Wisdom Wednesdays: Transformational Leadership and Volunteerism

by Jim Galvin

You have probably heard the term “transformational leadership” before. It is usually contrasted to “transactional leadership.” Transactional leaders set the goal, make expectations clear and reward positive volunteer behaviors. Transformational leaders do much more. They call volunteers to live at a higher moral level and to give time and energy to a cause beyond themselves. Why settle for transactional leadership when you can be a transformational leader? Good so far.

Here is the problem: Almost all the books and articles on leading volunteers promote transactional leader behavior. Even the ubiquitous advice to thank them. Verbally thanking volunteers is a kind of reward and therefore transactional leadership.

Here is a list of typical best practices you will find in most books:

Typical Advice for Leading Volunteers

  • Clarify expectations about the work to be done
  • Ask for a specific commitment of time
  • Decide if open-ended or commitment with ending date
  • Let them know ahead of time of any additional duties
  • Tell the prospective volunteers what expenses to expect and how reimbursements will be handled
  • Tell them ahead of time of any pre-existing problems
  • Let them know what help, if any, they can expect from you
  • Check with them to see how they are getting along
  • Respect the prospective volunteer’s right to say “No“ •
  • Thank them sincerely and profusely.

Now compare those behaviors to best practices for a transformational leader:

Becoming More Transformational

  • Get to know the volunteers deeply as individuals, why they donate their precious time and what they are passionate about
  • Ask them for solutions to real ministry problems
  • Be positive and uplifting, eliminate sarcastic comments
  • Invite them to be a part of a cause outside of themselves
  • Tell stories about changed lives as a result of their work
  • Set challenging goals
  • Work to create a sense of shared vision
  • Mold the group of volunteers into a high-performing team
  • Be an example they can respect and learn from
  • Make sure you are living according to your values
  • Check to make sure you look and act like a leader.

Volunteerism would function a lot better if we led in a transactional way and added transformational leadership to it. Why not be a transformational leader?

Jim Galvin, Ed.D., founded Galvin & Associates, Inc., in 1999.  Based in Elgin, Ill., he is an organizational consultant specializing in strategy, effectiveness and change.  Jim has been a speaker at several ALDE events.  http://www.galvinandassociates.com

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