Leading an Army of Volunteers

I used to think there was a difference between leading a team of volunteers and managing employees.

Yes, it’s true that you have the power to fire employees. (And then there’s always the volunteers you only WISH you could fire!)

The reality is that if you’ve resorted to threats and punitive measures to “motivate” your team, you’re not a leader, you’re a dictator. History tells us dictators don’t build productive, happy teams that are sustainable.

I have a two word assessment for you. Provoke or Rebuke. What’s it going to be?

In the original meaning of these words, provoke means to ” call forth, challenge”. Rebuke means to “repel, beat back”. It’s pretty clear that to provoke creates a forward motion and stirs people to action. A rebuke does quite the opposite.

The etymology lesson is over and I’ll tell you the story behind this post. I was rebuked last week by someone who “had my best interests in mind.” This person was trying to motivate me to do something by being critical. You can guess what my reaction was. No action. Instead of going forward, I pulled back.

So, next time you’re tempted to pull rank as a way to get people moving in the right direction, consider the fact that you’re leading an army of volunteers. Motivating the team is one of the virtues of a good leader. And when it comes to followers, they’re all volunteers.

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