Much of learning seems to happen through trial and error, and that’s true of learning to be a leader. We know when something hasn’t gone well, but often we aren’t sure why. Let’s peek into new children’s ministry director Sarah’s first years in leadership to glean the principles she learns along the way.
Sarah recruited a team of 10 volunteer leaders to help her. They all attended her first two meetings, where she enthusiastically told them about her plans for the children’s ministry program. They listened quietly and left at the end of the meeting. At her third meeting, only two volunteers showed up. Sarah was disappointed as she had even more new ideas to tell them about. What happened?
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PRINCIPLE #1: People commit to plans they help make—so plan with people, not for people.
Sarah had never been involved with volunteers before and was unsure of just how to work with unpaid people. She talked to other church staff members and heard these comments: “Volunteers are nice but not necessary.” “Volunteers are more work than they’re worth.” “Volunteers are unreliable.”
The comments influenced her attitude and therefore her behavior toward her volunteers. And her attitude had a dramatic effect on how volunteers felt about working with her.
PRINCIPLE #2: Volunteers aren’t paid-not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.
Sarah is an energetic and enthusiastic person who tends to just jump in and get things done. She knows she should call on her volunteers to take on more responsibility, but she finds herself thinking, It’s quicker and easier just to do it myself. No one does it as well as I do. In the time it takes to train a volunteer I could have the job done, and It’s my job. After all, I’m paid, and they’re not. If Sarah continues as a Lone Ranger, she’ll quickly burn out (which is one of the major reasons church staff leave their jobs).
Sarah (and you) can use these tips for effective delegation.
1. Choose appropriate people for assignments by interviewing and placing paid and volunteer staff carefully, maximizing strengths and minimizing weaknesses. Actively seek out someone who knows more than you do when you need help; then let this person do the job, and be glad when he or she succeeds.
2. Define clearly and creatively the responsibilities delegated to each person.
3. Delegate segments, not bits and pieces.
4. Mutually set goals and standards of performance so you clearly define expectations.
5. Agree on checkpoints and a system for reporting progress and any problems.
6. Give accurate and honest feedback.
7. Support those you lead by sharing knowledge, information, and plans.
8. Provide necessary orientations, training, and recognition.
9. Give those who are responsible for carrying out significant portions of the program a voice in the decision making.
10. Really delegate. Most responsible people, when given a project, don’t appreciate someone looking over their shoulder. Learn to let go!
PRINCIPLE #3: The key to wise leadership is effective delegation. The key to delegation is getting the right person in the right job (based on interests, skills, and passions).
As Sarah watched the initial excitement and commitment of her volunteers wane, she thought, I wish I knew more about motivating people.
PRINCIPLE #4: Leaders don’t create motivation, they unlock it.
Motivation lies within a person and is released when you match the person with the right opportunity and then manage him or her effectively.
An example of good motivation was a project distributing fliers announcing vacation Bible school. Her first year, Sarah recruited a couple of mothers by telling them she was “desperate for help.” The mothers grudgingly distributed the fliers. But this year Sarah applied some things she’d learned about motivation. She knew that being desperate for help is never an effective way to recruit volunteers. She invited several volunteers to help her with a VBS mailing. Over coffee, she told them how important this task was to the children’s ministry mission and how grateful she was for their help. As the volunteers worked, they brainstormed several creative ideas for reaching out to unchurched kids in their neighborhood.
One of my favorite quotations about this important leadership challenge of casting the vision comes from a plaque on the wall of an old English church: “A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A vision and a task is the hope of the world.”