Leadership in Action – Leading the Difference: Employees or Volunteers?

man in blue button-up collar top holding gray laptop bag and holding glass door

A great conversation to have with your team (especially if they are leading their own teams) is around the difference between leading volunteers versus leading employees. Not only does this conversation reveal their underlying leadership philosophy, it highlights their assumptions about their current team. This is a great opportunity for you to think about your own feelings on the subject.

Typically, when we talk about employees, we get the following comments:
• They understand the job they need to do.
• They just want to know what needs to be done and by when.
• They are more reliable because they have to be here.
• They are easier to manage because of the structure.
• They perform better because they do not want to make a mistake.
• They are here for the pay.
• It is easier to manage employees.

When referring to volunteers, we generally hear:
• They can be really passionate about the product.
• They are most connected to why we do the work.
• You have to be careful, as they may not come back.
• It takes too much time to connect their passion with the job that needs to be done today.
• They have their own agenda for why they are here.
• Their performance is inconsistent.
• It is more difficult to manage volunteers.

The net result is a list that suggests employees are easier to manage because they have to be here. They have to listen. While volunteers have great passion, they are not reliable because they do not have to be here. They only show up when they want to.

What we want to recognize is that our employees are volunteers. They might not know it, but they get to choose, every day, whether or not to show up. Many of our employees show up physically, but they don’t show up mentally. When we, as leaders, recognize that our employees have the choice to be here, we change the way we lead them.

See your team members as volunteers. Connect the Dots for them by linking their work to their passion, and to the value your organization brings to the larger community. Tap into their “want to” to benefit from their discretionary energy.