Leap into Leadership

I led a webinar today for National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) volunteers who lead the association’s networks (formerly called branches, regions, and sections) and committees. We talked about being a leader for today and how that requires us individually to change. The dilemma in preparing such a conversation is that the topic is huge and the time we have to coach our volunteers is so short. Add to that, for many of our volunteer leaders this is part-time, part-time job. 

We responded to this dilemma by focusing leaders on three practical steps and by translating their objectives, particularly for the networks, into seven types of practical tasks.  We know there are a lot of other elements to leadership and so we offered additional resources (including of course Charlene Li’s book Open Leadership). We also know that these busy members need to get this leadership gig under control and our job in coaching them is to simplify where we can.

  1. Define the destination. What does your group need to accomplish? What is your main thing? Stephen Covey is generally credited with first phrasing the strategy “keep your main thing the main thing” and it is perhaps over-used. Still, I consider it the best piece of guidance I can give my volunteer leaders. If they can clearly articulate the main thing, they can accomplish it and they avoid wandering into all kinds of extraneous activities and discussions. Of course, it only works if the whole group shares the “main thing.” That’s the role of the leader – to assure we’re all on the same page. (NB: This is not to say the leader decides the main thing in a vacuum!)
  2. Communicate regularly. I suggest that leaders call each team member frequently and reach out regularly to the group. Use informal and formal channels. Be visible. Be the reminder – the reminder of deadlines, goals, and of the message “why we’re here.”  The value of this can be seen in one of my associations.  Leader A was an engaging leader. She reached out to key volunteers regularly. Had vibrant email exchanges and phone calls. Leader B wasn’t. She was engaged at meetings but relatively unengaged between meetings. Under Leader A, the association met deadlines, broke records and tried a few new things. Well, as you probably have guessed, the results did differ with Leader B.
  3.  Coach your team. This begins with getting to know each team member.  Then, help them get the resources and tools they need to be effective.  This is not about telling team members how to do the job, but rather what their role is in accomplishing the goal. It’s about pointing the way and enabling them to succeed.

The seven concrete tasks that NRPA identified read as a universal list so I offer them here:

  • Contributing documents to the Knowledge Center
  • Contributing to or writing articles for the magazine
  • Identifying topics for webinars and/or online chat sessions
  • Monitoring and answering questions posed in the Knowledge Center and Network sites
  • Identifying research topics
  • Identifying field trends
  • Identifying how the field can help with the new friends model

 We left the group with an action item to gather their leadership team together for two conversations: (1) what is the team’s main thing?and (2) how will we know we were successful (in meeting members’ needs)?

We trust that we’re pointing the way and enabling these members to lead successfully! How do you point the way for leaders?