I was recently meeting with someone who has had experience running different types of companies. He had also been on the board of a non-profit. He told me that my job had to be one of the hardest: leading volunteers.
Certainly leading volunteers requires some different leadership skills. I’ve learned much about leadership while leading volunteers. But now I do have a paid staff. Recently, I’ve actually learned a lot about leading volunteers from my participation in a local basketball booster club.
When I became President of the booster club, several people asked me why I would do it. They argued time constraints, preconceived ideas, etc., should hold me back from that extra responsibility. However, I am learning to live a “yes” life, so I had painted myself into a corner :). Actually, we have such a great program with great coaches, parents, and kids that I was excited to help out. I also viewed this position as an opportunity to improve my leadership skills.
Below are just a few leadership lessons I’ve learned so far. Maybe you’ll find them helpful in your business, non-profit, or family:
Be clear on direction – When you are leading someone, let them know exactly what you want them to do. This provides boundaries, which provides freedom. From my experience, people who don’t know their boundaries will worry about crossing them. Then they will never attempt anything. Specifically, people want to know they are not stepping on any toes. If they know whose toes are in the way, they can go around…
Be careful to listen – Listen to the ground troops. There are people in your organization that are experiencing the wins and losses. Listen to what they say is happening, and let them know what is important and what to ignore. There seems to be white noise in people’s lives. They need permission to turn it off.
Be above the petty – As an actuary, I can remember people who were negative and complained. I felt like I needed to be in the know in order to navigate the corporate ladder. This same thing happens in any relational system. A certain group of people will want to complain about whose doing what. Usually these are not the doers. The doers are busy doing. A leader has to lead above the negative.
Be appreciative of the past – Things were done in the past for a reason. Your job is to make it better. The person before you made it better than it was before them. Just because they didn’t do it the way you wanted, they aren’t the anti-Christ. When you leave, the next person will wonder what you were thinking, too. Embrace the good, make it better, fix the broken, and be happy.
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