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Mary Biever | One Writing Mother | Tag Archive | leadership
Tag Archive - leadership

Leadership Lessons from The Help

“You’re smart. You’re kind. You’re important,” Abileen often tells Mae Mobley Leefolt, a toddler in The Help. When things don’t go well or Mae is upset, Abileen reminds her of these 3 most important qualities.

What would happen if leaders shared that same message with those they know? We could move mountains.

That simple affirmation validates the other person’s intelligence and worth while inspiring them to be a better person. If we all felt that way and encouraged others to do likewise, imagine the problems we would solve and great things we would achieve.

So my challenge to you is this:

From now till Thanksgiving, every single day, find 3 people in your life and affirm their worth with Abileen’s simple words:

You’re smart. You’re kind. You’re important.

Try it. What do we have to lose?

Great things happen when we affirm the worth of those around us.

See Who Shows Up – Step 1 in Scouting Potential Leaders

Leadershipphoto © 2007 Pedro Ribeiro Simões | more info (via: Wylio)
(First in a series on traits of successful leaders, especially non-profits who seek volunteers)

The most important job of a leader is to find and train your replacement. How do you find the right person?

First, watch who shows up for events. Not just the big events with the sparkly toys that get all the attention. See who shows up to do the work before and after the event, behind the scenes, without seeking any public recognition for effort.

It’s easy to show up for the fun stuff. Or most of the fun stuff.

Leaders realize the fun stuff doesn’t happen if someone doesn’t do the tough stuff first.

“There are four aces in every deck,” I was told years ago. “No matter the organization – its size or its scope – generally about 4 key players keep things going.” Maybe that’s why many organizations have 4 top offices – president, vice president, secretary, and treasurer.

The challenge with most leaders is they are already leading. Most leaders I know are already stretched too thin, especially if they help not-for-profits as a volunteer. They could be great leaders but simply don’t have the time and passion to help you.

The potential leaders who show up most likely have the deepest passion for your cause. Their energy, their time, and their passion follows. As soon as they show up, find ways to uniquely use their talents.

Observe the following the following in new potential leader recruits:

  1. Communication skills – how they relate to others
  2. Work habits – do they go the extra mile and help others?
  3. Work style – what is their work style, and is it a good fit for you? How do they handle stress or tough situations? What stresses them?
  4. Commitment - is this someone who truly wants to help or wants to add a community service line to their resume?
  5. Time frame – some help for a project, a season, a year, a few years, or a lifetime.

The quiet secret of volunteer leadership is you get more than you give. Yes, it’s tough and stressful at times. But whatever you do to help others gives the deep satisfaction of using your talents to help others.

How to Succeed Without Being an Expert

physics for kids: powerful rocket engines on a windy day may not be a good ideaphoto © 2010 woodleywonderworks | more info (via: Wylio)

You don’t have to be an all-around top-notch expert to be successful….if you work with talented, smart people.

Last night at 4-H Tech Club, I was reminded of this.  At this year’s planning meeting, Mark, another leader, suggested we do a hands-on rockets workshop. In the past, we had done workshops on building  rockets and the physics behind them. He suggested a different approach: get a simple rocket for each kid in the club and have each of them build it together. Then at the next meeting, launch them. Then, every kid in the club will have experienced a build and a launch.

Sounded good to me.

One challenge though. I’m an organizer but know nothing about how to build a rocket. And I surely didn’t know how to help 20+ kids, from grades 3 through 12, all build rockets at the same time. Others would need to carry the ball.

Success lesson 1: find smart people who work hard

Mark researched how and what types of rockets to buy. He figured out the best options.

Success lesson 2: don’t micromanage those smart people

Throughout the process, Mark asked for input at key points.

Success lesson 3: careful money management lets you experiment

Our 4-H Tech Club has been careful with every dime of its 3 year existence.  The members are frugal with their dues.  Last year, when we accepted donations from sponsors, we designated them to go towards education. Those donations paid for last night’s rockets. 

Success lesson 4: ask for help when needed

Mark said we needed to find adult team leaders to break the club into smaller groups. So I put out the word to our parents and leaders and said a quiet prayer we would get the help we needed.  The night of the workshop, we divided 20+ kids in 5 small groups.  The club’s top officers, all teens, registered members as they came in, assigned them to groups, and gave them rocket kits.

Each group had an adult team leader and a teen assistant. Our adult helpers included our county’s rockets superintendent, along with a web designer, software programmer, accountant, engineering professor, and middle school math teacher with an engineering background.

Success lesson 5: thank those involved

Last night, twenty members, from ages 9 to 16, built 20 rockets in 2 hours.

This is my thank you

  • to Mark for having a vision and making it a success,
  • to the other leaders and parents who encouraged and helped as needed, and
  • to our members for being a great team.

I’m looking forward to next month’s rocket launch!

Last night’s roll call question for members was where they would like to venture in a rocket. Answers included New Zealand, Pluto, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn. I hope we help our members realize that they can build their dreams, launch their rockets, and go after their dreams.

9 Keys to Strong Leadership

Keys to Leadership

You’re not leadership material. You’ve got the brains but lack the personality. But you can help leaders with your ideas,” I was told decades ago by a family member. As a brownie dropout who wasn’t involved in clubs or organizations, I believed it.

When I did get involved, that advice stayed with me, so for years I happily helped as secretary for organizations.

Six years ago, I was thrown into a leadership position. My kids were in the Evansville Children’s Choir, and their parents’ group needed a president. I had some ideas of where I would like to take the group. So I was elected president and was so scared I nearly peed my pants on the way home after that first meeting.  I was their president two years.

Then I became president of  Vanderburgh County’s 4-H Leaders and just finished two years as their president.

