There are common themes to leadership. When your team is comprised of volunteers the value of these guidelines is amplified.
For the last 2 years I have had the privilege of working with a team of 100+ church volunteers each week. From a friendly smile to helping someone find a seat, we work to provide a warm and welcoming environment where people feel like they belong. Keeping volunteers engaged is crucial, and this is what I am learning from the experience.
1. Lead by Appreciation
You cannot over-appreciate your people. It must be genuine and frequent. Write thank you notes, give them a shout out on Facebook, and tell them you are grateful for their servant hearts. Volunteers work hard without compensation. They need to know you see and value their contribution. Acts of appreciation don’t have to be grand. Most of the time volunteers shy away from the spotlight. A simple handshake and a short conversation letting them know you care goes a long way.
2. Lead by Example
Never ask your people to do something you are not willing to do. Sometimes you need to get in the trenches and get your hands dirty. Everyone has their strengths, and it’s best to place people in a role that plays to their natural abilities. But that doesn’t exclude you from jumping in to fill the gaps. If your people see you hesitating to fill a need, they will follow suit and lose respect for your leadership. There is no task that is beneath you. After all, Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. And they walked around all day in sandals.
3. Lead by Delegation
You can’t do everything. This was my biggest area of growth. Even if you are capable in each role on your team, you can’t do everything. And chances are people on your team fulfill these roles better than you. That’s why you are the leader. It’s important that you’re competent and willing to jump in when needed, but you need to let your team serve. Volunteering is a blessing to the one serving as much as to those being served. Don’t rob your team of a blessing.
4. Lead by Learning
You learn more from your team than they do from you. It’s simple math really. There is one of you and many of them. Many people can teach one person a whole lot more than that one person can teach many people. A few of my college professors might disagree, but I’m still paying off student loans so their vote doesn’t count. Odds are there are some wise people on your team whose insight can equip you. Just because they’re volunteers doesn’t mean they aren’t experienced or educated. Perhaps even more so than you.
Working with a team of volunteers presents its own set of unique challenges. However, it’s also a rewarding experience that’ll touch your heart and grow your leadership skills.
Do you work with volunteers? Any words of wisdom you’d add?