Answer One Question to be a Better Manager

What would I do differently if everyone reporting to me was a volunteer?

Some of the things I learned are:

  • Passion trumps everything: passion is what kept the station running. It’s why I got involved with it in the first place. All of us were passionate about finding music and sharing it with people (or sharing the news, or sports). How can you keep a group of 120 volunteers going? Purpose.
  • You can’t use power: when everyone is a volunteer (with more important things that the should probably be doing!), you can’t force them to do anything. If they don’t like the situation, they’ll quit.
  • The number one job of managers is to remove obstacles: when you have neither carrots nor sticks to fall back on for motivation, you develop a different set of management skills. Finding the things that motivate people is one of them. The big one though is figuring out how to clear out the obstacles that prevent people from getting things done. A good manager is not a director, but rather a supporter.

Most of you aren’t managing all-volunteer organisations, so you may ask: so what? Here’s the thing that I realised though – the more I managed in “real” businesses, the more I realised that all of the lessons I learned at the radio station still held true. Carrots and sticks don’t work very well anymore (see the talk by Dan Pink). Here’s how Douglas Rushkoff puts it in Get Back in the Box:

These top-down, regimented forms of group cohesion could not cope with the complexity of real human beings interacting with one another. Our newfound ability to embrace more complex dynamics changes all this. Instead of trying to get everyon to conform to a simple set of commands, a great manager, organizer, or leader strives to create an environment or provide the tools through which people naturally cooperate.

So answer this question and you’ll be a better manager:

What would I do differently if everyone reporting to me was a volunteer?

Answer that question and act on it to become a better manager.

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