To Lead is To Serve

In To Lead is To Serve, Shar McBee talks about the challenges and skills necessary to manage and maintain a volunteer group. I would even go further than that. Since most employees can choose to quit and move on at any time, I feel these same skills are important for ANY people you work with - whether they are paid or not. Every person wants to feel important, wants to feel appreciated. What Shar lists here can work in any type of group situation.

Shar talks about how maintaining a healthy view of the situation is critical. An example she gives is of finding a group of drowning people. You would not sit down and start discussing with them the basics of swimming. Instead, you would throw them a life raft. If people have an immediate need, you meet it. Only when they are ready to learn can you start providing instruction. Before the workers can accomplish anything, basic needs have to be met.

An important message Shar reiterates several times is based on iChing - "to rule truly is to serve". You cannot go around thinking "what can I get out of my volunteers / workers". Rather, you need to think about "the workers need something - what is it? How can I help?" In another example she talks about how you need to meet people where they are, and help them from there. If someone doesn't know a certain skill, it does no good to berate them for the lack or to complain about it. Instead, realize that starting point, teach them the skill, and go from there.

A key reason most volunteers stay is that they get continuous and immediate recognition and appreciation. They like to know that what they are doing is being seen. Everybody likes to be included and welcomed.

Shar offers a variety of helpful tips. If you get discouraged, contact five people and express your gratitude for specific things they've done to help you in the past. It reminds you of the blessings you have and the opportunity you have to help out others.

She also points out that people work best when we show strength first, sweetness later. We need them to respect us first. If you show sweetness first, human nature is for them to walk all over you and see that as a sign of weakness.

Shar explains that the number one reason volunteers quit is they have hurt feelings. The Chinese say that patience is putting breaks on strength. This means you have to hold up, just listen, let them talk. Sympathize. Only then can you start to offer solutions that they will appreciate.

I do have a comment. In one area Shar says, if you're in an accident, to always jump out of the car and say "Gee, I'm sorry" to diffuse the situation. You should NEVER do that. Countless research has shown that this can easily lead to a lawsuit. You should never express guilt. You should express NEUTRAL concern, such as "are you all right" or "Neither of us needed this today". You should never make any statement that YOU are the one at fault.

Finally, Shar warns that while workers support modest, kind and humble leaders, they delight in taking down pretentious and uppity leaders. It is completely up to you which category you fall into.

A great book for any leader of any type!

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