What Do We Mean by Leadership?

For the past 30 years, I've been reading, writing, and pondering about the topic of leadership. The definition that captures the essence of what I want to suggest for leaders of volunteer programs comes from one of our own colleagues in this program, Mike Murray: "A leader is someone who dreams dreams and has visions and can communicate those to others in such a way that they, of their own free, will say yes!"

Let's examine the critical components of his definition for a moment. Having dreams and visions is not about where we are but where we want to be. That sounds so easy, logical and even fun, so why don't we do more of it in the field of volunteer administration? I would suggest it is because we are too busy doing, surviving, and coping. Who has time to dream except at 2:00 a.m.? Therefore, one of our biggest challenges is to shift our basic paradigm about how we do leadership (not how we talk about it). As you begin your journey as a volunteer manager, make dreaming a priority, not an afterthought! One of our CU program faculty members, John, shared this story at one of our training programs:

On a flight to Chicago John happened to sit next to the head of the Planning Department for McDonald's fast food restaurants. John thought it was a great opportunity to pump the gentleman for information about how they did planning at McDonald's because it was such a hugely successful organization. The man told him that in their corporate headquarters there was a room on the top floor with nothing in it but a sky light and a water bed. Every key manager was required to spend an hour a week on that waterbed looking out the skylight and dreaming. As head of Planning, this executive spent an hour a day on the waterbedit was part of his job description.

Then he added that it was while he was on that waterbed it occurred to him how the trend of zero population growth would affect McDonald's. At the time McDonald's whole ad campaign revolved around kids and Ronald McDonald the clown. It was at that moment that the idea of McDonald's breakfast was born and marketing efforts were redirected towards baby boomers on their way to work.

I suggest the test of a good leader needs to stop being "how much have I done" and become "how many others have I involved?" This entails not doing all the work, but seeing that it is done and done well. This is an enormous and critical shift for volunteer administrators. It is the difference between being a doer and becoming a leader. When you master the skills of delegation and collaborative team building you will begin to have time to dream.

I always find the best way to start dreaming is to ask myself the question "What if . . .?" and let my imagination and energy combine to romp through the possibilities. For example, my current dream is: What if we truly learned to form and utilize collaborative, synergistic teams of volunteers and staff, between churches and agencies, among organizations and sectors in our communities? It boggles my mind what we could accomplish!

The other important concept in Murray's definition of leadership is to communicate your dream to others in such a way that they voluntarily and eagerly say yes! That sounds like volunteer recruitment, doesn't it? Have you ever been motivated to action by a half-hearted, apologetic, tentative presentation? The clearer the vision and the more enthusiastically committed the leader is to it, the more likely it is that people will catch that vision. They have to see, feel, and experience the excitement and clearly understand how they can help make it happen. This is why a good organization mission statement is your most effective and compelling recruitment message. People want to make a difference, and they need to know what you are doing about a cause they can care about.

Warren Bennis once defined vision as "a target that beckons." I have also heard it referred to as "a preferred future." It is that powerful and compelling dream about where we want to go that mobilizes people to help us get there. Every organization and every volunteer program needs a clearly articulated vision and it is the responsibility of leadership to provide it.

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