How To Recruit Leaders In Your Volunteer Organization

Shortly after joining a new church, the council president enthusiastically revealed that I was part of their “volunteer leadership succession plan.” I politely declined and spent the next month working to act less “leader-like” at church. Plus, I figured if I skipped coffee hour, I could dodge the recruiters.

Busy people freak out when asked to lead too much too soon.

Some of your volunteer organization’s best qualified leaders are convinced they’re too busy to lead. And so the same dedicated generals continue to carry the load.

They’re busy too, but feel stuck… they’ve invested too much to see it all fall apart. It’s not as fun as at used to be, but they’ve got the template. That’s risky too.

How to Recruit Volunteer Leaders

When people lead, they connect more deeply to your mission and to one another. Connection feels good. They stay. Make volunteer leadership easier and more accessible.

  1. Create Bite Size Roles – This will annoy the guy who did the whole job for the last 20 years… you’ll need to politely tell him to chill. He needs relief, and it’s a new day. Consider breaking the bigger jobs down into something a strong leader with an already booked life could imagine herself doing.
  2. Inventory Talents & Skills – You need to know what people are eager to give. Some will be too humble to tell you. I was directing a children’s musical at our church, and was thinking I’d have to bother the usual suspects to paint the set. One of the newer members came to me with his portfolio of AMAZING art, as if he were applying for a job. I had to resist the urge to kiss this man I didn’t know. He spent countless hours creating an amazing scene. Bottom line, we didn’t know, and would have never have asked.
  3. Limit Terms – It’s easy to rely on the same people to do the same thing year after year. The shoes become too big to fill, and the unintended side effect is intimidation…not to mention stagnation. Plus, knowing there’s an exit strategy is attractive. Everyone saw how the last guy got stuck.
  4. Include Young People & Give Them Power – Kid’s have enormous leadership potential. Scaffold gently, and take some risks. My teenage son gets so annoyed when adults try to micro-manage his leadership efforts. He’s got it… Give kids room and watch the magic.
  5. Empower Possibility – Volunteer organizations have a habit of asking someone to “lead” and then tell them exactly how it should be done. That will turn off your most creative volunteer leaders. Be willing to accept radically new approaches and new ideas.
  6. Communicate Opportunities – “Who should we ask to lead this?” is asked by committees all over the world. That question depends on established connections and may overlook the most qualified. Communicate opportunities and cast a broader net.
  7. Allow Failure – Criticism and gossip will turn away your best leaders FOREVER. They’ve got enough of that crap in their day job. Encourage, develop, and make it okay to experiment and fail forward.

Is Your "Nice" Leadership Style Counter-Productive?

Have you ever had a boss that what just too nice?
Yesterday we talked about “Unnecessary Roughness: What Happens When Leaders are Mean:” On the flip-side what happened when your boss was too nice? Did they inspire? How were results?

Nice feels great but nice alone will not help anyone grow. Most employees want to be challenged. They want to know what behaviors to improve. It’s not nice to make the sugar-coating so sweet that they can’t taste the truth.

A Few Nice Examples

Job interview Feedback

I coached 3 employees headed into the same job interview. We refined resumes, role-played interview questions, and practiced the “close.” I was excited to hear the outcome. All three came back to me with the almost identical response.

“I didn’t get the job, but she told me I did just great in the interview my background was perfect, and I was clearly her second choice.”

I knew that was BS, but it was not my position to say. I then got sucked into the “nice but unproductive” spin cycle.

Clearly all three were not the hiring manager’s “second choice.” Sure all 3 candidates emerged with their egos intact. But, How was this helpful? What should they do next time to be better prepared? How should they enhance their background for a similar position? How did they perform in the interview? They were destined to head into the next scene with the same approach, and likely the same outcome.

The Email Lesson
“I asked you to prepare me for the executive session. You have now sent me 5 emails with all kinds of detail on the subject. I am now sorting by your name and deleting every email you sent me this month. If you have something I need to know, send it to me in a 5 bullet list in the next 10 minutes.”

Ouch. Ahh, but what a memorable lesson. A teachable moment well-played. You might even get to the word “nice” if you thought about it long enough.

Is This the Best You Can Do?
“Every time I take work to my boss he asks ‘is this the best you can do?’ At first I was so mad. I couldn’t stand him. But each time I realized I could do better. Now I ask myself that question 3 times before i even take anything to him. I have grown so much under his leadership. I now realize how nice he was to invest all that time in developing me.”

 What is Nice?

Productive Nice…

  • starts with caring deeply about the person you are working to help
  • is truthful
  • improves
  • challenges
  • raises the bar
  • celebrates success and incremental improvements
  • helps people to learn from their mistakes
  • ?

Have you ever had a boss that was just too nice?

Is Your “Nice” Leadership Style Counter-Productive?

Have you ever had a boss that what just too nice?
Yesterday we talked about “Unnecessary Roughness: What Happens When Leaders are Mean:” On the flip-side what happened when your boss was too nice? Did they inspire? How were results?

Nice feels great but nice alone will not help anyone grow. Most employees want to be challenged. They want to know what behaviors to improve. It’s not nice to make the sugar-coating so sweet that they can’t taste the truth.

A Few Nice Examples

Job interview Feedback

I coached 3 employees headed into the same job interview. We refined resumes, role-played interview questions, and practiced the “close.” I was excited to hear the outcome. All three came back to me with the almost identical response.

