Leadership Barometer 102 Leading Volunteer Groups

July 21, 2021

Most of my writing on the topic of leadership is centered on organizations (for profit and not for profit) where people are paid to work. The leadership dynamics often focus on the power implied in the hierarchy. When one person has economic influence over other people, it sets up some challenging dynamics.

There is another category of leadership that deals with people who volunteer to invest their time because they believe in a cause.  In every community there are numerous examples of this from the Boy and Girl Scouts to Rotary and a host of other volunteer or service groups.

My wife and I both have been leading volunteer organizations for years. She is involved with a large international group, while I am leading a local effort. We find that there are a number of different concepts to think about when leading a group of volunteers. Here are some of the obvious differences between volunteer groups and commercial or business groups.                                        

 

 

Volunteer Group

Commercial Group

People donate their time, talent, and treasure for a cause that is meaningful to them

People are paid to work and hope to advance to higher pay

Members often have other higher priority commitments: job, family, etc.

Employees often have a full time job and balance family life

Tenure lasts only as long as the interest is there and it fits the schedule

Tenure is often over a period of many years or a career

People perform well because they are highly motivated by the cause and the relationships/friendships they develop in the group

People perform well in order to advance to earn more money

Organizations are often made up of several teams or committees

Organizations often exist in a military style hierarchy

Organization is fluid and morphs to meet current needs

Organizations are more fixed and slower to change

 

 

Solidify Purpose, Mission, and Vision

In a volunteer organization, people are not paid to do this work, so keeping them fully engaged in the Purpose of the organization is essential.  Leaders must continually remind people why we do what we do. The purpose statement leads directly to the Mission statement, which gives a succinct statement of what we do. The Vision statement tells us where we are going and why it will be a better world when we get there.

Agree on a set of Values

Values give us a firm grip on how we behave in any situation. It is vital that the leader always model the values, especially when it in inconvenient or expensive to do it. This behavior allows trust to grow. Trust is just as important in volunteer organizations as it is in commercial organization.

Agree on a Set of Expected Behaviors

This aspect is critical for volunteer organizations because people (including the leader) need to follow the rules they have agreed to.  A lot of times groups skip over the documentation of behaviors. This is a big mistake, because it weakens the ability for all members to hold each other accountable. When behaviors get out of hand, volunteers sometimes leave rather than deal with it constructively.

In a commercial entity, the positional power of the leaders as a result of having control of the purse strings usually helps keep people doing the right things.

A volunteer organization rewards people in non-monetary ways, such as fellowship, pursuit of a cause, the joy of helping others, etc. People need to feel appreciated and should experience some fun with the activities. When people start feeling overworked, it is time to bring in more help so volunteers don’t burn out.

Create Strategies, Tactics and Goals

Strategies describe the main pathway from the current situation to the vision. We must do these things to reach our destination together. The tactics tell us who is going to do what by when in order to accomplish the strategies. The goals are how we measure progress on the journey. The best goals are called “SMART Goals (for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time- Bound). Volunteers need to be involved in setting the goals of the group.

Constantly Monitor the Succession Plan  

The pace of personnel moves in a volunteer organization can be more fluid than for a commercial venture. Reason: people can join and leave at very little personal cost and with very little warning.  It is critical to have good bench strength and be flexible to adapt quickly to changing conditions.  

I found out this aspect the hard way.  I am chair of the Board of Directors of an organization that reinforces ethical behaviors with an award program.  I had a successor all lined up to take over my position a couple years ago. Abruptly, she had to move out of the area due to her husband’s health, so I went back to the drawing board. The next year I had a wonderful replacement lined up and trained, but she was just offered a dream job in another state and will not be able to succeed me. So, once again I have to look for a successor.

You also need to be constantly recruiting people to replace the ones that end up leaving. I found that being involved in many different local organizations was the best way to meet good people who are looking for an opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.  Often these people are gainfully employed with a commercial organization and are volunteering for your organization as a side interest.  That double allegiance really adds to the potential for volatility.

It is much more challenging to get national and international volunteers and incorporate them into the operation of the organization. The era of interactive virtual events that draw interested people from around the world makes it easier to connect. Also, proper utilization of social media can build interest in the organization and draw in both volunteers and donors.

When leading a volunteer organization, the cardinal rule it to expect the unexpected and remain flexible.  If you have put in place the elements outlined in this article, you will be more successful. 

 

 

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on www.leadergrow.com.

 

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.

 

 


Successful Supervisor 46 Mastering Work Life Balance

October 1, 2017

One of the most vexing problems faced by supervisors is the issue of work-life balance. Dedication to job and career is a critical element for any supervisor, and since the number of issues that need attention is seemingly infinite, there is a tendency to work too hard and too many hours.

This article will share some ideas that may be helpful at creating a better balance.

