I like listening to the opinions of what ordinary people who are doing extraordinary things so I can learn from what they say. In discussions with builders of Villages they often reveal that engaging neighbors and other community members to donate time and resources is a whole other tactic from supervising a paid workforce. Sometimes they note that they are using skills they might have applied in a prior professional life-but almost always indicate they have to acquire a few new leadership techniques, new leader skills more suited to managing volunteers. Volunteers are not only the programmatic ones recruited to provide support but all the unpaid leaders who work without pay-especially those doing the early the early planning of the Village.
When everything is working well, when leadership is strong and members are active and committed there is so much joy and hope. You feel connected to a group of like-minded others and capable of navigating whatever comes. There is a wonderful enthusiasm for the choices made to stay in one’s neighborhood, to be part of a group. It’s as if life is a bowl of cherries.
Things work well when communication and teamwork happen even among individuals with varying backgrounds. People come together to build a new model with a great variety of professional backgrounds and hope. Just like you can not predict who your next door neighbor might be it is impossible to predict who will volunteer to help establish a program. Often there are those who have worked in non-profits, some nurses, psychotherapists and social workers, teachers, and usually business leaders, scientists and lawyers, or others who have been on advisory boards. The beauty of such a team is their wide and diverse skill set.
Good communication is the center for creating the social glue that is essential for a highly functioning Village. Experienced and insightful leaders know that they must learn to listen to excel as a communicator. Like any organization-some leaders are much better at listening and engaging a large group-while others have trouble allowing shared leadership. Of course in a Village there are multiple leaders so it is important to observe how the group learns to listen and how cooperation is fostered. For some this aspect of leadership is more difficult than for others especially if most of their work experience did not include teamwork or volunteer management. Some of our Village CoP members have shared situations that were challenging with a less than ideal leader or have struggled with some personality characteristics that made group process and team committee work quite difficult.
In listening to the discussions of what those building local Villages are thinking, all of them understand that typically one does not build and maintain a Village alone. Rarely a Village is created by a solo individual-but not usually. The programs that have emerged in Maryland are developed by groups of consumers, practicing self-direction, careful group decision-making and lots of hard work.
To summarize leaders can help their Village thrive if they listen deeply and to support the opportunities that will building connections between members. This is critical in organizations where much of the work conducted is done by volunteers. What we know about volunteers is that they need to feel connected For most programs to thrive there must be relationships of shared commitment, shared values, there must be a sense of trust that together you will stick with it until the Village comes to fruition. The importance of the capacity of the leaders to go beyond just offering guidance and direction and instead to lead in a way that invites cooperation and collaboration is important.
Later after incorporation when a program opens it’s doors for business trust must continue-among the group because you have made a commitment to each other for all the times when the potential challenges of aging show up. For many this level of social commitment is quite new. Some program leaders call this the social glue that makes a Village tick.
Questions for our readers:
What have you noticed about leadership in your Village?
How has your group learned to foster teamwork over a long period of time?
How have you benefitted from the diverse array of backgrounds on your advisory Boards?
Have you rotated leadership roles?
What have you identified as unique for managing volunteers as compared to a paid work team?
What resource guides, books, tools have been most helpful?