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Go for the Gusto! Recognizing Your Volunteer Leadership


Bernadette "Bernie" Young
Bernadette "Bernie" Young, President, Center for Creative Teambuilding, Inc., St. Petersburg, FL 33711, 888/876-9824,

85th Annual International Conference Proceedings - 2000 

Abstract. Leading a volunteer committee, board or organization is both challenging and rewarding. Time becomes a critical commodity and everyone involved is looking for value in their volunteer position. In this presentation, you will be able to identify the characteristics that make for effective L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P., develop the skills needed to lead your volunteers to higher performance levels, assess your leadership strengths, and realize that leadership can be a fun and enjoyable experience.

The Dilemma...Where do you start? Does developing a committee or team create a leader or does the leader create and develop the team? It's important to understand the components of leadership and how they differ from management. Leadership is a B. I. P. - a Behavioral & Influence Process. If you have the opportunity to influence another's behavior, then you are a leader or have the potential to be a leader.

Think of someone you've admired or have enjoyed working with who was (is) a leader? Was it their management skills? Was it their "people" skills? Was it their technical skills? In most cases, the answer will be "their people skills". They made you feel important, a part of a vision, a valued contributor, a problem solver and someone who, in their eyes, had potential. Research shows that 90% of what you do is to feel needed. The most effective leaders consistently reward and encourage those they lead.

So, where do you start? At the top, with you!

What do you do if you find yourself in a leadership position and you would like to be a stronger, more effective leader? First, leadership can be developed through goal-setting. Set a goal for yourself specifically for leadership development and work to achieve that objective. It will take time and concentration. People will follow you and you won't always have everything perfect. That's ok. People want leadership, not perfection. Identify the traits, attitudes and other factors that make up leadership. Some examples may be cheerfulness, honesty, sincerity, accentuating the positive, and a sense of humor. Determine how these traits are expressed. Make a conscious effort to bring these characteristics into play whenever and wherever possible. Accentuate the positive, not the negative. Concentrate on the up side of the leadership balance sheet. Consider the other person; put yourself in his or her place. Give more attention to them, less to yourself.

Service to others counts. Who would consider only today in work or in managing a team? Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow should also be considered. Make leadership a habit. Finally, ask yourself every day, "How am I doing?" Check daily on your plus and negative scores. Where did you miss an opportunity to improve? Remember that LEADERSHIP is a process.

THE PROCESS. Now let's go through the L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. process using the acronym, discussing characteristics of effective leaders who have others want to work with them and enjoy the process.

L = LENGTHENING SHADOW. An old Greek proverb says, "The fish rots from the head down." In other words, as the top goes, so goes the rest of the organization. So often the person in charge says, "I just can't understand what's wrong with volunteers today, committees, etc." I seldom hear them say, "Wonder what it is I'm doing? What could I improve?" "How am I affecting my team's morale, excitement about our goals, etc." L can also stands for Listener. Leaders are good listeners. Listening is an incredibly difficult skill to work on and perfect and not a skill to which we give high regard. Listening has to be developed over time. Try not to judge and come back with a response without listening to the full message.

E = ENERGY. A positive leader needs lots of energy. Research shows you use three times more energy thinking negatively than positively. That means you need three positive people to offset one negative person on your team. Is your language filled with positive energy? Are you excited about your organization's direction, the potential for growth, the increase in membership? E also stands for Enthusiasm. This word comes from the Greek word, Ethios, which means the "God within or the spirit within". Team spirit comes from this word. You'll never hear a team come out onto the field and say, "We're gonna lose, we're gonna lose." Be careful what you predict. There's a lot to be said for the self-fulfilling Prophecy. I'm always amazed at how many organizations look at where they are not going. By the way, the last four letters of enthus-IASM, stand for: 'I Am Sold Myself.' As the head of your team, committee or organization, you need to be sold on the direction you are going. If you're not enthusiastic, how can you expect your team or members to be?

A = ADAPTIVENESS. Effective leaders need to look at and be open to change, to be adaptive. We have acquired as much information in the world in the last 10 years as in all the prior years combined. You can either fear change or embrace it. Give yourself the S. A. T. adaptability test. Are you a Change Sponsor? Change Agent? or Change Target? Change Sponsors are the creators of the change, and that's exciting. You see things that can help you be more efficient. Change Agents might be those individuals or teams who have initiated or created the change, but it's their responsibility to make sure it's implemented. Lastly, you could be the Change Target, which is the old "Why me?" mentality. As a leader, that's not where you want to go in terms of change. (For a great resource on handling change, read the book titled, When the Shift Hits the Fan! - A practical approach to dealing with change. Call the Center at 888.876.9824 to order.)

