I believe that leading volunteers is truly a great test of one’s leadership. In many ways, leading volunteers is the ultimate test of one’s ability to lead others. When I interview someone, I don’t only look for their work with “paid staff”; I pay close attention to their history leading volunteers. I have hired people from the local church to lead large teams at LifeWay because I believe their ability to build and lead teams of volunteers would easily translate into leading a team. On the flip side, many leaders in companies are only able to direct people because of positional authority and title and not because they are able to influence people toward a compelling direction. Here are three reasons leading volunteers is a great test of one’s leadership:
1. You must lead with purpose, not policies.
Positional leaders remind people of policies; real leaders remind people of a great purpose. Positional leaders are able to get people to execute tasks because of their positions; real leaders influence people to execute because they own the mission. When a leader leads a group of volunteers, the leader is forced to lead with mission because policies and org charts mean nothing to a volunteer. The reality is policies and org charts mean very little even to those who live under them, so effective leaders, in any environment, lead with purpose.
2. You must provide community, not cash.
Positional leaders offer cash; real leaders offer community. When leading a group of volunteers, leaders do not have cash to offer. Instead, they offer community around shared beliefs and values. Leaders who cannot build conviction and commitment around shared values are leaders in title only.
3. You must offer development, not demotions.
Leaders who are leaders in position only use threats of demotion in attempts to motivate people they oversee. Effective leaders care deeply for those they lead and serve and offer opportunities to grow and develop. When volunteers join a team, they are likely to remain if they see how the team develops and matures them.
Leading volunteers is not only a real test of one’s leadership but is also an incredible development opportunity for leaders. Those who lead in ministry learn to lead with purpose, to offer community, and to develop those they serve. The reality is that even those in organizations outside the church long for leaders who lead with purpose and not policies, who provide community and not only cash, and offer development not only demotions as a means to motivate and encourage the team.