Keep Things in Perspective

It is easy to lose perspective and let work issues become an overwhelming commitment of your time. Actually, I believe it is a form of addiction that sneaks up on you when you aren’t looking.

It is all very well intended at first, but if left unchecked, it can take you down a dangerous road that can rob you of a vital part of your life. Here are some tips that may be helpful to remember.

1. Pay attention to what is going on

We can get sucked into a life of continuous overwork without even realizing it.

Recently I found myself way overloaded and quit a job when my employer proposed to double my already oppressive workload without any additional form of compensation.

The shock of it made me realize that I had long ago crossed the line of the work I am prepared to do for the benefits received. If I had not been shocked into that realization, I might still be working there.

The lesson is simple, but difficult to do. Take stock every year of the amount of time you are devoting to work and ask if it is reasonable. If not, take steps to correct the problem.

2. Don’t let them nibble you to death

If you are working 55 hours a week, it is easy to get you to extend to 57 hours. If you are working 80 hours a week, then 82 hours seems not so much of an added burden.

The way to prevent this kind of “scope creep” is to put a Stop Loss on your situation.

A Stop Loss is a term used in the stock market where you put in an automatic sell order in if the stock reaches a specific level. This rule helps you avoid a catastrophic loss when your attention may be diverted.

The equivalent of a Stop Loss with time spent at work might sound like this, “I realize there will be peak times at work where I need to put in more time in a particular week, but if it ever reaches XX hours a week, I am going to refuse the work.”

3. Go offline

Easy access to the internet has made it difficult to get away from work. Set some boundaries for when you are not accessible (even by phone) and stick to them.

If you consciously manage time for your personal life, then you will find it much easier to have one. If you ignore the issue, then you will likely slip toward overload a little bit each year until work squeezes out the vitality of life.

It is not uncommon these days to see a family huddled around the dinner table where everyone is looking down at their PDAs. It is equally common to have some members of the family texting each other rather than speaking out loud.

Try to avoid using devices during family time and actually speak to each other verbally. Kids may have a hard time with this one, but you may be able to hold a rule.

4. Don’t work when you are resting

We all need good interrupted sleep each day to be able to perform at our best. Shut off your phone ringer when you are sleeping and just let it go.

Supervisors do understand the need to rest, but sometimes they feel the world will quit turning if they are not personally involved in every action. If you allow abuse of your rest time then people will have no compunction about calling you at all hours.

The other half of this equation is that you need to delegate and have faith in others in your group to carry on without you when you are unavailable.

If you insist on being involved in every decision, not only are you failing to develop and trust your people, but you are losing a lot of sleep.

Make Sure You have a Variety of Interests

It is easy to become so fixated on work that other parts of our life are squeezed out. The antidote to this problem is to maintain a variety of interests and intentionally carve out time to feed each of them.

Sometimes it feels like if you could just focus exclusively on work, then you could get it all done. Unfortunately, this is a trap. The work is infinite, if you let it be. Here are some tips to keep you well rounded.

1. Give family issues a high priority

At the end of your life, you will not be counting the number of 90 hour work weeks you put in, or even what you accomplished with all your dedication.

You will be thinking about the times you spent with family and friends, because those are the real meaning in our lives. Make sure you have at least one trip a year away from the hubbub of everyday life at work.

Make sure you participate in the activities of your kids and spouse. Sometimes you need to manage the time carefully, but it is important to participate.

2. Find ways to give back to your community

There are an infinite number of opportunities for you to help out other people. Find the equation that suits you and that you feel good about. I call this element your “give back ratio.”

You need to calculate how much time you are putting in exchanging your talent for money and how much time you are giving back to others.

There is no right or wrong answer to the calculation, but you have to ask yourself seriously if you are satisfied with your personal numbers. If the give back ratio is way too low, then you need to find ways to change it.

The same concept holds regarding money. You need to figure out whether you are giving back enough. It is a personal calculation that you don’t need to share with anyone else, but make sure you are in full agreement with your conscience.

3. Have a hobby that you really love

To fully get away from work, it is not enough to just turn off the phone. You need to find an activity that you enjoy so much that you become refreshed when you do it.

For me, mowing my lawn was always a great escape. (That may sound odd to some, but it is true.) Yard work for me has always been a way to get exercise while doing something that has an immediate payback.

It does not even need to be a physical release for you to benefit. Some people like to paint, or write, or sing. The idea is to have a few personal passions that you can indulge in to provide a balance from the constant grind of the job.

4. Make work into play

The old adage says, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I can mostly subscribe to that logic, although even if you love your work it can become a bit too much at times.

The basic idea is to find work that is intrinsically fun for you as well as challenging.

I know a CEO who calls this aspect her, “pants on fire – can’t wait to get to work” attitude. She works very long hours but has a ball doing it on most days. In fact, she has made “fun” one of the core values of her company. There is nothing wrong with that, because her company is incredibly successful.

