Tuesday, June 22, 2010

From Volunteer Management to Leadership: Part 2

Applying principles of leadership to Volunteer Management

Stefan Wills talks about a number of key principles which inform and guide our leadership practice.


I would like to look at Stefan’s principal’s headings and apply them to volunteer management:

Key Principle One – Self-Realisation

Are you on the road to becoming the best volunteer manager you can be? What does this mean for you? Managing volunteers and volunteer programs encapsulates many skills and talents. To me, taking a leadership role encompasses knowledge of best practice in the field, indeed an acceptance that a field of volunteer management exists.

In terms of Volunteer Management what does self-realisation mean for you?

For me – it’s about being confident about my job and the place of my role in society. Volunteer Managers make a difference. I am confident of that because I see it dailyy, not of course isolated to my own role but in the many volunteer managers I have come across.

Key Principle Two – Holistic Connections

Volunteer managers manage. Other line managers manage. Managing paid staff has the demarcation of people providing a service for pay. Managing volunteers I postulate has inherently in built leadership fabric because people can choose to follow your organisation and you.

If I volunteer for an organisation it is because of different reasons. One is I believe in the cause of the organisation. Another is that I believe that the recipients of the service are better off because of my volunteering. Others may include of course the “what’s in it for me” aspects. But once I am volunteering if I don’t admire, respect, and look up to my manager then there may not be sufficient enough reason for me to give my best. To me as a volunteer, the person managing my activity plays a huge role in how I see my volunteering.

I’ve worked with cranky uninspiring bosses in a paid capacity. I am lees inclined to do so if my volunteer manager is cut from the same cloth. The first Volunteer manager I worked for in Ireland inspired me to work in community service. The first volunteer manager I worked under in Australia inspired me to become a volunteer manager. To me they were both natural leaders. They just didn’t operationally manage. They led and inspired by their example by which they were and by how they behaved.

Key Principle Three – Collective Leadership

For this principal I will quote directly from Stefan. Because in my opinion when you read his views on this principal you find that it can apply directly to volunteer managers. I don’t feel I am being lazy by quoting Stefan in full here from his article because feel I need not add to what he says here one iota!

“For those who believe in the value of looking at themselves and attaining self-esteem and are then able to connect fully with others, their attention shifts to the motivations and desires of the people around them. Here lies one of the greatest myths in the various debates around the real meaning of leadership. Leaders are too often and too quickly individualized, turned into romantic heroes, their contribution escalated beyond all others. It is not always a single individual who provides the major stimulus for collective movement and change. More often it resides somewhere in the connections and relationships, so it is often much harder to fathom and fully understand.

What is clearer is that within such unions, there is a strong desire by all the constituents to look after and nurture one another and ensure that the conditions created will allow for personal learning and growth. All members are focused on the creation of a strong collective energy and spirit, ultimately being able to call themselves a high performing team.

As well as being open and caring towards one another, all the team members are focused on being open to being influenced and being influential in the expression of their views. This kind of collective leadership is built upon an influence relationship among leaders and followers who are all working towards real changes which reflect their jointly held values and mutual purposes.”

The key for me here is “all the team members are focused on being open to being influenced and being influential in the expression of their views.” How are you able to go from volunteer management to this collective leadership? Do volunteers and others you work with consider you influential? How do you allow volunteers to influence your program and organisation? If not, can you facilitate this happening?

Key Principle Four – Meaningful Purpose

Stefan writes “Most often, this is what they consider to be a contribution, beyond the purely materialistic, which will enhance and enrich the lives of themselves and others”

On these principals we have so many advantages being in volunteer management. Often we don’t see this. Habitually I will argue, we exhibit great leadership in our roles but we can’t see the trees for the forest.

We are doing the leadership work in so many ways yet fail to realise how this is so. Yet I say to you – the more we look into good leadership practice the more we discover the abundance of it amongst our field.

When we can start naming it as such, then we are able to articulate our worth better to our organisations, our communities, to our management colleagues in other fields and to the decision makers in our society.

Could it be that our field unknowingly is, by its very nature, already ahead of others in the leadership area? Not that we will take succor by being “ahead” of anyone.

Our real contribution to management anywhere will be the sharing of how we lead. There are thousands of books on management and leadership. Perhaps one day one of us will write a book with a title along the lines of “Leadership – managing your teams as if they were volunteers”.

Some of you will get that.

Some may not.

To be continued…..

With thanks to Rob Jackson from the UK for a pointer in the direction of Stefan’s article.

1 comment:

  1. Great post DJ. I believe that people follow leaders because they have respect and admiration for them whether they are leaders of volunteers or leaders of staff.

    I believe that like minded people are intrinsically drawn together to share common ideas and beliefs and that by sharing these ideas and beliefs they support one another while they strive to develop these ideas into a shared vision for others to see. The problem lies when others lack the capacity to see this vision.


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