“I didn’t get the job, but she told me I did just great in the interview my background was perfect, and I was clearly her second choice.”

I knew that was BS, but it was not my position to say. I then got sucked into the “nice but unproductive” spin cycle.

Clearly all three were not the hiring manager’s “second choice.” Sure all 3 candidates emerged with their egos intact. But, How was this helpful? What should they do next time to be better prepared? How should they enhance their background for a similar position? How did they perform in the interview? They were destined to head into the next scene with the same approach, and likely the same outcome.

The Email Lesson
“I asked you to prepare me for the executive session. You have now sent me 5 emails with all kinds of detail on the subject. I am now sorting by your name and deleting every email you sent me this month. If you have something I need to know, send it to me in a 5 bullet list in the next 10 minutes.”

Ouch. Ahh, but what a memorable lesson. A teachable moment well-played. You might even get to the word “nice” if you thought about it long enough.

Is This the Best You Can Do?
“Every time I take work to my boss he asks ‘is this the best you can do?’ At first I was so mad. I couldn’t stand him. But each time I realized I could do better. Now I ask myself that question 3 times before i even take anything to him. I have grown so much under his leadership. I now realize how nice he was to invest all that time in developing me.”

 What is Nice?

Productive Nice…

  • starts with caring deeply about the person you are working to help
  • is truthful
  • improves
  • challenges
  • raises the bar
  • celebrates success and incremental improvements
  • helps people to learn from their mistakes
  • ?

Have you ever had a boss that was just too nice?

Won't You Please, Please Help Me?

When I was younger, so much younger than today,

I never needed anybody’s help in any way.

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured,

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

– The Beatles

Do you help when you can?

Not just your family or your team or when someone asks

But when you look up and see someone headed toward the same mistake you’ve already made or headed into some danger you’ve seen before do you speak up and help?

If someone were to you offer unsolicited help, are you prepared to hear them?

A Story That May Help

I was running through the woods on a beautiful Fall day. I passed a woman walking from the other direction. I smiled and she nodded, but she looked at me with a funny expression. I ran on a bit further straight into a scary situation. A strong and frenetic man was screaming obscenities and intensely thrashing around a very large stick. He was clearly stronger and crazier than me, so I quickly turned around and picked up the pace.

The woman I had passed earlier saw me coming back and said “yeah, I thought that guy was pretty dangerous. I thought about warning you.” I wish now I had asked her the obvious question.

As I ran on, I passed another young woman wearing headphones, headed toward the same sticky situation. I stopped her, and gave her the warning. She looked at me like I was crazy, put her headphones back on, and just kept running toward the man with the big stick. Hmmm, maybe that’s the reaction the first woman was worried about.

Perhaps the situation was truly dangerous, and perhaps it was not. I will never know. What struck me most was that there was an opportunity for the 3 woman in this story to warn and help one another if they were willing and open.

Could We Help One Another More?

I see similar behaviors in organizations. The sense of internal “competition” surpasses collaboration between individuals or workgroups. Or for some reason, people just don’t help when.

  • best practices are carefully guarded
  • mistakes are kept quiet
  • data is withheld
  • warning signs are not shared
  • key learnings are held close to the vest
  • people think it’s “none of their business”
  • ???

On flip side, I see people working alone when there are people all around who would be willing to help if only they asked by…

  • seeking out advice
  • looking sideways for what’s working
  • sharing best practices
  • collaborating and learning
  • ???

Won’t You Please, Please Help Me?

When I was younger, so much younger than today,

I never needed anybody’s help in any way.

But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured,

Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors.

– The Beatles

Do you help when you can?

Not just your family or your team or when someone asks

But when you look up and see someone headed toward the same mistake you’ve already made or headed into some danger you’ve seen before do you speak up and help?

If someone were to you offer unsolicited help, are you prepared to hear them?

A Story That May Help

I was running through the woods on a beautiful Fall day. I passed a woman walking from the other direction. I smiled and she nodded, but she looked at me with a funny expression. I ran on a bit further straight into a scary situation. A strong and frenetic man was screaming obscenities and intensely thrashing around a very large stick. He was clearly stronger and crazier than me, so I quickly turned around and picked up the pace.

The woman I had passed earlier saw me coming back and said “yeah, I thought that guy was pretty dangerous. I thought about warning you.” I wish now I had asked her the obvious question.

As I ran on, I passed another young woman wearing headphones, headed toward the same sticky situation. I stopped her, and gave her the warning. She looked at me like I was crazy, put her headphones back on, and just kept running toward the man with the big stick. Hmmm, maybe that’s the reaction the first woman was worried about.

Perhaps the situation was truly dangerous, and perhaps it was not. I will never know. What struck me most was that there was an opportunity for the 3 woman in this story to warn and help one another if they were willing and open.

Could We Help One Another More?

I see similar behaviors in organizations. The sense of internal “competition” surpasses collaboration between individuals or workgroups. Or for some reason, people just don’t help when.

  • best practices are carefully guarded
  • mistakes are kept quiet
  • data is withheld
  • warning signs are not shared
  • key learnings are held close to the vest
  • people think it’s “none of their business”
  • ???

On flip side, I see people working alone when there are people all around who would be willing to help if only they asked by…

  • seeking out advice
  • looking sideways for what’s working
  • sharing best practices
  • collaborating and learning
  • ???