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Taking A Leadership Role?

By Kate | Permalink | No Comments | June 28th, 2007 | Trackback

I’ve come across the viewpoint that volunteers should take on leadership roles, and I have to say I have mixed feelings on this - or at least feel that it depends on the context.

On the one hand, especially if you are volunteering independently, the ability to take the initiative is integral. It’s unlikely that someone will be there to lead you through the steps all the time – you need to learn what to do, then do it, and be ready to ask for help or advice if you need it. If this is leadership, then I agree that in this sense it is very important.

On the other hand, it is worth treating other volunteers, staff and locals - and the way they do things - with respect. They may need assistance, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t know what they’re doing.

I remember training a volunteer for a Lost and Found program – not anything too complicated, but a system which the volunteer coordinator had developed on her own and refined over time. She had also trained and build up a network of volunteers over time. I came in at a time convenient for the new volunteer – I was also a volunteer - for a couple of hours to show her the ropes. It took her about an hour to interrupt me to say “There must be a better way to do this.”

It was frustrating to me that someone who had just arrived felt like she had a better plan than the one we had come up with and refined over several months, without any real knowledge of how this worked in practice or fit into the larger work of the organization. It also takes work and time to change things, and she had put in all of an hour before dismissing one way of doing things, which didn’t bode well for future commitment.

Could there have been a better way? Perhaps. But things were done in the way they were for very real reasons, and not due to the incompetence of the other volunteers or coordinator…and her reaction to take charge did not really take this into account. Any workable solution needs to address practical realities, and frankly it can come across as arrogant to just appear and assume you know better.

Based on this experience, and my own experience as a volunteer, I think it’s not a bad idea to get a good idea of how things work before stepping up to a leadership role.

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