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Fire News - Retaining Volunteers: Your Leadership Code

Daniel C Olsen, Senior Consultant

Leading volunteers take outstanding leaders to retain and develop them. You do not pay volunteers a salary. Volunteers join voluntarily. There is no requirement they must stay with you for a specific period of time. It is a challenging task. It takes dedicated and motivated leaders throughout your organization.

Poor or lack of good leadership is often cited as a reason, sometimes the primary reason, volunteers leave an organization.

As a leader, you must positively influence them. And where does it start? It starts with you – their leader.

What is your organization’s Leadership Code of Conduct? How do you explain your Leadership Code of Conduct to others?

Often, individuals will cite their “leadership style” saying it is “Autocratic,’ ‘Bureaucratic,’ ‘Democratic’,’ Laissez-faire.” (There are a total of eight recognized styles from which you can choose including “. Pacesetter,” “Servant,” and “Visionary,”) Your leadership style may have one that is more dominant than the others, but you can adapt and use the style which best suits the personalities, situation and experience you are dealing with at the time.

These styles may sound appropriate; however, they can be evasive. More importantly, what do you believe and demonstrate as a leader? What are your expectations of the members of the organization?

Question: Can you state your Leadership Code…specific behaviors and beliefs you have about leading others and demonstrate on a daily basis?

Right now, take a pen and paper and write them down. I will check back with you in ten minutes…

So, how did you do? It is not an easy exercise…is it. Especially when it comes to being specific.

Yes, your Leadership Code involves your values and beliefs. Your code is what is important to you. What are your priorities? While we may talk about goals and objectives, it may be more important to talk about your priorities. What do you focus upon? What do you spend time doing? What do you avoid doing and put on the back burner?

Your leadership is a model for all members, both in formal positions of leadership. It is important every member understands how it applies to each of them.

Look at your responses. Check the ones that are task-focused and those that are relationship-focused. Do you have a balance between the two categories? Both are important to being effective as leaders.

Here are twelve examples to consider when developing your personal Leadership Code:

·       Integrity- I stand true to my beliefs and principles, irrespective of the circumstances

·       Influence- I am a positive influence on others

·       Innovative I overcome obstacles and develop solutions

·       Priorities -I know what is important

·       Plan -I have a clear plan and direction

·       Perform – I am committed to excellence

·       Positive thought pattern – I am optimistic. General Colin Powell believed “perpetual optimism is a force multiplier”

·       Continuous Improvement I seek to continuously improve

·       Coach – I develop others and provide constructive feedback

·       Collaborate – We work together as an effective team

·       Communicate – I provide clear two-way communication

·       Consistent behavior – I am consistent in my speech and actions

To increase your effectiveness, turn your code into affirmations. Affirmations are statements that are short, personal, positive, and stated in the present tense. If you add passion, you are entitled to bonus points.

Remember, a leadership code is not only for those in formal leadership positions, but a leadership code is also for everyone in the organization. Remember, a leader influences others.

Every member of your organization influences others. Therefore, each member should consider their influence on others and their impact as a leader. Each member should share the Leadership Code or develop their own.


Develop your Leadership Code. Carefully choose the principles you choose to build your leadership upon.

Demonstrate your Leadership Code of Conduct on a consistent basis.

Know your Leadership Code and apply it daily through thought, words, and actions. Be enthusiastic about your Code.

Through your words and actions influence others and lead that way.