4 Things Volunteers Wish Leaders Knew
A few years ago I read about an army general upset over his troop’s lack of energy and motivation. A quick investigation pinpointed troop exhaustion as the culprit. The general felt troop’s poor time management led to their lack of sleep, so refused to budge the schedule. Then, one brave soldier asked the general when he found time to sleep. The general explained he often caught a quick catnap while being driven around the base. It was explained to him that no other troop shared that privilege and so did not have the same opportunities to sneak in a nap.
The further a leader gets from where he/she began, the easier it is to forget what it’s like to be at the beginning. One culprit is the Curse of Knowledge. This idea states that once we learn something, it’s almost impossible to remember what it’s like to not know it. For example, just try saying the words to the Happy Birthday song without the music playing in your head.
This is a potential pitfall for any leader working with volunteers. Working at a church for the last 8 years was my life and my passion. So much so, it was sometimes difficult imagining a fellow church attender not serving with that same passion.
I’m not working for a church right now, and so am putting extra energy into our local travel soccer club. Because I typically find myself in a leadership role, serving as a volunteer is a great reminder of what it feels like to be back at the beginning. So, I’d like to share 4 things I’m learning at the bottom- 4 things volunteers wish their leaders knew. I’ll share 2 in this post, and then 2 in a following post.
1. I don’t care as much as you, but I still care
Leaders, your volunteers do care, but probably not as much as you. I care about coaching soccer, but it’s not the #1 time priority in my life. I just shared a post about the three levels of time priority and right now soccer is a level 2. I care, but it’s not the thing I want to sacrifice everything else for. This doesn’t make me a bad person and it doesn’t mean I don’t care. Leaders need to remember that the people in our group do care, but they may care at different levels and we should be ok with that.
2. I probably don’t understand what’s going on (information is gold)
As a leader, you often see the big picture with what’s going on in your organization. So, when little changes happen, it’s not that big of a deal to you. You get what needs to happen, when it needs to happen, and why. But, as a volunteer, I don’t. The further a person is from the top, the more difficult it is to see the big picture. It’s often easy for leaders to assume that volunteers see more of the big picture than they do. As a general rule: Volunteers don’t understand what’s going on or why it’s going on. More information is better than less information.
The better leaders understand and value their volunteers, the easier it will be for a volunteer to serve. Everyone has a thing we love and it’s hard to understand why anyone wouldn’t love that thing. Maybe it’s a movie or a food. I love coconut, but apparently some weird people do not. We presently have a peanut butter ice cream cake sitting in our freezer from my wife’s birthday that no one, but my wife likes. Everyone has a thing. But, the better we respect that just because we love that thing, doesn’t mean everyone should and doesn’t mean our thing is better than their thing. So, just because our volunteers don’t prioritize our thing as much as we do, doesn’t make them wrong or a selfish volunteer.
Also, every leader needs to understand that they have more information than the people below them. It’s so frustrating not understanding what’s going on and why! Communicate, communicate, communicate. Frustrated volunteers will slowly disengage because lack of communication breaks trust. Broken trust is one reason a volunteer gets frustrated and stops serving. One reason potential reason that one volunteer on your team is not serving more is because they feel like they don’t really know what’s going on, so don’t trust enough to invest more. Communication builds trust.