Volunteer Power News Number 40
Author: Thomas W. McKee
"Volunteer Power News" Monthly Newsletter
© 2006 Advantage Point Systems Publishing
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In this Issue:
Workshop Suggestions for Your Volunteer Leaders
Key-Note Address Topics for Your Next Meeting
The following thoughts were stimulated by a letter I received several months ago. I have edited the letter to hit the high points.
I e-mailed the writer of this letter to get more information and also received permission to print the letter, anonymously. The following was my response.
I believe you are dealing with three problems and often these problems are typical of the volunteer manager:
Problem One: Following a volunteer manager who everyone loved—the walking on water syndrome
Problem One: Living Up to Your Predecessor’s Memory
I identify with this one. In my volunteer management positions I also followed fantastic leaders who everyone loved and people constantly said to me, “But Ed did it this way,” and I wanted to shout, “I’m not Ed.” The first time through I did it all wrong. I was very young and insecure. If Ed did it one way, I would do it the opposite. My first year was hell. In fact my second year wasn’t much better. It took me several years to develop trust, and when I left seven years later I became my replacement’s nightmare. But I learned my lesson and decided that the next time I would not resist someone who everyone really loved.
The second time around, I embraced my predecessor. In fact I would call him and talk with him about how he did things. I even invited him back to address our volunteers. He did. We established a great relationship and on occasion, when someone said to me, “This is the way Gordon did it,” I would call him, and we would laugh over the phone—because he was experiencing the same thing in his new position.
Now, I know that you said that you don’t know where your predecessor is or how to contact her, so I would encourage you to go with the flow. Don’t try to change everything at once and be willing to listen to the great things people say about her. Some people feel that they are disloyal to her memory if they follow you and they need time.
Problem Two: Dealing with a very pro-active, demanding volunteer
My first question to you was, “Does this volunteer leader offend her team?” You responded that she does not and in fact others seem to follow her leadership. Therefore, I am making the assumption that the person you are talking about is very effective and to lose her would be a loss to the organization, even though she is high stress to you.
Leadership is often very lonely at the top. We need affirmation and encouragement and it is nice when our followers (leadership implies that others are following) thank us and affirm our leadership. But that does not always happen.
I recently read Doris Kern Goodwin’s book, Team of Rivals, and I highly recommend this book as one of the most inspiring and insightful books on leadership that I have ever read. It is the story of Abraham Lincoln, and how he recruited a team of his rivals to lead the country during one of the most turbulent times in our history—the Civil War. One of his toughest rivals was Salmon Chase, U.S. Senator and former Governor from Ohio. However, Lincoln choose him as the Secretary of the Treasury. While Chase was on the cabinet, he fabricated false stories about Lincoln because Chase wanted to run against Lincoln again (he had lost the nomination to Lincoln) for President. And the rumors were very hurtful to Lincoln. Many of the newspapers were calling for Lincoln to fire his whole cabinet and his leadership ability was in question. But Lincoln refused to let Chase go because he had a greater mission—winning the war. Chase had the ability to raise money for the Union army, and Lincoln needed him.
I know this is hard to hear, but focus on your mission rather than receiving respect and thank yous from this volunteer. It may be her personality or it may be that she really doesn’t like you. I know that this is much easier advice to give out than to live. But there are times we need to become like the great leader Lincoln and swallow our feelings and pride.
Problem Three: Dealing with the Attitude Trap
Let me be blunt. Never, never, never try to manage attitudes. Most of us are volunteer leaders, not psychologists. There are three problems with dealing with attitudes.
The first problem of dealing with attitudes is “what is normal”.
I could have thought that Betty had a bad attitude because she came to all of our meetings late. I was the chair on a volunteer committee and Betty had a significant assignment. I value being on time because I am always on time. And since I am normal, anyone who is late is not normal. I often make the mistake of setting my “normal” self as the standard of what is the proper behavior and anyone who doesn’t measure up to my standard of “normality” has a bad attitude.
The second problem of dealing with attitudes is “assumptions”
I could have been thinking that Betty had put our committee meeting at a much lower priority and therefore she had a bad attitude. You don’t know another person’s attitude unless you are a mind reader with ESP and you can tell what is going on in a person’s head or between a person’s ears. For example, when a waitress drops a plate noisily on your table at a restaurant, the natural reaction is to comment about her attitude. But Ferdinand F. Fournies says in his book Coaching for Improved Performance, “You don’t know whether the plate was greasy, her arthritis is acting up, or her doctor has just called her with the results of a medical test.”
The third problem of dealing with attitudes is that we fail to focus on the real problem—behaviors.
When you are tempted to deal with attitude ask the question, “What is the behavior that makes me feel that the volunteer has a bad attitude?" And then deal with that behavior. Talk to the person about the behavior that is disrupting the team.
In actuality Betty was one of my best volunteers. She was late to every meeting and it drove us all crazy; however, she was so resourceful, helpful, and passionate about our mission, we always began our meeting on time without her. When Betty arrived we discussed her responsibilities and caught her up to date—with a lot of jokes about what time it was. I know that people have accused me of being an enabler; however, I sometimes felt that Betty just was hard-wired to be late. I have worked with other people who are habitually late, and I have learned to not make the mistake of trying to deal with the attitude (I wouldn’t even know where to start). I need to focus on the behavior that is causing me to think the volunteer has a bad attitude. As a volunteer manager I have to decide if the behavior is really a problem to the team, or if we can live with it to accomplish our mission. In Betty’s case, we decided that we could live with Betty’s behavior.
In your case, be very careful about assuming that this volunteer has an attitude about you. Look at her behavior that makes you think she disrespects you. It may be that she is just a very demanding personality that doesn't waste time in small talk--including a thank you or please. The fact that others are working with her tell me that they recognize this volunteer's strengths and accept her weaknesses. You need to do that also.
Perhaps this very specific advice will help
First, I would encourage you to develop a group of people that you can unload on. I found that when I met with other volunteer managers in associations, we could talk freely and get the emotional support from each other without sharing these confidences within the organization.
Second, I would encourage you not to talk with her about I her attitude. A talk like this could be very difficult for you since she is such a strong personality, and she just might tell you, "hey, get over it." If there are specific behaviors that are a problem, then talk to her about these behaviors. I would keep affirming her leadership and writing her thank-you notes, specifically mentioning her strengths and what she is doing to accomplish your mission.
Third, above all remember, respect can’t be demanded or requested. It comes with time and hard work.
Fourth, I would also encourage you to read my article, "Working with Visionaries."
Volunteer Power Workshops for Your Volunteer Leaders
• Passion and power: How to mobilize the power and passion of the volunteer team.
Key-Note Address Topics (Adapted for your meeting)
Some Cats Got It . . . Some Cats Don’t
The One Thing That All Volunteer Leaders Need to Know
They Don’t Play My Music Anymore
The New Volunteer
Call Thomas W. McKee for Information (916) 987-0359 or e-mail at Tom@volunteerpower.com
Tom McKee is a leading volunteer management speaker, trainer and consultant. You can reach Tom at (916) 987-0359 or e-mail him at email@example.com. Other articles and free resources are available at www.volunteerpower.com.
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