If you’re like most people, at some time in your life you had a bad boss. And while it’s easy to criticize someone else’s choices it can be humbling to turn that scrutiny on yourself. In a recent HBR article, "The Top Complaints from Employees About Their Leaders”, Lou Solomon wrote about the top communication issues that keep business leaders from being effective.
If you’ve lead a staff of paid individuals this is an important list to examine. But what if you lead volunteers. Does it still apply? Of course it does. When it comes to leading people, pay has less to do with it. Sure, there is the job we have to put food on the table, but we volunteer for different reasons. None of which compensate for poor communication.
So how do you overcome these same communication issues when you are dealing with volunteers?
Say Thank You
Recognize accomplishments in private and public. Send personal cards, hold awards ceremonies, publish a newsletter with your quarterly giving receipts.
Set Clear Expectations
This means clearly articulating what your planned outcome is. Worry less about job descriptions and more about what you are trying to accomplish and how they can help (see "2 Reasons to Stop Building Your Volunteer Org Chart, Plus 1 Alternative").
Give Constructive Criticism
It’s funny how uncomfortable leaders get when it comes to giving volunteers feedback. "But they are volunteers! How can I say anything negative to them?" Funny thing is, if at that very moment I pulled any given volunteer aside and said “Your team leader wants to give you some feedback to help you be more effective, but they think you might find it offensive because your just volunteering.” How do you think they would respond? Constructive supportive criticism can go a long way in increasing your leadership effectiveness.
Honor Their Entire Life, Not Just Their Volunteer Life
What percentage of each volunteer's work week is dedicated to your team? Probably a pretty small number. That leaves a lot of room for a lot of other things to be going on. Work, family, friends, hobbies. Their lives have many facets. Get to know a few of them and ask on a periodic basis.
I’ve always wanted the time a volunteer spent working on one of my teams to be their most enjoyable “work” of their week. I want them to enjoy their volunteer work more than their job. That’s a tall order, and one that I can easily miss…but it’s worth aiming for.
Question of the day: Which communication issue do you find most challenging?