guiding leaders of volunteers to feed the passion of those who choose to serve
Everybody works for somebody. Who does a leader of volunteers work for? The answer depends upon the leader’s philosophy.
One outlook dictates that the leader works for the organization. They serve their leaders, or a Board of Directors first. This traditional, top-down view is usually accompanied by a Command and Control management style. Volunteers work for the leader. The leader tells them what to do. The leader makes sure they do it.
The Command and Control approach gets results. It is efficient. The work gets done. Beneficiaries benefit. The cause is served. What’s the problem?
The downside to this philosophy is that volunteer engagement is not optimized. Command and Control overlooks the heart of the volunteer.
Another perspective a leader may take is The Chain of Volunteer Service perspective. In the Chain philosophy, the initial link represents the organizational vision and mission. The next link may be the organization itself, represented by its executive leadership. Staff members or volunteer leaders could be a chain link. Volunteers are certainly a link in the sequence. The chain continues to the beneficiaries. The organization’s vision and mission may again follow the beneficiary link, creating a continuous loop in The Chain of Volunteer Service.
The Chain approach embraces a bottom-up view. Every link serves the next link. The leader works for the volunteer. Their efforts focus on Equipping, Guiding, Supporting and Inspiring the link that follows in their chain.
Leaders create the culture of their organization through their daily actions. The leader’s underlying beliefs drive their choices. Their philosophy, their outlook on their role, guides their behaviors. What a leader says, and what a leader does, is determined by how they interpret their situation. Their view can run on autopilot, steered by their natural predispositions. Or, it can be overridden by choice.
Leaders of volunteers are encouraged to adopt The Chain of Volunteer Service philosophy. Serve those who serve, so they may serve the next link in the chain.
Think about what Equipping, Guiding, Supporting and Inspiring looks like in daily leadership practice. Refer to the section in the book, "Engaging the Head, Heart and Hands of a Volunteer," titled Sustaining the Passion of a Volunteer for more ideas to strengthen the chain.
Some leaders are already there. The Chain of Volunteer Service is their default. They embody service to others in their chain by their daily actions. Other leaders may ponder a shift in their philosophy. It takes real work for a leader to choose their outlook. Command and Control is simply more comfortable for some leaders. Listening to the inner voices and then consciously going in a different direction takes commitment and discipline. It is difficult, but not impossible. It is said, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.