Leadership Lessons from Volunteers

VolunteerThere are some highly valuable qualities that are universal with volunteers which are key for leaders to understand. If these qualities can be developed in "paid teams," the potential for a new level of results and for a new level of satisfaction and fulfillment in work is greatly increased. I first began to wake up to the valuable lessons from working with volunteers in the late ‘70’s when I spent two years as a full time volunteer during the launch phase of The Hunger Project, a global movement to unleash the human spirit by ending chronic, persistent hunger on the planet. 

The first phase of work at that time was to make people aware of the basic facts about the enormity of hunger around the world and that it could be ended.  The idea was through awareness we could generate the "political will" to end the problem. Our primary strategy was a campaign to have people sign “enrollment cards,” which was, in some ways, similar to having them sign a petition. Basically, by having them "sign a commitment" they were willing to say, "yes, I understand this is a problem and yes, I want it to end."  This was an intimidating task.  We learned to get the penetration we were committed to, we would have to go out in the streets and local markets with the sidewalk performers, Hare Krishna, Salvation Army, and many other uniquely interesting individuals and groups. We went on beautiful days, rainy days, in the snow, and sometimes late at night if that is what it took to make our goals.  That’s where I began to see people do things they would never do for a paycheck out of their passion for the end of hunger and their commitment to reach the number of people we said we would reach during a particular week.

I was reminded of all of this last weekend when we met and completed with last year’s facilitators and team from The World Academy For The Future of Women, and then spent two more days with twenty new volunteers looking to go to SIAS International University in China to lead one of the modules of next year’s program. 

Here was a group of experienced, capable professionals from across the United States gathered at our home to explore the opportunity to give up their incomes and familiar surroundings and pay their own way to spend five weeks working with young Chinese women aspiring to become leaders and global citizens.  Again, what stood out was their passion to contribute and willingness to give up income, creature comforts and conveniences, and the security of familiar surroundings and to commit themselves to producing incredible results with very few resources and little support.

When you consider the passion, excitement, commitment level and willingness in groups of volunteers it's truleadership spelled in tilesly extraordinary. Amazing things happen when individuals get together and feel commitment to a cause, another group of people, an issue, etc. There is enormous creativity generated when resources are slim and "the stakes are high" as far as the potential to make a difference. What if this same passion, willingness, commitment, excitment and creativity could be generated by employees? What if your team brought this level of energy to bear on your business? It's my experience that  most people are just itching to make a difference. What if you found a way to unleash this within your team? When you examine your own leadership, how might you shift your behaviors to honor the passion and commitment that your team members are dying to display?  What might you do to start hearing them in more powerful ways?  How can you unleash them? Get out of their way?

Much of our work in Vision Focused Leadership™ and Productive Interactions™ has been and continues to be developed out of these experiences.  We have found that the more you can let your teams bring their passion to your business and the more they feel a personal stake in the outcomes and results, the greater their satisfaction in their work and their productivity thrives. This is why we believe it's important to recognize and work with the "heart and soul" of an organization, not just the processes, the numbers and the org. charts.