Leading volunteers is challenging. Motivating a team of volunteers to show up, let alone work cohesively together is definitely an artform.  Believe me, if there was a formula, I would give it to you now and we could call it a day.

A good leader can build a solid team over time and the team will function well week after week under the leader’s direction.  However, someday, the inevitable will happen, the leader will not be there. What happens now? We can’t just close up shop, the team must go on but the outcome may vary tremendously depending on how the team has been led.

At it’s most basic form, a leader is a leader because someone is following, but a leader that brings excellence works constantly to turn those followers into leaders. It is easy to lead followers. Not to minimize this issue but it’s easy for me to lead my dog. Anywhere I go, my dog is right behind me. In fact, if I stop too quickly, she plows into me because she follows that closely sometimes. If I let her lead, she will look back at me and find her place back behind me.  She is not a leader, she’s a follower and a very good follower, at that.  One of the best.

Here’s the problem with leading followers. When a follower has no one to follow, they tend to be lost.  The job, whatever that job is, will not be done because the follower doesn’t have the initiative to follow through. They haven’t been taught to do their task on their own. If you, as their leader, only expect your team to follow you, when you are absent, they will be lost, even if another leader is filling in for you. All your team may know is to do what you tell them to do.
A true leader will empower the team members to take ownership of various tasks within the team and what this does is allows each person to lead their particular area within the team.  You are still leading the team but you are helping build leadership skills within your team members.  The best way for you, as their leader, to do this is to know the people on the team. As you learn each person’s strengths, weaknesses, desires, passions and gifts, you can help them find their exact role on your team.
To recap, as a leader of volunteers, your role as their leader should be to provide the following:
  • Know their Strengths and weaknesses - Talk to your team members one on one, know who they are and what’s important to them, know their goals and desires.
  • Ownership - Provide opportunities to your team members to own the process, big or small.
  • Be the cheerleader - As a leader, you are the biggest cheerleader of your team. That in itself will do more to encourage your team members and build them up than anything else.
By focusing on these 3 steps, you are on your way to building a solid volunteer team.

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