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8 Pillars of Volunteer Leadership

Getting others to follow is a key skill for any volunteer leader.

Ensuring that we have other volunteers working with us also ensures the future of the organizations we are supporting. We often feel alone as volunteer leaders - that there is no one else out there to help. But this is not true.

You are not alone. Getting others to work with us requires thought and determination.

These "8 Pillars of Leadership" offer thoughts to get you started.

(1) Self-Awareness - What gifts will you share with the world?

You have a unique set of skills and abilities that make you a unique brand of leader. Know what you're good at. Capitalize on your strengths.

(2) Humbleness - Where will you need help?

Know what you're not good at. Find the people who have those skills. Remember to ask for help - it's a sign of your strength. (Leaders are people who accomplish things through others.~Peter Drucker~)

(3) Willingness to Learn - In what ways would you like to grow?

Leadership is a learned skill. You can learn anything you want to learn.

(4) Vision - What do you hope to accomplish?

Where are you now? Where would you like to be one year from now? What 3-5 priorities/focus areas that will get you from here to there? Within each area, what actions/steps need to be taken? (In order to do, be, or have - we must first imagine. ~Source Unknown~)

(5) Abundance Mentality - Be open to "joiners."

Leaders are able to create movements - a.k.a. groups of people who follow a cause. John Maxwell calls this growing "evangelists" for your cause. It's easier than we think - watch this clip from a Ted Talk to see how easy it can be. (Leaders don't create followers, they create more leaders. ~Tom Peters~)

(6) Flexibility - Adapt vision to incorporate team member’s dreams and create buy-in.

Once you have "joiners," it's important to listen to what they have to say. You have thought about your vision, now it's time to ask your team members what they would like to see happen. Talk about organizational strengths, weaknesses and opportunities (new ideas to make the vision happen). Adapt your plan to incorporate the joint vision.

(7) Communication - Ask the right questions.

Strategic turnover is built in to most volunteer systems. Term limits ensure that fresh perspectives support the organization's growth. As the volunteer leader coming in to that position, it makes it imperative that we ask the right questions. Ask staff. Ask your volunteers.

Six good questions to select from include:

  • Where are we now?

  • Where would we like to be?

  • What do we need to accomplish?

  • What are our strengths?

  • What are our weaknesses?

  • What ideas for improvement do you have?

(8) Communication - Listen to the answers.

Listening is the most important part. When we want to show others that we have listened, we create a plan that incorporates their input. We tell them that their ideas are important. We thank them for their time. And most importantly, we ACT on what we heard.

Let the pillars strengthen you.

Have a vision. Find your team. Set a realistic plan in motion. Express positive expectations. Forgive those who fall short of your expectations. Remind people where the organization is going. Stress areas of consensus. Remain optimistic.

Above all else, keep your energies high and your priorities in order. You cannot do it all, but through your positive action you will make a difference.

Thank you for your leadership.

© Kathy Sturgis, Ph.D. Kathy is founder of Refreshment Zone and is an organizational and personal development specialist with a doctorate in communication. Contact for more information on motivational programs.

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