Thursday, August 30, 2012

Leading to Inspire Volunteers by Glenn Searle

I am a keen student of leading to inspire others and had the wonderful opportunity to undertake research into the phenomenon, the results of which were published in a leadership journal. Recently, at the Australian Institute of Management, DJ & I had a chat about inspiration in the context of leading in the volunteer sector – hence the ‘guest’ post. As part of my research, I interviewed a leader who worked extensively with volunteers and employees. The leader had some interesting perspectives that might be of interest to you.
One of his first comments was, ‘for me, inspiring people is about helping them reach their goal and potential – to help them become what they have been created to be’. Incidentally he saw little difference between volunteer and paid workers in the context of reaching goals and potential. The ways he went about inspiring them were a little different. He proposed that people often become leaders because of their position at work and, consequently, people might follow them because they are bosses.

In the volunteer sector, people primarily come to serve others, not necessarily to follow leaders. In my experience, volunteers follow leaders by desire, not by design. In essence, the question for leaders becomes, ‘Do I wish to inspire the volunteer workforce?’ Volunteers often volunteer as a result of inspiration or draw inspiration from the people they serve. Do volunteers look to be inspired by leaders? Lockwood and Kunda (1997) asserted that inspiration is about being open to the possibilities of it occurring for the self to experience it. Do you think volunteers are open to the possibility of being inspired by leaders within the organisations they give their time and effort?

The interviewed leader considered engagement was critical because volunteering in his sector was ‘a huge commitment’. He was also adamant that inspiring volunteers to engage with the vision is critical, at personal, organisational and community levels. I believe he is right. I believe inspiring people provides them with the energy and confidence they need to achieve wonderful things. How did he go about cultivating opportunities to inspire volunteers? You can read more in my new book, Inspiring Leaders, Practical Insights. In the short-term, here are a few strategies he employed specifically for inspiring volunteers:

1. Validate their importance to achieving the vision

Highlight the importance of activities in which volunteers will be involved, and help them understand the results and outcomes of their efforts. It is vital for people to connect to a vision of what is possible, and a vision of what influence they might have on the lives of others.

2. Illustrate how they could make a difference

Use photographs and images to highlight achievements, experiences and successes of previous volunteers. When people see the achievements of others, and how they connected with the people they were serving, it often inspires people to believe they can make a difference.

3. Get volunteers to share their stories

Leaders don’t have to be the source of inspiration. There are a number of studies that demonstrate that peers can be role models, and therefore a source of inspiration. Tap into the stories of previous and current volunteers to spread the good word and empower others to take action.

Glenn Searle is the Director of InspHigher and has been in the education and training industry for over 23 years in teaching, training and educational leadership roles. His involvement with people of all ages evoked a love of learning and a keen interest in leading and working with others. In an attempt to be a better leader and to understand the phenomenon of inspiration, he undertook a research thesis at UQ. Therefore it’s not surprising the primary focus of Glenn's speaking, coaching and writing is on the topic of  Leading to Inspire Others.

His academic findings were published in the Leadership and Organizational Development Journal in 2011. The article is titled, "Leading to inspire others: charismatic influence or hard work?" Interest generated by presenting his findings led to the authoring of a book , “a breath of fresh air: the leader's guide to inspiring others.”   The book is designed to help leaders and educators learn practical strategies to inspire others.

1 comment:

  1. A great post Glen. Thank you. The following statement really resonated with me

    ‘for me, inspiring people is about helping them reach their goal and potential – to help them become what they have been created to be’

    What an incredible gift a leader can give.


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