D = DELEGATOR Being an effective delegator takes an incredible amount of time, planning and training. Some people enjoy being a martyr and can't delegate. You may know someone who doesn't delegate because they need to hold on to power. Letting go does not mean losing a sense of control. The more power you give away, the more power you get. Delegation also takes time - time to plan, work with the person once the responsibility has been delegated, and time to sit and take them through the process so they know what to expect. When you delegate, you also Develop people - another D - through coaching and counseling.

E = EMPATHY. A good leader is empathetic. That's a word some of us struggle with, because we like to think we can empathize, that is, put ourselves in others' shoes. A good leader is one who can support the people s/he leads. That means when others say they have a problem, the leader doesn't automatically assume what he or she is hearing is, in fact, a problem. Take a closer look, ask the individual to explain the situation and then, if you are empathetic, you will challenge that person to find a solution for whatever problem or concern they brought to your attention. You want to challenge them to find some solutions on their own. Remember, as a leader, you help your team develop skills for a lifetime.

R = RESPONSIBILITY. As a leader, are you responsible to others or for others? Most people will say they're responsible for a team, or a group. An effective leader is not responsible for anyone other than him/herself, but you are responsible to those people you lead. If you are responsible to others, your have a sense of the big picture. You know that the purpose of leadership is to remove obstacles and help people get their job(s) done. When responsible for people, you encourage others to see themselves as targets of change and you become manipulative in your leadership. R can also stand for the ability to take Risks - calculated risks. Always have contingency plans so you have an idea what will happen if a plan doesn't work.

S = SENSE OF HUMOR. This is probably one of the greatest gifts a leader can have. Humor is becoming increasingly important in the workplace. Recently, I was asked to do my Humor in the Workplace presentation six times to six different groups. That tells me that people are looking for ways to have fun, alleviate stress resulting from changes, technology, re-structuring, and growth, etc. A sense of humor allows you, as a leader, to let the team see that it's okay to "goof and grow". If they make a mistake, it's not the end of the world. Teach them to ask themselves, "What did I learn from it?" Every single day, try to look for fun in life. But never use humor or laughter at anyone else's expense. The best person to laugh at is you.

H = HONESTY. (Integrity, too, of course) An honest leader is one who participates, takes charge, observes what his/her people are doing, and lets them know where they stand. When being honest, look at what your team is doing in terms of contributions to the organization. Use a lot of "I" messages vs. "You" messages. Take responsibility for how you feel about a particular behavior you observe. Follow with the reaction to that behavior and changes you expect from that individual. The problem with using the word, You, rather than I, is that the person you are talking with gets on the defensive, and communication breaks down completely. No matter how honest you are being, they're not listening or caring about the message. An honest leader shares exactly how s/he is feeling with another person: "I am very frustrated because you committed to getting that info out to all of our committees by last Tuesday and that will push us back a week in getting our newsletter out. What do you need? What changes do we need to make? What's our next step? Etc. You'll be surprised at the response you'll get!

I = INVESTMENT. Leaders need to be aware that they must constantly invest in their leadership roles. Leadership is a behavior and influence process. The key word - process - means you are always growing, building esteem, always developing yourself. That requires an investment of time: taking courses, attending conferences, reading trade journals, etc., and energy in terms of learning.

P = PLANNER AND PROBLEM-SOLVER. Effective leaders have plans. They plan based on their team's mission and vision of their organization, committee, and/or team. I suggest that approximately every three to five years you look at your mission and clarify it. Is it the direction you need to go? You may want to do this through a mapping exercise asking the following questions: Where are we now? Where do you see ourselves in a year, two years or three, from now? How will we get there? How will we recognize it when we get there? What kind of leadership style is needed? What pitfalls can we anticipate in planning the new direction? A leader is a planner and creative problem-solver. Bring people together; ask for input and feedback. Be careful about judging or coming up with why an idea might not work or why someone wouldn't approve, or no money to develop the idea. Allow others' ideas to flow freely and creatively.

The Opportunity for GUSTO! Now that you have your L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. characteristics developed, you can begin to go for the G.U.S.T.O.! Set your leadership and team's Goals, Use all your resources wisely, Strategize so that everyone is always clear on the direction of your team, Think Team, and stay Organized.


YOUNG, Bernadette "Bernie" Young, When the Shift Hits the Fan: A Practical Approach to Dealing with Change. St. Petersburg: Center for Creative Teambuilding, 1999

YOUNG, Bernadette "Bernie" Young, T. L. C. = Teamwork, Leadership & Cooperation. St. Petersburg: Center for Creative Teambuilding, 1999

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