Spot Potential Leaders in Your Volunteer Team

spot potential leaders

In these times of falling recruitment rates, limited resources and increasing demand for services, it’s becoming harder and harder to really make an impact. Being able to spot potential leaders within your volunteer team can make a significant difference in advancing your mission.

I’ve often heard the saying that you don’t want “too many cooks in the kitchen”. If there are too many people making decisions, the theory is, then everything will devolve into chaos. If you look at large, successful restaurants, though, they all have multiple cooks working together. The key is to have one head cook, and multiple junior cooks in charge of specific areas.

The same is true in volunteer programs. You, as the leader of volunteers, only have so much time and brainpower. You are limited in what you can do by yourself. Having junior leaders reporting to you spreads your influence and increases the impact of the organisation.

But how do you spot potential leaders?

Not every volunteer in your program will be suitable for taking on a leadership role. A surprising number, though, may be quietly going about their roles, just waiting to be noticed.

In my nearly 30 years leading volunteers, I’ve identified some key traits that indicate that someone may be ready to become a leader. Here are 14 signs to watch for:

1. They’re a proactive problem solver.

Rather than just coming to you with problems, do they also bring suggestions for solving those problems? Potential leaders don’t just point out where things are broken; they actively seek solutions.

2. They have effective communication skills.

Are they comfortable speaking up both in groups and one-on-one? Is the information they bring forward relevant and useful? Strong communication is vital for leadership, and those who have mastered this skill are prime candidates.

3. They have an eagerness to learn and grow.

If you have a volunteer on your team who is always looking to improve themselves, take note. A passion for learning and growth is a hallmark of great leaders.

4. They have an ability to inspire and motivate others.

Do others look to them for inspiration and support? Those who naturally motivate others often have innate leadership qualities.

5. They demonstrate empathy.

Can they understand and relate to others, even those from very different backgrounds? Empathy is a key leadership skill, allowing for more effective team engagement.

6. They take ownership and accountability.

Do they admit their failures, and share the lessons they learned from them? Leaders take responsibility for their actions and decisions, and use the lessons in them to continuously improve.

7. They think strategically.

Expecting them to be “visionary” may be too much to ask for, but they should be able to see the bigger picture. Do they understand the long term consequences of a decision, not just the immediate benefit? The ability to think strategically is essential for leadership.

8. They show resilience.

How do they react under pressure? Can they recover quickly when things go wrong? Leaders demonstrate resilience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks.

9. They are reliable and dependable.

Can you count on them consistently? Will they show up when say they will, and do they follow through on their commitments? Reliability is a critical trait that builds trust and respect.

10. They encourage collaboration and teamwork.

Do they excel in team settings? To make the changes in our communities that we are working toward, we need to have everyone working together. Potential leaders are adept at collaboration, aligning people towards a common goal.

11. They easily adapt to change.

Are they flexible and adaptable? The social impact world is dynamic, and leaders must be able to change with it comfortably.

12. They are confident without being arrogant.

Do they display the right balance of confidence? They need to be sure of themselves but not high-handed. Confidence is key, but it must be tempered with humility.

13. They have strong decision-making abilities.

Can they make effective decisions quickly? Decisiveness is a critical skill for leaders. Especially in emergency situations.

14. They demonstrate integrity.

Do they stand by their and the organisation’s values? True leaders exhibit integrity in all their actions.

I know, it’s a lot.

You may not be able to find even a handful of volunteers with every one of these traits. If you find someone, though, with most or many of them, you can help them fill in the missing pieces.

When you spot potential leaders within your volunteer team and you invest in their development, it can yield significant benefits to them, your organisation and the whole community.

Leadership potential often lies dormant, just waiting to be recognised and nurtured. Spotting and cultivating this potential is a testament to your own leadership ability. I hope this list of traits makes that easier for you.

Good luck!

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