June 22, 2007

Trading Places

I spent today at an all-day conference on elder abuse, part of my volunteer job.

In this volunteer role, I am at the absolute bottom of the pecking order. I am the least experienced of maybe three hundred volunteers. I have a boss, who reports to a series of three managers. The three managers report to a local Director. The local Director reports to the Executive Director, who runs our volunteer program for the entire State of Washington.

When you spend a decade in a leadership position, you view the world one way.

When you are number three hundred out of three hundred, you view the world differently.

In one job, you listen to feedback, you gain consensus, you demonstrate vision, and you make decisions.

When you're number three hundred out of three hundred, you see all the ways things could be different, better. But you're an ant, your job is to move your small piece of soil into place, in harmony with all of the other ants.

You look at the relationships between your leaders. You notice that one Director sits at a table with most of the managers, while another manager sits by herself, halfway across the room. You notice that your Director and the Executive Director never talk, they sit on opposite ends of the conference room. Your managers are constantly leaving the meeting to take cell phone calls. Your co-workers do not exhibit "cell phone" behavior. Some co-workers have interesting comments about the dynamics between your leaders.

When you're number three hundred, you read too much into subtle gestures offered by management. Without the appropriate context or information, you make assumptions.

It would be interesting to have our multichannel leaders spend time in volunteer programs, where they are number three hundred out of three hundred. There are many lessons to be learned at the bottom of the pile, lessons that can be applied to leadership.