What’s My New Role? A Team Leader? A Volunteer Manager? A Boss?

I‘m at a new place in my career, somewhere I haven’t been since my first years out of college.

My new reality is that I no longer supervise paid staff. My entire team—except for me—is made up of volunteers.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. Actually, I’m humbled to be surrounded by such an incredible team of people. I even feel a new surge of energy as I look towards the future.

Working with volunteers, though, is different than working with paid staff. For one thing, volunteers are typically motivated differently than employees. Volunteer work schedules require greater flexibility. Creating synergy among a virtual team of volunteers also requires greater creativity and demands that we use innovative ways of communicating with each other.

Things are different now and I need to rethink my entire approach.

Yet, whether I’m working with employees or volunteers, I still have to produce results. I have a boss who holds me accountable for achieving success. No excuses.

Currently, I am wrestling with these questions:

  1. What is the mission or purpose of my team? Why do we exist? What would be lost if we were not here?
  2. What does team success look like? What are the key factors that will define our success?
  3. What does the team specifically need from me to achieve the desire results? What is my role? Am I their leader? Am I their manager? Or am I their boss?

Surprisingly, the question I wrestle with most is, “What is my role?”

Years ago, a wise mentor told me, “Never forget there’s a huge difference between leadership and management. You lead people. You manage things.”

With that definition, I do not want to be labeled as a “volunteer manager” because volunteers are, after all, people, not things. Of course, I manage many of the projects we work on together.

If I’m not the team’s manager, am I then their leader? Perhaps, yet I struggle with the underlying connotations of assuming leadership of people who have experience, talents and intelligence that collectively far exceed mine.

And just so you know, I’ve always hated the label “boss” since someone long ago pointed out that the word BOSS, when spelled backwards, is “Double S.O.B.”

I’m not questioning my role based upon a false sense of humility. Neither am I tempted to abdicate my leadership responsibilities. I’m simply asking these questions with a profound realization that I’m part of a really cool team that is much bigger than myself, or than any of us individually. We are creating a new synergy where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Neither do I want to create the false impression that some roles are more valued or important than others. To use a worn cliché, there is no “I” in “TEAM.”

In the weeks and months ahead, my role will evolve as I continue to focus on the team’s mission and what will be required for our ongoing, collective success. On some days, I will function as a team leader. On other days I will be a project manager. At all times, though, I will think of myself as talent scout, a coach, a cheerleader or a keeper of the flame.

In my new reality, I’m looking forward to the next several months as our team takes shape and as we work together to produce impressive results that none of us could achieve individually.

In my new role, the future looks bright. My glory days are not behind me. Rather, my best years are yet to come.

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2 Responses to What’s My New Role? A Team Leader? A Volunteer Manager? A Boss?

  1. kmagette says:

    Nearly all leaders lead a group of people whose experience, talents and intelligence far outweigh their own. But even (and especially!) intelligent, experienced people want a purpose — a vision that depends upon their contribution. Great leaders are those humble enough to listen and learn, but confident enough to articulate that vision and move a team toward it. Go for it!

  2. The title on your nameplate should be “leader.” You don’t want to be a manager. That implies you are “managing” something. A successful organization doesn’t need to be “managed.”
    The leader inspires and guides volunteers to make the right decision. In a perfect world, the volunteers won’t know they have been “managed.”
    It’s too easy for a volunteer to get frustrated since they don’t have some of the “carrots” that paid people have…salary, hope for promotion. They’re in it because they feel a passion and the lack of tangible rewards makes it too easy for any frustration to misdirect the passion.
    There’s only one day a year when the word “boss” should be used, No one wants to pick up donuts for National Leaders Day.

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