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Volunteer Power!
We Have It All Backwards
Contagious Volunteer Leadership: How the Volunteer Administrator Instills Vision
By Thomas W. McKee

How many visionary ideas have been left in the clouds because very few catch the passion of the visionary? How many Big Hairy Audacious Goals, to use Jim Collin's description in Good To Great, have been left on a flip chart, a brainstorming list, or in the notes of a speech because no one would follow? Many of these goals were winners, but an idea without passionate follow through is just a dream.

Many visionary ideas never get off the ground because we have it all backwards. What do most leaders do when they have a vision? They make a speech, write an article, or try to inspire others to follow them. This process is all backwards. Making a passionate speech is an important step, but two important steps must precede the public presentation. The three steps of contagious leadership are not only important to inspire others, but the order is very significant.

Step One: Communicate your passion with a hammer

Former president Jimmy Carter demonstrated this step effectively. He wanted people to catch the vision of providing quality housing for the under-resourced people. Rather than giving speeches about his passion, he and his wife Rosalyn picked up hammers, put on overalls and started hitting nails for Habitat for Humanity. After months of embodying his passion, then he started giving speeches. And people listened. How can you not listen to a person who has calluses on his hands?

Step Two: Communicate your passion on a tailgate

When we embody our vision, we can look into the eyes of our friends and potentials volunteers and say, "I am giving my time and energy to the fulfillment to this vision. I'd love you to help me. But even if you don't, I am going to do this. One way or another, I am going to make this happen."

When the person with callused hands has demonstrated the vision sits on the tailgate of a pickup truck and casts a vision to someone else, look out. The one-on-one communication is focused and powerful. If you ask for help in a crowd of 100, everyone else feels that others will get involved. If you ask for help in a group of ten, people will see other volunteers. If you ask for help one-on-one, it is hard to ignore the vision of the leader. Especially when the leader says, "Tom, will you help us? Jon, we need your truck this Saturday. Joan, I need a senior staff position filled and I believe that you could handle it."

Step Three: Communicate your passion in the bully pulpit

The best speakers are storytellers. They keep an audience on the edge of seats as they tell their success stories. And these stories inspire people to action. People want to be a part of a winning team.

What better story to tell than the success of your vision in action already by small band of volunteers who now join in your vision. Then have a few of them share their excitement about what this vision has meant to them. It is hard to argue with success.

Today we have many "bully pulpits." We can speak at our general membership meetings, write articles in our organization publications or newspapers, or speak at local service clubs. If you have a story to tell, people will come to hear you speak.

We have it backwards

We have it backwards. We often make the public announcement first, then ask for volunteers, and then put on the overalls. But when we have demonstrated our passion, recruited a handful of volunteers and then shared the success storyŚlook out. Look what has happened to Habitat for Humanity.

Thomas W. McKee

Tom McKee Tom McKee is president and owner of www.volunteerpower.com a leadership development firm specializing in volunteerism. He has over 40 years of experience in volunteer leadership. Tom began his speaking career to one of the most difficult audiences-high school assemblies. Since those days he has addressed over 1 million people spanning three continents-Africa, Europe and the U.S. Over the past 40 years he has trained over 100,000 leaders how to manage the chaos of change in an organization.

The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer Tom and his son Jonathan are authors of the book, The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer (Group Publishing). The New Breed details the new cultural shift in volunteer management and also includes valuable, applicable resources for leaders, including job descriptions, icebreakers, team-builders and community-building activities, equipping leaders to move forward with confidence and empower valuable volunteers.

About The New Breed:
The New Breed: Understanding and Equipping the 21st Century Volunteer by Jonathan McKee and Thomas W. McKee. Group Publishing. Paperback, 176 pages. ISBN: 978-0764435645. The book can be ordered at www.volunteerpower.com.