Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

Summer semester (ODKM program at George Mason University) has officially come and gone.  As you are pulling together your summer reading list, maybe I can recommend a few gems from my own recently read list.

In no particular order:

1. Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl  – when I first saw this as an assigned text for the Leadership class, I was confused about the relevance, but after reading Frankl’s beautiful work, I think it should be read by all future leaders.

2. Flawless Consulting by Peter Block – this tome is a must read for would be consultants.  I also bought the fieldbook and companion, but I would not recommend it unless you get a great deal on the pair.  Also, I have heard there is a new edition coming out this Fall, so you might want to wait till then to purchase it.

3. Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins – Perkins drove me crazy with his ego and money lust, but he has a great story to tell and a lot of thought provoking commentary.  I chose to buy this one as an e-book, which worked well.

4. Organizational Consulting by Edwin Nevis – Old school OD.  This is the most theory heavy text that we read this semester.  It is a short book, but packed with challenging ideas.  If you need to read this for class, start early and take breaks to absorb the ideas.

We also read a tree’s worth of articles.  I will try to pick out a few to highlight in a future post.


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When I started this class on Leadership I used my own mom as an example of a leader.  My mom is a generous person, particularly with her time.  She gets to know her neighbors and is always ready with advice, something to loan, or to offer a favor.  When we were growing up my mom would recruit my sister and me to shovel the elderly neighbor’s driveway.  As the snow began to melt we would go around to the storm drains and clear the snow so that puddles wouldn’t back up and create unsafe roadways.  As a stay at home mom, or a domestic goddess as she would put it, my mom volunteered at our schools and at programs that we were involved in.

my mom with Ronald McDonald House

My mom at Ronald McDonald House

In addition to giving her own time, my mom is a “network weaver”.  She knows someone for every need.  At the Ronald McDonald House where she now volunteers, she is always recruiting uncles, ex-step-uncles, my dad, friends, and anyone else she can think of to meet the needs of the house.  When her brother came to visit from Washington State, she asked him to meet her at the Ronald McDonald House and when he arrived he got “Tom Sawyered” into fixing the sink! My mom is an essential piece in a healthy vital community.  There are some arguments that tie the growth of nonprofits and professional volunteer managers to the decline of people like my mom and the communities they represent.  There are movements within the formal volunteer sector to do what is called “neighboring” where nonprofits and community organizers actually try to introduce neighbors, assess the assets that exist within a neighborhood, and connect people and resources so that neighbors can work together to address their own problems and fill the gaps.  This model of neighboring and the idea that strong communities are key to preventing social problems and that strong communities are built on neighbor to neighbor helping relationships are connected to the following assumptions:

Assumption: an important part of strong communities are neighbor to neighbor relationships

Assumption: neighbor to neighbor help would be well received

Assumption: local, in person relationships are fundamental

Discussion / Reflection Questions:

If neighbors do not know one another or are even afraid of one another, is it possible to form these bonds?

If my mom moved to a new neighborhood that was not well connected and in which neighborly help was not the norm, how would she be received?

Would she feel compelled to reach out in the ways that she does now?

Is it important that people are connected on the local level?

What if some one is connected to many people around the nation and around the world and is part of a giving network that does not include her own neighborhood?

Is a volunteer leader someone who demonstrates leadership at all levels?

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For my Leadership in a Diverse World class, I am supposed to reflect on this question and look at different perspectives and conceptions of leadership. Since my passion involves volunteer leadership, I will focus the question on what it means to be a volunteer leader.  What are different conceptions of volunteer leadership?

In my daily work at Volunteer Arlington (see note in About Me re: this work not necessarily reflecting the views of Volunteer Arlington), we look to HandsOn Network (HON) for our definition of volunteer leadership, so I will start by reflecting on this definition of volunteer leadership.

HON states on their website:

HandsOn Volunteer Leaders drive social change.  All across our country and our world, people are investing their time, ideas, resources and experiences to lead others in service for social good. HandsOn Volunteer Leaders are trained to lead well managed projects and programs that build on community assets, meet community needs, and provide volunteers with a positive experience so that they continue their journey of service.

Some of the explicit characteristics of volunteer leaders in this statement are:

  • They have followers who are volunteers – they are at least partially responsible for the experience that those volunteer have
  • They are trained by HandsOn Network affiliates
  • They lead projects and programs

Also, the page that lists this quote is “Become a volunteer leader” and includes a link to a toolkit for would-be volunteer leaders.  This implies that volunteer leadership is defined by what you do rather than who you are or what characteristics you have.

Why is it necessary for volunteer leaders to have followers?