Along the way, I discovered that I could lead and organize. Maybe I didn’t have the experience of prior leaders, but with the mastery of certain keys, I could manage the job.

What makes a successful leader?

  1. Setting. Find the right venues, and be prepared to work a lot with setting up and tearing down tables and chairs.
  2. Dependability. Show up for the job – not just the big splashy ones but the ones that require work, generate sweat, and involve dirt. When you’re willing to tackle the dirty jobs, so are others.
  3. Communication. Use multiple channels of communication – printed agendas, email, social media, and telephone. You get the best results if you reach people where they are at. If you are recruiting volunteers, use mail merge for personal emails to get the best results.
  4. Inspiration. When you give people a cause to believe in, a song to sing, and a joke to laugh at, they will do great things. At every meeting and in every email, include at least one line of the big picture to remind everyone why we work together.
  5. Careful Stewardship. Count every dollar and make every dollar count. Spend money on yourself and your comforts last. Focus dollars first towards accomplishing your mission. When others see you have integrity, they will contribute more of their time, talents, and treasure.
  6. Organization. Maintain calendars so people know when activities are happening. Bylaws and organizational structures help an organization extend beyond personality-driven leadership.
  7. Delegation. Always train your replacements and help others develop the skills to continue after you. Watch like a lifeguard in a pool at events and spot those who seem to be flailing – help them find their niche and contribute their skills.
  8. Humility. Be willing to admit your faults and apologize when you’re wrong.
  9. Fortitude. If you’re the president, that means the buck stops with you. You sometimes have to make the tough calls and have the rough conversations. You’re the one who sometimes has to say no. You set the tone and the boundaries.

What do you think are the most important traits for a leader? Share them in the comments.

Llama Drama and Leadership Training

Her Llama invitation

“I want to have a llama program and llamas for bring a friend night,” my daughter, the new president of an urban 4-H club, told the planning committee last fall.

A city girl turned Future Farmers of America member who participates with a Livestock Club and raises backyard chickens, she wants to study agriculture. After seeing a llama program last year, she’s been obssessed with them.

I stayed out of her way to see what she would do.

She asked the church hosting our meeting’s permission. They said yes.

She scheduled the llama lady. Then she messaged the head leader it was set.

I called to give him warning before he saw her email. Dead silence on the phone. “She told us she wanted it in the planning meeting,” I explained.

“But I didn’t think she was serious!” he answered.

“You’ve known her for years. If you don’t tell her no, she does what she decides. If you do tell her no, she may still do it,” I told him.

I knew the girl who designed her 5th birthday cake with an erupting volcano on a Pacific island filled with palm trees, with cowboys and Indians fighting in canoes off the coast didn’t joke. (Yes, I decorated it.)

The church called. Because the meeting room had carpet, they wanted tarp on the floor.  She assured them and me that the llamas wouldn’t poop indoors. And she packed our tarp.

She drew a llama graphic and created a Facebook event so members could invite friends.

As we spread the tarp, I gasped in panic that it was close to a denim couch. “Won’t they eat the denim couch cushions?” I asked.

“Mother. Llamas are related to camels, not goats,” she admonished me in her strictest voice.

I shut the classroom door, worried the llamas would get loose and charge through the church halls.

Meeting time began. The llamas stayed on the tarp. They did not escape. They did not eat the denim couch. And they did not poop indoors.

And several kids brought friends.

Huge sigh of relief.

A leadership lesson smacked me when it was over.

If we want to groom teen leadership skills in a changing world, sometimes we have to give them space to try their outside the box ideas.

Some fail. Others work. All teach lessons.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Hakuna ma-llama!

5 Reasons Many 4-H Leaders Last

Last night was our county’s 4-H Achievement Banquet, when we recognize members and leaders. In our county of 800 4-H members, we have 127 leaders who have volunteered a combined total of over 1,280 years.  The volunteer who’s served the longest has helped 44 years.

We live in a world where families move and where most of us are so busy a few help with our kids’ activities but immediately quit when they age out. We juggle jobs, sports, families, and friends and simply don’t have time for more.

Why and how are these leaders who last different? The 4-H roots, originally targetted to agricultural communities, explains it. They are the same traits needed by a farmer.

  1. Vision. Tomorrow’s crops begin with today’s seeds.
  2. Effort. Sweat is essential to every successful farm.
  3. Adaptability. We never know what we will need to do for the crop to thrive.
  4. Teamwork. Everyone of all ages worked to keep the farm going.
  5. Humor. Songs, games, and jokes make days on the farm more fun.

How do these apply to 4-H Leaders? Leaders see the young 3rd grader, nervous about a project demonstration and know it’s the beginning of 9 years of public speaking experiences.

4-H members and leaders learn as much by sweating as they do by doing; they are among the hardest workers I know.

When 4-H began, it taught scientific principles to farm families in crop, livestock, and food production. Project areas change with the times. For example, foods projects no longer give a cookbook approach to making the perfect cookie but teach food safety, nutrition, cooking techniques, cooking in other cultures, food science, and consumer awareness.  Project areas also change with the times – rockets, rockets, and more are now projects as 4-H works to raise up 1 million new scientists.

4-H leadership is often a family affair. Many kids grow up helping their parents as leaders, who then become leaders when they grow up. Some new leaders now help their grandparents, who are also still leaders. That stable leadership network offers a crucial safety net to members, both with and without intact families themselves. 

Finally, you never know what 4-H leaders will do next – one year, the door prize at our Christmas party was – a door.

As a Brownie dropout who never lived on a farm, I became a 4-H leader 5 years ago. I hope some day I’ll be the 40 year volunteer, helped across the stage by my grandchildren 4-H leaders, at an achivement banquet.