In 1989, I attended a Pastor's conference at Muskoka Baptist Conference, two hours north of Toronto, ON. At the time, I was an Associate Pastor in a church in Toronto.
The speaker was the pastor of a growing church in La Mesa, CA. I'd never heard of him but I remember one of the first things he said.
Leadership is Influence. Period.
If you've read much in the area of leadership, you know who the speaker was... John Maxwell. This is his cornerstone definition of leadership and its the first chapter in his book, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You (10th Anniversary Edition).
General Stanley McChrystal starts there as well.
Leadership is the art of influencing others. It differs from giving a simple order or managing in that it shapes the longer-term attitudes and behavior of individuals and groups. Effective leaders stir an intangible but very real desire inside people. That drive can be reflected in extraordinary courage, selfless sacrifice and commitment.
They are, of course, both correct. Leadership at its core is influence.
This is no where more true than in a volunteer organization. Positional leadership just doesn't work because there's very little leverage a "leader" can exert over a volunteer. So it has to go deeper.
I saw this first hand in London Ontario where we grew a children's day camp from under 100 kids over two weeks, to almost 700 over two weeks in 5 years. What's more amazing, is that almost everyone of the over 100 people "working" at the day camp were volunteers. How did we achieve such amazing growth over a few short years?
- We believed in the "why". Everyone knew the vision statement and how it impacted the camp. We were committed to seeing it grow and be "amazing" for the kids - every day.
- We had an amazing "product". We really stretched the boundaries of what everyone else was doing at the time. We added climbing walls, a BMX course, tons of games and fun. It was an amazing 2 weeks!
- We celebrated the volunteers in a variety of ways. We did "Counselor of the Day" awards, public recognition of contributions of time, energy and materials, planned well in advance and communicated a LOT.
There's lots more to this story - but the crux of it is this: Over 100 people volunteered for 2 weeks - some even taking vacation time to help.
That's influence. That's Leadership.
One last thought from John Maxwell: "He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk."
Pretty much sums it up.