  • Is it because we define volunteer leaders by how the act rather than their “being”?  If they recruit and manage other volunteers, then they are volunteer leaders by definition!
    • What about someone who leads by example, by being a good neighbor or a good citizen?
    • We have struggled with this in our volunteer award program in which it is difficult to award people who are dedicated to service, but do not recruit or manage other volunteers.
  • Is it because our metrics in the volunteer management field emphasize the quantity of volunteers mobilized rather than the outcomes or the quality of their experience?
    • Since we are required to distinguish between volunteers and volunteer leaders in our metrics, we must define them differently.  In each situation, it is implied or stated that our goal is to increase the total number of both volunteers and volunteer leaders.

What are the effects of defining a volunteer leader as one that is trained by an organization?

  • It implies that there is training necessary to be a volunteer leader.  Does this create an in-group / out-group phenomenon?  Are we creating a divide between for example faith-based volunteer leaders that are not trained by a HON affiliate and non-faith based individuals who are trained?
  • Does the training serve to justify the role of the organization hosting the training?  When an organization depends on grants or donations for funds, they often must carefully and clearly define what their role is.  Unfortunately in defining what their role is, they inevitably define what their role isn’t which makes it difficult to be innovative or to partner with outside groups.
  • As volunteer management becomes a profession (see the Certificate of Volunteer Administration for a look at how the profession is defined), more volunteer opportunities become professionally managed.  With only one certifying organization, one national conference on volunteerism and service, a few professional journals and training programs; volunteerism is becoming more standardized.  For a large number of individuals in the United States, what it means to volunteer and to be a volunteer leader is being defined by a relatively small network of people and organizations.  How will this affect our experience and understanding of volunteerism and volunteer leadership?  What other perspectives are there and with whom do they resonate?

Why are volunteer leaders defined as leading projects and programs and what are the implications of this?

  • With project toolkits and a large number of national programs available through HON, volunteer leaders fill an important role in a network that is being defined and redefined by the staff and Board of HON.  When a volunteer approaches our office we encourage them to see where they fit into an predefined web of options for volunteers and volunteer leaders.  A few of the goals of this approach are to replicate best practices, maximize existing resources, and to eliminate the duplication of efforts.  These are strategies and goals that we are taught by the for profit sector.  Do they make sense for volunteerism?
  • One thing that this system sets up is a self-perpetuating cycle.  Most organizations that rely on volunteers are not working themselves out of business.  The volunteer roles are defined to support the organization, not to replace it or even to eliminate the cause of the organization’s founding.  To paraphrase Robert Egger, volunteers serve the soup, they do not make the line shorter at the door of the soup kitchen.

This conception of volunteer leadership is meant to be a more grassroots approach that encourages individuals to take the lead rather than relying on paid staff to define the needs of a community project and use volunteers to fill narrowly defined roles.

This model is meant to empower more individuals to follow their passions and become volunteer leaders.  Does the model encourage this?

Note: HandsOn Network is a large organization and actually embraces multiple models of service, including one called “neighboring” which is different from what I have outlined above.  The definition I worked with above is one that we adhere to within our work as a HON affiliate, so it is particularly relevant to my experience working in volunteer management.

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Well, my graduate program keeps moving and I am now in my 3rd semester, studying “Leadership in a Diverse World”.  For this class I will be writing a series of blog posts reflecting on my understanding of leadership and reflecting on the reading that we have regarding leadership.

For the initial post I will be addressing the question: Coming into this class, how did you understand leadership? Who were the people that you most strongly identified with leadership, both in your personal experiences and in the models you received and believed from others (in your education, culture, peers, organizations, media, etc.)?

When I hear the term leadership I think of someone inspiring others, being an exemplary community member, and standing up for their beliefs.  I grew up learning about leadership in the context of community groups and volunteer opportunities.  As I mentioned in class I have often thought as my mom as a good example of a leader.  Although my mom did not often take on roles with formal authority, she has a presence that compels others to contribute to a cause or to engage in the activity that she is involved in.  Since receiving feedback in group dynamics that I am influential in a group, I have realized that my mom and I share this trait.  Even when walking in a group, we often gravitate towards the front, walking confidently in a direction even if it turns out we do not actually know where we are headed.

That example gets into a distinction about leadership.  There are leadership traits such as confidence, communication skills, the ability to influence others, … and then there is the context that a person is in when demonstrating leadership.  What are their motives?  Are they aware that they are perceived as a leader?

Since reading about leadership in ODKM I am now more interested in how individuals perceive their own ability to take ownership and demonstrate leadership.  I am more aware of how frequently we talk about people giving us the authority to do something or empowering us, and I wonder why?  Why do I need to empower volunteers to be volunteer leaders?  If I am empowering someone it implies that I have the power and am transferring it to them.  Why do I have the power in the first place?  Do volunteers feel a need to be empowered or do they already possess the necessary conditions to embrace their own personal leadership and agency?

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