Each week, I answer a question submitted by a leader. This week’s question is about a “strong leader” who’s created dysfunction within their team. The challenge appears even greater because the leader in question is serving as a volunteer. I do have a few thoughts – even though you may not like them…
First, I’d like to deal with the issue generically and then move to a few specifics regarding volunteers. I’ll frame my ideas under three headings:
Your Responsibility – If you are accountable for the team in question, you are also responsible to be sure they are well led. If through training, coaching and encouragement, your existing leader cannot lead, he or she will have to be released. You can either change the leader or change the leader. How you go about that change is up to you. What’s not up for debate is the need for good leadership.
The Team’s Responsibility – One of the things every team needs to do is to make their leader aware of what they need in order to excel and what they don’t. You may need to facilitate this exercise for the teams you lead. There are countless ways to accomplish this. One of the most straightforward is to ask the team to tell the leader what they need to: Start Doing, Stop Doing and Continue Doing. Every time I do this, I learn a lot. The team must make its needs known to leadership.
The “Strong Leader's” Responsibility – The leader referred to in your question has accountability in the process as well. He or she is accountable to at least two things: The results you expect the team to generate and to adhere to the cultural norms and values of your organization. Either one without the other is insufficient. Part of your role is to be sure the leader knows BOTH these expectations. In the scenario you outlined when you submitted your question, it sounds like the leader is failing on both. Be sure he or she understands your expectations.
Now, regarding working with volunteers, I think the same principles apply. I’ve seen too many ministries and non-profits flounder because leaders have been unwilling to confront and replace, if necessary, volunteers. I’ve seen entire ministries held hostage by this reluctance to act.
My advice and my practice is to hold volunteers to an even higher standard than you would paid employees. The stakes are usually much higher in the non-profit world. When non-profit leaders fail to act courageously, people starve to death, die of hunger or thirst, or their spiritual destiny may hang in the balance. Serious outcomes demand serious leaders.
The good news – when we cast a compelling vision, provide context, encouragement, resources and appropriate accountability, volunteers, most often, rise to our expectations. People want to be well led – in the marketplace and as volunteers.
Do you need to have a conversation with a “strong leader” under your supervision?