I can remember my very first “official” leadership role. I was about 11 years old and I had just started a housekeeping business with my friends. The challenge was, they didn’t actually want to go knocking on doors and asking people if three 11 year olds could clean their home. So the job fell to me to do it. However, with that job, came the responsibility of leading my team. After all, if they didn’t do a good job of cleaning the house, I was the one that would hear about it.

 

Who’s Laughing Now?

My early attempts at leading were pretty comical when I look back upon them. Rather than confront someone for something they didn’t do right, I’d just do it for them. I was the leader that picked up the slack. However, I always knew I wasn’t meant to be just a follower. I was pretty bad at following directions and was even fired from one of my early positions for thinking I knew more than my supervisors-I didn’t…

 

Coming to Clarity

As I made mistakes and saw how things didn’t work, I began to formulate my leadership model and the beliefs I would ultimately find very successful. I learned as much from role models what TO do and what NOT to do as a leader. From personal development programs and my education in Psychology, I learned how to be a great communicator with those I would lead. And from a lot of reading and study, I found what worked for the most successful leaders I could find.

 

Leading Volunteers

In many cases, my most valuable leadership role has been in working with volunteers. One of my first paid leadership positions was as Parent Education Coordinator for Parents Anonymous, a non-profit that seeks to prevent child abuse by providing a variety of programs to parents and children. My role was to coordinate and lead a team of volunteers who ran the programs offered.

I have also served as the Managing Director for eWomen Network in Phoenix where I managed a volunteer leadership team to support our network of women entrepreneurs and business owners.

In addition, I was President of several non-profit groups serving both children and animals. These positions were not paid positions but demanded the same level of leadership ability to succeed.

Leading volunteers may present challenges that are unique to management. After all, they are there because they WANT to be there and not because they are paid to be there. That makes the decision to leave significantly easier if I don’t treat them right.

Because of my work with volunteers, I learned a valuable leadership lesson that applies to all leaders. Do unto others is critical if you want your team to succeed. It is obvious why you might want to keep a team of volunteers motivated with the work they do. However, it is just as important to keep a team of paid employees motivated. There is a lot of research that now proves this point. Employees don’t want bigger raises, they want more job satisfaction.  Since I never had the opportunity to provide monetary benefits to those individuals whom I lead, my go to was their job satisfaction and deeper needs.

 

What it Looked Like

As a leader, I focus on a few key things. These keys have proved to be invaluable to me in keeping great talent even when they weren’t being paid.

The Right Person

I never randomly assigned a person to a job. I made a commitment to make sure the person who received the task was the best person AND the one who had the capacity to complete the work. The ideal person for the job may not be the person who wants to do the work or they may already be so overworked that the job won’t be done to a high quality standard. It is important to check in with your team to see who can best accomplish the goal for each task and who truly wants to work on that goal.

Open Communication

I learned a great deal about effective communication while working at Parent’s Anonymous. Fortunately, communication for the family is very similar to communication in the workplace. Not all team members communicate or understand things in the same way. As an effective leader, I find it valuable to check in on multiple levels and to leave the doors of non-judgmental communication open.

Delegate, Don’t Abdicate or Micromanage

Leadership is not about assigning a task and then hoping it gets done. An effective leader participates in the entire project by checking in regularly to see what support the team needs and to see how the leader can provide that support. There is a healthy level of supervision that makes the team feel well supported but not babied.

Get Your Own Hands Dirty

I was recently at a local tire shop getting new tires put on my car. The place was incredibly busy with all of the staff running around like crazy. Just as things finally began to slow down, the manager of the store walked out of the back room carrying a pizza box that had just been finished off. While a great leader should not be the one who fixes all the work of a lazy team member, they do need to get in and help out when things get busy.

 

The Do Unto Others Model of Leadership

Ultimately, what I have learned about being a leader is to lead like I prefer to be managed. This means being flexible enough to know what each of my team members needs from me and the style in which they prefer to be managed. It might sound like more work but I have found it to have incredibly rewarding pay off for both myself and my teams.