The first step in managing a leader is to determine where
the volunteer falls on the motivation scale. A benevolent volunteer will respond to regular reminders of the organization’s
mission and vision. They will also need more praise and recognition, however — more internal motivation — than their self-serving counterparts.
Self-serving volunteers also need to be reminded of the “big
picture” of the organization, but their motivation is external.
You will therefore need to help self-serving leaders understand
that by working together with the team they can still meet their
The second step in managing a leader involves determining
whether a volunteer has a people or mission focus, as it is
important that you match the volunteer appropriately with a
position based on that focus.
According to Terese Penza, RCE, CAE, president and CEO
of the North Shore – Barrington Association of REALTORS®,
when new volunteers join her board of directors, she sits down
with them for a one-on-one conversation in order to learn how
to best work with them as individuals, and to learn about their
expectations for being a volunteer. She wants to know where
they fit on the matrix. “We go through a list of standing questions,” she says. “What are your goals for the year? What is the
best way to contact you? What is the best time? What do you
want from me? Etc.”
Jim Manke, owner of Association Solutions Inc., an association management and consulting firm that’s worked with numerous associations on leadership development and governance,
shares his process. “An effective method I’ve found to get to
know someone’s personality is storytelling,” he says. “Early on
in my relationship with a volunteer leader, I help them learn the
lore of the organization by telling stories of key moments in the
association’s history. I try to make the stories as colorful as
possible, sharing some of my personal thoughts about process
and final decision. That leads to dialogue about how the leader
would have responded in those scenarios. By listening to the
leader’s thoughts, you can start to draw a picture about their
personality and leadership style.”
While motivation is important, there are several other factors
that can also impact volunteer leadership behavior. One of the
most important is communication style.
Communication styles are important in facilitating successful volunteer/staff relationships. In order to avoid problems, you
must consider other people’s perspectives and preferences. Dis-
connections can erode trust, diminish productivity and sabotage
Breakdowns often occur from the simplest communications,
such as voicemail and e-mail messages. Although some folks
are quick to respond, others are not. Although some volunteers
like detailed memos and reports, others prefer short summaries.
Although some reach conclusions slowly through a step-by-step
process, are adept at precise work and prefer working in an
established routine, others follow their hunches and inspirations,
dislike repetitive activities and avoid taking precious time to
pour over picky details. If you want to communicate effectively
with your volunteer leaders, you must learn to develop and
deliver messages in the formats they’re most comfortable with.
MINDING THE GENERATION GAP
The differences between generations can also affect leadership
styles. We’ve all heard about baby boomers, Generation X, millennials and other age cohorts. While not everyone is a stereotypical
member of his or her generation, most people do possess many of
their generation’s most common traits, characteristics and values.
The impact of age can therefore affect an individual’s management style, communications approach and commitment to
volunteer service. For example, while boomers volunteer because
they believe in the service ethic, Gen Xers volunteer because
they want to feel like they’re truly contributing to their organization and to society at large.
MAKING MORE EFFECTIVE LEADERS
While volunteers don’t always possess the best leadership traits,
it’s your job as an association professional to help volunteers
acquire them. To do so, consider the following tips for developing effective volunteer leaders:
• Build knowledge and skills: Younger volunteers value training. Help them improve their leadership skills and they
will become more effective committee members, task force
chairs and board members.
• Address changing work/life expectations: One variable that has
undergone massive change in just three generations is volunteers’ desire to balance their work and personal lives. Older
volunteers may “live to work” but younger ones “work to live.”
• Provide a mentor: A good leader provides the resources and
coaching necessary to allow his or her team to be successful.
The bottom line: The most effective volunteer leadership style
for your organization depends upon its culture and the issues confronting it. If you take into account the concepts outlined in this
article, you will greatly enhance your chances for success.
Mary T. Markovich is president of Mustard Seed Marketing. She may be reached
Join the conversation at www.theforumeffect.org.