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Scoutmaster Bob Writes

May 3, 2013

Leading an organization is hard. Leading an all-volunteer organization is even harder. In an organization where there are paid employees, you can count on them to show up and do their job. In an organization staffed with volunteers, it is very difficult to find anyone you can truly count on. As a man I greatly admire used to say, “Bob, the Boy Scouts is a volunteer organization, and you get what you pay for.”

Sadly, every Troop experiences difficulties in getting things done from time to time. All too often, the work is much and the workers are few. To get tasks done and make sure all of the details get the attention they deserve, you need people who you can count on. The problem is, you have no authority over them to compel them to do anything they do not want to do, and you have no ability to reward them for a job well done.

The keys to maximizing your volunteer workforce can be boiled down to three principles. Once you understand them, things will work much better in your Troop.

Passion Trumps Everything: Passion is what keeps the Troop running. It’s why I got involved with it in the first place. The same is probably true for you. All of us are passionate about working with Scouts, helping them on their journey from boys to men. We express our passions in different ways. Some love the outdoors, some love teaching merit badges, some have the gift for recruiting or popcorn sales, and some the gift of administration. If you can find an outlet for that passion (for example, getting them to take on a position within your Troop), that is half the battle. How can you keep a group of volunteers going? Purpose.

The Number One job of Leaders is to Remove Obstacles: When you have neither carrots nor sticks to fall back on for motivation, you have to develop a different set of management skills. Fanning the flame of their passion is one of them. Another one, though, is figuring out how to clear out the obstacles that prevent people from getting things done. A good leader is not a director, but rather a supporter.

Prevent Burnout: When volunteers get tired, two things happen. They stop communicating and they stop meeting their commitments. If you have a volunteer who has gone quiet or who is missing their deadlines, it is time to mix things up. See if you can find another volunteer to assist with that position. Most of the time, the new passion for the same old thing that a new face brings to the table is enough to get them in gear. If that doesn’t do the trick, let the new person take over the leadership for that position. It will probably be a huge relief for the seasoned veteran, and it will be a fresh challenge for the newbie. In either scenario, it is a win-win for the Troop.

When you align passion and the ability to get the job done, you have done your job as a leader. The only thing left to do is get out of the way.

Scoutmaster Bob




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