The Becker Blog

Volunteer Leadership: A Primer


Last month, I met some remarkable volunteer leaders. It was a great experience. The occasion was a workshop that I gave at the national conference of the Canadian Society of Association Executives on Volunteer Leadership. I love talking to people about their challenges and hearing their stories. Wonderful conversations were had with each round table about what makes a good volunteer leader. People really enjoyed talking with their colleagues on their shared and particular challenges.

The workshop was entitled “From Task to Vision: New Perspectives of Volunteer Leadership”. My vision for the workshop was to bring both business and psychological ideas about leadership to the non-profit sector. We talked about what a leader is and the leadership function within our associations. Many people shared their good and bad experiences in non-profit organizations with other volunteer leaders.

I have noticed – as a volunteer board member and consultant with many working boards through Becker Associates – that we all get bogged down in the tasks of the association. This is important but it is a management function of the board, not the role of leadership. Working boards can easily lose sight of the larger picture of their association’s mandate.

Leadership -CorkBoard

Leadership is about guiding and articulating vision. That vision needs to be externally focused and serve the needs and the interests of members. The peculiarity of volunteer leadership is that one cannot coerce or force anyone to follow. Therefore, vision becomes paramount. Success in being a volunteer leader rests in understanding the motivation and inspiration of other volunteers. Volunteers who share a vision are more motivated. Effectiveness as a volunteer leader also rests on understanding what kind of leader you are and seeing the alignment in your leadership style with the culture of the association.

Leadership is not necessarily a skill that can be learned. Robert Quinn from the Harvard Business Review challenges the prevailing attitude that if we study, identify the qualities and behaviours of great leaders, and model ourselves on the behaviours, we should be able to teach people how to be great leaders. His coaching and research suggests that leadership is a state of being that is more about a mindset than a set of behaviours. We need to enter into being leader.

I will get a chance to experience this first hand. I have just been elected to be the volunteer President of one of my professional associations. Stay tuned over the next year for updates on how well I am walking my talk.

The workshop was such a success that we are converting it into a webinar. Subscribe to our newsletter below if you would like to be informed when we have it up and running. As with all of Becker Associates educational activities, you will come away inspired and with practical knowledge that you can apply immediately to working in your board of directors.

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