader and aren’t finding opportunities in your current role, consider a volunteer position. It’s “real” experience, learning and development, and helps your community too.
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