Remember to Keep Yourself in Control

The bottom line of this article is that you need to be responsible for the balance in your own life. Don’t complain and grumble about the constant pressures of work crowding out the value from your life. Do something about it!

The world (and your boss) will gladly accept all of the “nose to the grindstone” work you are willing to put in. Just make sure you don’t grind your nose totally off!

Use the tips above to balance your life, and you will have many more fond memories when you are older. As a side benefit, you will likely live longer.

Recognize also that there are phases in life, and seek to manage your life for a good balance in each phase. You will likely ratchet up the percentage of time volunteering after you retire, for example, and that may present another challenge to get the right balance for your life.

In each phase of your life you need to test frequently if your various activities are in a healthy equilibrium.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on http://www.leadergrow.com/articles/supervision or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763


Do You Have Low Integrity?

October 12, 2013

fuel gaugeMost of my writing is about trust and high integrity, but this article is about low integrity. We know it exists because there are numerous examples in our daily life that point to individuals doing something that they espouse is for the greater good, but is really to advance their own purposes.

I have been told to stay away from sex, religion, and politics in public writing, so I will not reveal any political bias here; however, it is easy to detect some pockets of low integrity in the government. What constitutes low integrity versus gamesmanship on any particular day depends on the issue at hand and which side of an issue a particular person sits.

In reality, we exist in a sea of low integrity, and this article is intended to make us more aware of the difficulty sorting through what is a problem with integrity and what was well intended but flawed behavior.

When we see flagrant violations of integrity, it is not hard to come to agreement that the person was duping the public. There are hundreds of examples of this from Bernie Madoff to John Edwards. In the extreme, some people just do what benefits them regardless of who it hurts.

The other extreme is also easy to spot. In any community you can find people who give amazing amounts of time and money to support causes while expecting nothing in return.

The extremes are easy to identify, but the majority of actions taken by people in routine business or personal decisions are somewhere between those extremes. At some point you cross the moral like between high integrity and low integrity.

It is not my desire to judge anyone in this article. I think each person has to decide on a case by case basis where the moral line exists. That decision tells a lot about the ethical fiber of the person, and yet it is not so simple to decide which activities are OK and which ones have crossed the line. For some people, anything short of saintly behavior is wrong while others will draw the line between good and bad just short of something being illegal.

At its core, integrity is about honesty. If we purport to be taking an action to advance a noble cause yet really are mostly trying to increase our own wealth, then we are guilty of low integrity?

To understand if an action is good or bad, we really need to dig deep into our psyche to understand our true motivations. For example, maybe we really did take that action to help reduce homelessness, and the improvement in our status was simply a by-product we obtained by networking with many new people.

The trigger for this article came from a discussion about the magnitude of low integrity in the world and that we only observe a tiny fraction of the deceit that goes on. Most of it goes undetected, because we are simply unaware that the person had an ulterior motive.

An even deeper question is how would the person himself come to grips with his own true intentions. In other words, where is the line of demarcation between doing something for others and helping one’s self?

It is fascinating to have the debate with myself trying to figure out if I have high integrity. Let’s examine a specific example for clarity.

I provide an excellent leadership assessment on my website free of charge. It really is totally free because I do not even ask people to register with their e-mail address when they take it, so I am not trolling for addresses. Furthermore, I offer a free consultation to suggest things that might be helpful to the person based on his or her specific profile, but only if that person contacts me, and even then I am giving but not selling. In other words, most of the experts would call me crazy for giving something away with absolutely no strings attached.

I chose to set it up totally free because of three statements in my own strategic framework. 1) I have a Value for my business that states “Give more than you receive,” 2) a second Value states “Giving away content is a good thing to do,” and 3) one of my corporate behaviors is “Go the extra mile to help others.”

That all sounds altruistic, but do I have some kind of ulterior motive in the back of my mind? Do I want to further the cause of my business? Of course I do! That is not a bad thing to do. But then am I giving away content not just to help other people but with some hope that the universe will find ways to return the favor?

You can go slowly insane trying to decipher motives, and nearly all of the time the true motivations are hidden from view. We fool ourselves into thinking that we are doing good just for the sake of doing good. Perhaps some of us actually do that. I will never know. I do a lot of volunteer work myself, but I could and should do more.

The “pay it forward” mindset is an approach to living that is highly appealing. It is fun to help other people, even when you know there will be no direct payback. In fact, there is a payback, and it happens instantly. It is called satisfaction or self esteem. So the person who says, “I volunteer to help out this cause because in the end it makes me feel good,” that person is not guilty of low integrity.

We need to realize that there is always a return for every good deed. It does not spell incorrect behavior to do good things simply for the joy it brings, but when we do something that looks good on the surface, but in reality we are raking in the cash from some unseen source, then we are guilty of low integrity.

The line between high integrity and low integrity must be drawn by each individual based on his or her level of morality. My hope is that more people will examine their true intentions rather than rationalize questionable behaviors.