We are told there are many ways to lead, and many types of leaders, and that is true. “Charismatic,” “authoritarian,” “democratic,” etc. There are also many ways to make others do something: force them (police), reward them (work/school), ask them nicely (friends/family), bribe them (politicians/hungry college students). Free food! 🙂
When it comes to working for social change, and especially when working with volunteers (whether creating a Global Brigades club or elsewhere), we often find that we do not have the usual powers to “make” people do things. We cannot mandate that someone comes to a club meeting (“you have to, or else!”), we cannot require that someone volunteer (it’s in the name “volunteer”), and we cannot punish someone for failing to do something (“I will take away 10 of your golden stars!”). Instead, in our field of work we have only one way to get others to take action, and that is through inspiration. I like to call this “leading through the art of inspiration,” and to do this effectively takes three key components.
First, as leaders we must demonstrate Passion. This is the foundation of organizing in the social movement/volunteer world. Without passion we have nothing. With passion, we immediately draw others to the work. “Why is that person so excited?” one might ask. “What are they so passionate about?” Others will become interested, curious, possibly even excited and inspired. In our work, we must always make sure to share our passions openly, and never forget that passion is the reason we are all in this.
Passion alone, however, is not enough. We need the “what” and “why”. The second key to leading through inspiration is Vision (aka Clarity). “I am passionate about traveling abroad to help children with things and stuff” is a pretty unconvincing reason to be passionate. I certainly would not sign up. On the other hand, “I am passionate about traveling to Honduras in August on a 7-day Medical Brigade to provide medical care to rural community members without access to doctors” is an amazing reason to be passionate. I want in, not just because I see your passion, but because I understand your Vision.
Without clear vision, others will be unable to fully understand our goals and will be hesitant to join our projects. “I am thinking about going to Central America this year to help people with medicine” will not get others to act the same way that a clear statement (like the previous one above) will. Lacking complete clarity at the start is OK (and expected), but before we can start a movement, or even organize a large team, we must make sure to conduct a Vision Workshop with our teams to clarify core values, set short-term and long-term goals and create immediate, direct action steps. And that is the third, and final, core component of leading through inspiration: Action (aka Direction).
We are now excited and passionate about an amazing vision that we have. But what next? It is often here that we get lost. We will meet with our team, discuss the vision, get excited, meet next week, discuss again, get more excited, and so forth…but nothing will ever happen. Why? In simplest form, we lack Direction, also known as action steps. It is absolutely critical that at the end of each team meeting, we set aside at least 15 minutes to go over next action steps. An action step must be accomplishable, must have a deadline and must be assigned to a specific person. For example, “get more people involved” is not an action step, it is a goal. On the other hand, “Sandra will send an email out through the Engineering listserv by next Monday at 5pm” is an action step. Then we must hold our teams accountable to these tasks.
Additionally, when getting new people involved, make sure to give them an action step from the start. “We are organizing a 7-day trip to Honduras in August to provide medical care to rural community members without access to doctors.” “Great! I want to get involved! How can I?” Give people a proactive action step that they can take (not just to write down their email addresses). For example: “If you are interested in this, please write me an email with 2 paragraphs about why you would like to join.” Or “if you are interested in this, please join us on Friday for our second meeting.” This puts the pressure on those that want to join, and ensures that we will only get really interested people, rather than wasting our time chasing around people that just wrote down their email address.
Put this into practice and observe the results. I expect that you will see 1) that leading through inspiration is both more fun and more effective than trying to mandate things; 2) that leadership is a skill to be learned over time, not something we are born with; and 3) that others will be drawn to you and inspired by your work, and your movement will grow quickly.
If you want to get started now, write down three action steps you would like to take to make your vision a reality. Good luck to each of you on your journey as a leader, and remember to practice Passion, Clarity and Direction!