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~ March 2002 ~
  • Setting Priorities
  • Communication with the Shy
  • Leadership Lessons from Mt Everest

Setting Priorities

Most people who work with volunteers have more tasks to complete than there are work hours. Here is a system to help determine where to start.

  1. Begin by listing tasks that need completion over the next week.
  2. Next, rate the tasks as to its importance. The most important get a ranking of one.
  3. Then assess each task as to when it needs to be completed and rate with one being the things that needs to be done first.
  4. Add the numbers in column one and two and place that number in the last column. This allows you to compare the totals and decide which things need to come first.

Tasks Importance
1 High ---------- Low 3
1 High ---------- Low 3
(Add column 1 & 2)

Communication with the Shy

Shy folks are volunteers, too. Here are some tips for talking with those who are bashful. The tips are designed to increase their comfort level and help them communicate with you.

  • Do not be afraid of silence. Wear a watch with a sweep hand. Allow 15-30 seconds for the person to collect their thoughts before you talk. Silence that is comfortable can make the shy person more comfortable to organize a response.
  • Select a quiet place to talk. Close a door, go to a conference room, reroute phone calls, turn the cell phone or pager off. A calm, quiet environment promotes communication.
  • Slow down your normal speech pattern and the volume. By going more slowly the shy person will feel more comfortable to interject their ideas.
  • Provide the person with an overview of what you want to discuss. "I want you to give me two or three ideas about. . ." This gives them a chance to think about their responses.

Leadership Lessons from Mt Everest

Since the late 1990s, Michael Useem, a professor at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania has been taking 20 business students and executives to the lower slopes of Mt. Everest. Through this experience, the participants translate the abstract concepts of leadership into practice. Useem has written extensively on leadership. Recently he shared some lessons learned from his Mt. Everest experiences in the pages of the Harvard Business Review. 

 Leaders allow the group's needs to provide direction.   For some leaders egos and career can get in the way. Pleasing a supervisor or other professional colleagues can take precedence over the wisdom of the group. A monk left Useem's team with two principles. Leadership is built by serving. When leaders truly serve (pushing down personal needs), there authority often becomes unquestionable.
 Doing nothing is sometimes the wisest action.   Taking a risky action that succeeds often brings reward and promotion. Most leaders are risk takers leaders who encourage people to achieve. However, the effective leader is constantly assessing hazards, seeking means to protect the team and the organization, reining in their own desire to act, when it is necessary.
 Communication needs to stick.   People who manage frequently have a vision for what they want to do. They tell the people with whom they work, including volunteers, but the message fails to stick. When the message is clear to everyone in the organization, "25% more volunteers this year from last year" there is no confusion. Everyone knows the focus. There is no doubt what they are supposed do or what is the goal. Thus, they are not distracted.
 Leading up is essential.   Leaders are not just those at the top of the organization. They exist throughout the organization, and the person managing volunteers is one of them. But leading up can be scary in the hierarchical organization and environment. Some organizational leaders have blind spots and make mistakes because no one is willing to lead up and warn them of pitfalls. Tact, diplomacy, a trusting relationship are required to lead up, but it is also the sign of the effective leader.


Washington State University offers a Volunteer Management Certification Program through the Internet. Individuals around the world can earn a certificate in managing or coordinating volunteers, without leaving home.

For more information, visit Volunteer Today's Portal site, Internet Resources. Look for the Washington State University listing. There is a hot link to their Web site.


The National Association of Volunteer Programs in Local Government (NAVPLG) is an association of administrators, coordinators and directors of volunteer programs in local government. Its purpose is to strengthen volunteer programs in local government through leadership, advocacy, networking and information exchange. NAAVPLG is an affiliate of the National Association of Counties and is seeking affiliate status with the National League of Cities.

Cost is $20 for individuals and $75 for group local government membership. An affiliate membership is $25 and is intended for those who are not local government members but may have an interest in the group. There is a quarterly newsletter, national network, and access to NACo's Volunteerism Project.

For more information contact Glenis Chapin, who is a member of the Executive Committee. She can be reached by phone at 503-588-7990. Be sure to mention you read about this in Volunteer Today.

Copyright 2002 by Nancy Macduff.

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