Are You a Manager or a Leader?

How do you balance managing and leading?As a nonprofiteer and a blogger, I’m often inspired by the thoughts and writings of others.

A couple months ago I stumbled across a great blog post written by Sue Hines on her Management4Volunteers blog. Like all of Sue’s posts, “Management, or Leadership of Volunteers?” is a well-researched, thought-provoking piece that shares ideas for how to be a “fence-sitter,” as she calls it, between management and leadership of volunteers.

The key, Sue implies, is to recognize when to apply management vs. leadership principles as necessary with your volunteers.

I was intrigued by the dichotomy Sue presented between management and leadership, and decided to parse it out here for all of you, and further apply it to your experiences within your organizations.

What’s the Difference Between Management and Leadership?

When working out the delineation between the two, Sue quoted Peter Drucker, one of the pre-eminent management experts of our time:

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

For many of us, it will be useful to think of management as a more day-to-day propostion, the “what, how and when.” Leadership is the why.

A manager focuses on systems and processes to accomplish a goal. A leader focuses on people.

Which One is More Important?

The answer, unsurprisingly, is neither. Both management and leadership are necessary to successfully run a volunteer program (or anything else, for that matter.)

In reality, however, management is the one that usually comes more easily and more often for most of us. It’s easy to get bogged down in the details of being a manager and to forget about how much your volunteers really need a leader.

Good leadership helps your volunteers feel more connected to what they’re doing. It motivates them to do more and to do it well. And with all of this and good leadership, they will feel like sticking around longer.

Also, taking the time to remind yourself to be a leader, to shift your thinking every so often to focus on leadership strategies instead of management strategies, will be refreshing for you, too. It will remind you of the big picture, of how special what you do is, and of the difference you make not just for the community and cause you serve, but for the volunteers with whom you work, as well.

How Can I Be Both?

This isn’t an easy answer, mainly because different things will work for different people who are all at different places on the manager/leader spectrum. Here are some ideas:

  • Professional Development
    In addition to great blogs like Sue’s, there are a number of ways you can equip yourself with the knowledge and tools you need to be successful as a volunteer manager and leader. I especially recommend VolunteerMatch’s Learning Center, with free webinars all year long that cover everything from the basics of volunteer management, to being an advocate for your volunteers at your organization, to evolving your volunteer program for more involvement.
  • Me Time
    As mentioned above, focusing on being a leader has benefits not just for your volunteers, but for you personally, as well. Schedule in some time periodically to reflect on your manager vs. leader balance and how it’s affecting your work. Then decide how it should be adjusted. You’ll emerge from your cocoon more grounded and energized to continue your work.
  • Two-Way Communication
    The best way to learn how to be a great manager is to ask your volunteers. What are their goals? What do they need from you to get there? How can you make their work more effective and more meaningful? Creating authentic, caring relationships with each one of your volunteers is a great way to be a good leader.

Ask yourself right now: Are you usually more manager or leader? How might creating a better balance of the two impact your volunteer program?

(Special thanks to Sue Hines for the excellent inspiration!)