Everyone is a Volunteer

 

Building and leading any robust enterprise is an endlessly creative and fulfilling challenge. However, managing people can be, well, a pain in the butt. So, how do you get the most from your people?

I am not going to pretend that this one post will change your universe, but, it’s ramifications are huge. Let’s start with a little confession.

I’ve spent my life working in and with churches. Translation: I have spent my life leading and working with volunteers. Volunteers are amazing. They give of their own time and good will to make things happen. At the same time, when I looked over the fence to the greener pastures of “normal” workplaces, I often got jealous. It looked like the power of the paycheck made it so much easier to manage employees compared with what it took to herd a crowd of volunteers.

I mean, employees have to “shape up or ship out.” If they want to get paid, they have to perform and “fly right.” Right? Volunteers, on the other hand, have calendar conflicts, can be hard to hold accountable, and often feel their opinions hold extraordinary weight. I was jealous of the illusion I’d created about what leadership was like in the for-profit sector.

Until it hit me one day—and, here comes the big idea—at the core, everyone is a volunteer. It doesn’t matter whether you get a paycheck or not.

That’s right. Everyone is a volunteer! Everyone makes willful decisions every day to volunteer their best effort, or not to. Aligning their focus and actions with the larger mandate and mission is a choice. Cooperating with colleagues requires a desire to do so. Just because someone is physically present, doesn’t mean they are mentally, emotionally, or willfully engaged. Any of us can be present in body even though we are rebellious in spirit.

Everyday, at every turn of events, everyone decides how much of themselves they are going to give to the responsibilities they have. The point is, we choose to volunteer ourselves, or, not to.

So, what does that mean for us as leaders?

The answer to, “How do I get the most from my people?” is actually found by flipping the question around. “How can I pour the most into my people?”

It all starts by re-orienting and reconsidering the way we exercise authority. There are four kinds of authority and only one of them is has to do with the power of position.**  Yes, you can swing the big stick, but a big stick rarely creates internal motivation. Overplay it and your people will only feel bruised and beat up.

Ask yourself, what does it take for me to become motivated and engaged?

I suggest that answer lies in the kind of environment you create for your people. How compelling is your vision or mission. How clear are people about the critical essence of their role? How adequately are they resourced? How connected are they to relationships with colleagues they work beside? What kind of reward or recognition do people get for the effort they put in?

Whether the people you lead are employees or actual volunteers, when you begin building an environment that would empower volunteers, you create an environment that will bring out everyone’s best.

There is so much more to unpack on this issue. For the next few weeks, I will post six different articles on how to create an empowering environment.

In the meantime, why not take a step back and ask yourself, how am I deliberately trying to pour into the lives of the people I lead?

 

Your Thoughts?

 

 

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**Bonus Insight:

Four Types of Authority:
Healthy leaders learn to lead from all four postures.

  • Positional Authority (Based on me being the boss)
  • Relational Authority (Based on us are friends)
  • Expertise Authority (Based on my knowledge as an expert)
  • Spiritual or Moral Authority (Based on the depth of my relationship with Christ and/or my character)

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