The most effective leaders can lead volunteers because their leadership is bigger than providing a paycheck and perks. The most effective leaders are transformational, not merely transactional. They offer a compelling mission not merely a job. They provide a sense of belonging not merely a list of benefits. Volunteers are led with something much deeper and much more significant than money, so those who lead volunteers well are best equipped to lead staff teams. Here is why: If you can’t lead volunteers you won’t be able to lead a highly capable team because they are volunteers too. They are volunteers because others want them on their teams too.
In his book, Leadership is an Art, Max Depree said, “the best people working for any organization are like volunteers.” Thus they should be treated like volunteers and be honored respect, given clarity for their roles and how those roles relate to the mission, and provided with the resources they need to thrive. Some leaders have mistakenly treated key staff differently than volunteers – as if volunteers deserve a different type of leadership than those who are receiving a paycheck and have an office. But Depree was right. The best leaders are volunteers and here are two reasons to treat them as such:
They are actually volunteers…
The best volunteers in any ministry or organization respond to clarity of direction and leaders who care for them well. The same is true for the best staff in any ministry or organization. The best people in any organization could easily go somewhere else, and often for more money and perks. They are recruited for other jobs. Headhunters reach out. LinkedIn profiles are stalked. Their names are floated among colleagues when openings emerge. They are volunteering to stay where they are. To fail to treat them well, to fail to understand they are volunteering to serve alongside you, is to fail to do all you can to keep them engaged in the mission of your team.
And they are actual people.
While the best leaders on a team are truly volunteers, every person on the team should be treated with respect and care. Every person on your team is created in the image of God. Every person on your team has a story, unique experiences that have been formational. Every person on your team has a gift and a contribution to make. Yes, the best people on a team should be valued in the same way a volunteer is valued. But all people should be valued. This, of course, does not mean failing to confront issues of character or competence. But even in the midst of confronting, the value of each person must be remembered.
In effective ministries and organizations, volunteers are highly valued. Their time is viewed as important. They are trained and resourced. They are given clarity of mission and direction. They are showered with honor. Effective leaders treat their teams with the same intentionality that they treat volunteers.