Leadership Limerick: Quit Killing Off the Caring

Every Monday, I offer a leadership limerick, highlighting an idea or strategy about effective leadership in limerick form.

We get involved wherever we care
Joining others whose passions we share

When red tape gets in the way
Of what we could do every day

The frustration hardly seems fair

Coordinating the efforts of volunteers is necessary, but too often coordination becomes control.  Appropriate checks and balances become expansive procedures and roadblocks.  Dee Hock, founder and former CEO of the VISA credit card association, often speaks of the chaotic and orderly dichotomy of organizations … what he refers to as "chaords."

We need organization and we need focus, but given the nature of volunteers, we also need to allow that it may be messier at times than if staff was doing all the work.  What we most definitely do not need are rigid controls that choke off volunteer initiative, passion, and contribution.  We must strive for what Hock refers to as elegantly minimal principles to coordinate the work being done.  Matthew May speaks similarly (if not in broader terms) in his books, The Elegant Solution and In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing.

So take a look at your own systems for coordinating volunteers (or quite frankly, the internal processes used for staff work) and identify how they could be made simpler, less rigid, and more elegant.  Remove or minimize constraints one by one until you reach a point where any additional removal is likely to result in undesirable mayhem.

In his excellent book, Drive, Dan Pink highlights the three components of intrinsic motivation that he believes represent the next operating system for how we get work done in organizations: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.  The future of volunteering just may rest in systems that connect individual caring to organizational purpose, individual mastery to organizational efforts, and that do so in ways maximizing individual autonomy while achieving organizational deadlines.

Now that would be a truly elegant solution.