Is Volunteer Leadership a Joke?

Sat, Aug 30, 2014 at 9:40PM

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Laughter is the response every time I ask an audience about selecting leaders by, “whoever is absent or whoever leaves the room gets elected.”

The question is not meant to be funny, but the consistent reaction makes my point.

This selection method is all too familiar to nonprofits, associations, and other groups with volunteer leaders.

So, if this is how your leaders are selected, is leadership considered a joke? Can an organization with such a casual approach — or one that picks leaders without much forethought — really be serious about achieving its stated purpose? What kind of process does your organization have for selecting the people in whom it entrusts its future?

Here are three action steps for giving leadership succession the attention it deserves:

  • Make a decision about your organization’s direction.  A clear focus on purpose defines what leadership types are needed.
  • Develop a pool of potential leaders.  Identifying candidates for leadership roles should be an ongoing process. The pool can be a source for future board members, officers, and committee project chairs.
  • Prepare leaders for their roles.  Orientation and training should be provided for each position. Don’t limit preparation to the incoming chair or president.

Every position should have a job description as well as performance expectation.

Have an honest conversation about expectations and amount of time required.  Make sure each individual is comfortable about the task at hand, and is satisfied that he or she can meet the obligations they are signing up for.

Sometimes a “no” may be the best answer when someone is asked to take on a leadership role.  Don’t force the prospect into a “yes” and end up with a position filled by someone who really doesn’t want to be there.

Take advantage of development opportunities such as state or national conferences. Consider using resources who specialize in volunteer leadership training.

Use events and activities as training tools so those with less organizational experience have opportunities to learn.

Don’t lose future leaders by overloading and burning out the overeager new member. Bring them along gradually.

Invite future leaders to sit in on board or other key committee meetings.  Designate someone to serve as a mentor to those in your pool (which is also a great way to involve more experienced members).

Make sure those in leadership roles are succeeding.  Don’t let them “sink or swim.”

By defining direction, creating a leadership pool, and providing preparation, leadership succession will happen by purpose and design, and not by accident!


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User Comments

Succession planning
Hardy, this article is spot on. Planning is critical or an urgent need to fill a Board leadership position fast will leave you with those not truly wanting that role.
Author: / Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 2:29PM
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