The “Volunteer” Follower

“The broadest, and maybe the most meaningful definition of volunteering:  Doing more than you have to because you want to, in a cause you consider good.”

― Ivan Scheier

volunteer handsVolunteers come to an organization unencumbered by hierarchy or bureaucracy or compensation.  They give of themselves for the good of the cause.   They think in terms of contribution – not competition.

Leaders – Would you use those same words to characterize the thoughts and actions of your team?   Do your followers have a volunteer mindset?  Are they truly passionate about the vision, or are they followers because they need a paycheck and are “supposed” to follow you?

Think about the essence of a volunteer mindset.  What are volunteer behaviors?

  • Share a common vision/mission with the organization and team
  • Believe in the cause
  • Apply knowledge and skills without expectation of monetary reward, but with the satisfaction of contributing to something important
  • Speak of possibility and hope
  • Recognize challenge and then “dig in” to assist in overcoming that challenge
  • Partner
  • Initiate
  • Collaborate
  • Learn from obstacles
  • Celebrate success

And their payment currency is that of accomplishment and contribution.  A volunteer works because he/she believes.

As a leader, how do you cultivate volunteer followers?

  • Volunteer followers are learners.  They value the learning that is inherent in their following role.  We learn from how we are led (whether effective or ineffective).  At times we see “leaders” who are too protective (of one’s own ego, I would imagine) to let team members try something new. Modeling effective leadership and providing opportunities for their followers to learn and grow feeds the volunteer mindset.
  • Leaders of volunteer followers promote the expression of passion within their team.  Typical conversations start with questions about the followers’ strengths and passions and contribution to the mission.  Some “leaders” may be too busy to take the time to build relationships within the team and among team members.  Stepping away from one’s own paradigms and embracing those of the volunteer followers builds diversity of thought and capacity for innovation.
  • Effective communication pulls at the heartstrings of the volunteer follower.  Passion and skills aside, true engagement comes from being a partner.  We often see “leaders” fail to set expectations or give true feedback or become too lazy to demand accountability from every member of the team.  Increasing one’s expertise in transparent and courageous communication boosts the volunteer spirit and contributes to collaborative partnerships.

To all leaders – take a look at your team and ask yourself, do my team members have a volunteer mindset?  If the answer is yes – congratulations and keep up the good work!  If the answer is no – time to shift your leadership paradigm and ignite some passion.  A high performing team is your desired outcome.  It makes your job much easier!

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

― Dwight D. Eisenhower

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2 Comments on “The “Volunteer” Follower”

  1. A thought provoking perspective – great blog and thank you for sharing.


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