Effective leadership isn’t easy. It is demanding, and often a 24×7 commitment. Leading a volunteer organization has unique challenges, because the leader competes for time – her own and her volunteers – which is often at a premium.
I have been privileged this year to watch an exceptional volunteer leader, and would like to share my observations on why her tenure as President of a professional organization was so successful.
She had been approached in earlier years to take on the Presidency, but said no because she didn’t feel she had the time to commit. It wasn’t until I watched her throughout the year she said “yes” that I realized just how powerful this was. She is the type of person that, when she commits, she commits her all. I saw just how this played out, and it was fascinating to watch.
Apparently she had arrived at a point where, in 2015, she agreed to lead the organization. As I observed throughout the year, I saw a leader who demonstrated that she took her role very seriously and committed to doing the very best job she could. What I observed was not really new; these qualities can be found in any leadership model. They were, however, shaped by a consistent, quiet confidence that never failed, even when her own time was compromised. Here is what I observed.
She took charge
While there was a formal job description, she started the year out with a vision and a plan, communicated it up front, and stuck to it throughout the year.
She focused on what was important
The big deliverable for this organization is the bi-monthly meeting. Each leadership team meeting was structured with this overarching goal in mind – to provide the best value for the members through the bi-monthly meeting.
She asked for help
She is a master at getting others involved. In fact, the active volunteer leader group grew substantially over the year. She made sure that everyone knew what was expected from their role and engaged the rest of the leadership team in engaging more active volunteers.
When unable to be present herself, she made sure that someone else would step in, and effectively carry on the same consistent, structured work.
She said “Thank you”
While this doesn’t sound like a big deal, I was amazed at how good I felt after I took a call from her while she was on the road, and all she wanted was to thank me for my involvement. She did this consistently, with everyone.
She kept it structured
Giving volunteer time takes time away from other endeavors, and she used everyone’s time wisely. Meetings started and stopped on time, every time. She kept the momentum and the agenda crisp and focused.
She asked for input
This is an interesting concept, as I think about it. I saw this quiet confidence in her which played out in the structure and focus, while at the same time, she always asked for input and listened to what was said. She often brought back ideas that had been conveyed some time ago, acknowledging those who had provided the idea.
None of this is rocket science
One could say that this is nothing new, and nothing really bold. Indeed, you could boil this all down to fully accepting the role and carrying it out in a consistently courteous and respectful manner. Whether leading volunteers or a team of employees, simple and straightforward is always a good thing. I love her message…accept the job fully, create a focused plan, carry it out religiously, and make sure everyone on the team knows how much they are valued.
But it is not all that easy to actually do. I know. I happen to have been past-President of the organization in 2015. I sort of wish I could have been her successor rather than her predecessor. I would love to have had that role model to work toward.