Posts Tagged ‘volunteer’

The Leadership Test

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

I recently read a new book titled The Leadership Test, by Timothy R. Clark, Ph.D. A book on leadership may, on its face, not sound very interesting. After all, as Dr. Clark cites in his book, there are literally thousands of books written on the topic of leadership. In fact so many that, “assume[ing] the average width of a book spine is one inch, the stack of books on leadership would be over 30,000 feet high.”  That vivid illustration begs an interesting question however… “Why?” Why so many books and so much thought given to one single subject? And what could a book that, by my measure, is only about a quarter of an inch thick, add to an already crowded space?

Leadership in the non-profit space is, as in the for-profit world, a valuable commodity. The reason we talk so much about it is because we value it so highly, and all too frequently, suffer from its absence. As the author puts it, “Everyone is trying to figure it out. Everybody is looking for the secret.” He then offers a definition that was of particular interest to me as one who relies on people willing to act and, at times, make sacrifices. “Leadership is the process of influencing volunteers to accomplish good things.” If you are not necessarily focused on charity work and the word “volunteer” just reduced your interest in this, stay with me for a moment.

Whether we lead a corporation, small business, charity, classroom or family, we depend upon, in the best scenario, volunteers. Even if you pay employees, there are only three reasons they follow you: they are manipulated, you have effectively persuaded them, or they are coerced. If you view the actions of those who look to you for leadership on this continuum, you can draw a very important lesson on leadership. If your employees, teammates or children, are effectively persuaded, they are now…volunteers. And a volunteer will go to extraordinary lengths to serve the vision of the leader. I find this profoundly simple concept to be of great value.

One more point before I risk spoiling the book: if this manner of leadership is so effective, then why is it so hard to come by? The answer offered, and again in a magnificently simple way… “Leadership puts pressure on the relationship between stewardship and self interest.”  In my chosen field of philanthropic work, I am privileged to work with some of the best hearts…and minds. Self-interest, while it may exist, rarely plays a distracting role in charitable work. But it can, and when it does the process changes. It becomes even more apparent at times outside the charity realm where self-interest has, in the opinion of some, nearly wrecked our economy.

I find this a timely “read” and recommend it as among the very first things you read for 2010 (or the last thing you read in 2009!). It just may cause you to think less of your interests, more of those of others, and in the bargain, you will get more of what you wanted anyway!

-Rick B. Larsen

Giving Time.

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Last fall, it was easy to get bogged down and think that the brink of economic disaster was upon us. At the same time, it was easy to become jaded as story after story ran about companies and people serving their own self interests, which helped spiral into one of the worst economic recessions in world history.

Nine months later, there are glimmers of hope – Standard and Poor reported today that the housing market might be showing the first signs of coming back, stocks have stabilized and the job losses have slowed some. What gives me the most hope, however, is realizing that humanity is still alive – that we as people aren’t letting the economic times get us down, but rather are reaching out to lend a hand to others.

Earlier this week, The Corporation for National and Community Service issued a report on the state of volunteerism throughout the U.S. in 2008. Last year, 61.8 million Americans donated 8 billion hours of service to organizations, neighborhood causes and community action groups, up 1 million from the prior year.

What is most startling – and exciting - however, is the number of people who joined together to solve community problems in less formal ways. Last year saw a more than 30% increase in the number of people joining with neighbors and community members to solve local problems – at a time when many were likely on less-than-solid economic footing themselves.

It is inspiring to hear, it is even more inspiring to see. We are lucky to be based in the state that had the highest rate of volunteerism among every state in the nation – 43.5% of residents donated their time in some fashion to a cause or community endeavor. More than a third of the population of Salt Lake City were actively engaged in volunteer work in 2008 – the third highest rate among large cities. The spirit of people helping people is contageous, and we’re grateful to be based in a community that is so committed to helping others.

Another thing that inspired me as I read this week’s report was the increase in the number of teens and college-aged youth who are volunteering – kids giving back to communities that have raised and nurtured them as they begin life on their own. These survey results and others indicate that the millenial generation really means it when they say they want to see change – they are willing to roll up their sleeves and work alongside everyone else to make an impact in their corners of the world.

With the economy and traditional nonprofit funding sources still on shaky ground, nonprofit organizations are more dependant than ever on people giving of their time – helping keep operations and programming viable as charities shore up reserves and work to help an fill an ever-increasing need.

I have been involved in a number of community organizations over the years – from literacy to helping the blind to youth programming – and my life has been richy blessed as a result. I issue a challenge to all of our readers and supporters to take a few hours of time out of your day this summer and volunteer – in your neighborhood, your community or for an organization that could use your help. Besides the warm fuzzies and feeling of accomplishment you get, it is also a great way to network, meet others and become more aware of what difference you can make as a single person.

Let’s make August a month of giving back – in gratitude and appreciation for everything we have.