In March of this year, I wrote a blog post titled The 4 Characteristics of a Leader http://www.ecconsultingwy.com/?p=43 . In the post I identified and described four important leadership abilities I hold close, based on my professional experience and research. They are the ability to build positive relationships, the ability to develop and communicate a vision, the ability to be collaborative, and the ability to be adaptable. Recently, while I participated in a grass roots volunteer effort at my daughter’s school, I had the opportunity to personally feel how a participant’s experience is affected by the abilities and effectiveness of the leaders.
Wanting to contribute to and support the PTO of my daughter’s school, I answered an email call for volunteer help for the “43rd annual Halloween Carnival, the largest fundraiser of the year”. Although I never received a follow-up email or any details, I arrived on the indicated day ready to give 3 hours to the effort. As I entered, I observed the PTO leadership focused and hard at work. Recognizing there were not many other volunteers present, I quickly asked what tasks they had for me to do. Surprisingly, the leadership group was not able to immediately come up with a definitive answer. Luckily I had been a volunteer during the previous year’s event, so I was able to find myself a job and got going.
Shortly after I got started, the mother of a kindergartener arrived to help. We were acquainted because her child had been in my preschool class. As we talked, I could tell she was excited to be participating in the effort on behalf of her son and I recognized her potential to become a long term committed PTO volunteer and as an emerging leader. While we were talking she expressed uncertainty as to what she should be doing. She had also asked for an assignment from the PTO leadership and had not been given anything specific to do. I helped her find a job and on we went, a bit confused, but doing what we could. As I continued to set up and later during the event, I could not help but reflect on this situation and recognize that several of the key components of effect leadership were missing.
With respect, I want point out the PTO leadership was working tirelessly to make the annual Halloween Carnival a success. They were dedicated to getting the job done no matter what it took on their part. Even as they were focused on this year’s carnival, they were working on a project to make next year’s setup more streamline. THEY HAD A VISION… The problem was they were not prepared to communicate their vision and delegate responsibility so others could successfully contribute. In the end they did most of the work themselves while the rest of us walked away feeling confused, underutilized, and a bit disrespected. The long-term effect of this type of leadership is a burned out, resentful leadership group and volunteers who are not compelled to come back.
Whether in the workplace or in a volunteer position, people show up, physically and mentally, because they want to contribute to something in a meaningful way. An effective leader respects this desire to contribute and reciprocates with a plan. To do this well, the leader takes the time to build relationships and get to know those with whom they will be working, enabling them to utilize the energy and talents of their team members in the best possible way. In turn, everyone responds by working hard and feeling good about their contribution. The long-term effect of this type of leadership is all participants, including the leaders leave the experience feeling energized and open to next steps and new possibilities.
In the book Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence the authors explain when leaders share their vision to “help people to see how their work fits into the big picture, lending people a clear sense not just that what they do matters, but also why, it maximizes buy-in for the organizations overall long term goals” (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002). Based on my recent PTO experience I have pinpointed a few simple steps that any organization can take to help move them toward maximum buy-in from their team. Leaders must start by recognizing a participant’s willingness to contribute by responding to messages and being prepared when they arrive to participate. Leaders must continue by sharing their overall vision along with a collective list of tasks and responsibilities, asking participants to provide input on how they feel their strengths can be utilized. This sharing of information transforms the leaders vision into a collective vision with each participant understanding how and why they can be involved in a meaningful way. Finally, each task should have a clear goal with a beginning and an end so everyone can feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as they contribute to reaching the collective vision.
When leaders take the time to use their ability to connect and build relationships with their team members, their ability to develop and communicate their vision, and their ability to work collectively and collaboratively, everyone feels valued, creating a foundation for continued and expanded involvement.
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. E., & McKee, A. (2002). Primal leadership: Realizing the
power of emotional intelligence. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School