Reluctant Leaders

April 11, 2018



Written By: Thom

By Thom Peters

April is National Volunteer Month. Over the next few weeks the Donor By Design Team will be reflecting on the impact volunteers have on our communities and our world. The series begins with Thom reflecting on the qualities of “reluctant leaders.”

Dagnabbit! It’s supposed to be spring but there is cold wet snow falling on the Wisconsin interstate highway.

Then I see the accident.

Judging by the lights of a single police car, the building back up and a number of cars stopped around the accident, it must have happened within the past few minutes. It looks serious. As I drive by, I see the accident victim – whom I hope is OK – with a blanket covering him or her. Surrounding that person is a police officer and five “reluctant leaders.”

I am sure most of us have been in a similar situation. An accident occurs. Maybe we are going too fast to stop and help. Others are behind us and we don’t want to make things worse. Or we come across it and if enough people are assisting, we can stay in our cars warm and dry. But sometimes the timing is such that it is our turn to step up and help. Not reluctant because we don’t want to help. Reluctant because once we step in, we are committed to see it through.

While not life or death in the same manner, we often find ourselves in a campaign with “reluctant leaders.” These are people who want success for their church, organization or cause. But they know once they step in they must be fully committed and they aren’t so sure they have the time, energy or talent. They wonder if they are really needed. Ironically, these are often the same people that have been identified as key influencers this campaign needs to be successful.

What differentiates “reluctant leaders” on an accident scene and how does it translate to volunteer work?

  • Like the first responder with the blanket and the swift phone call to emergency services, the reluctant leader comes forward when they understand they are needed. Show them that they are the exact right person to do the job in that moment.
  • Some see the urgency of the situation in front of them. They know that action must be taken quickly in order to save a life or prevent further injury. Show them the importance of your effort.
  • Some may have believed others will stop and weren’t sure if they would be more hindrance than help but they jumped in anyway. Notice when someone is ready to help and may just need to be asked.
  • Some may be well trained to help, but not sure this situation requires their help as others are there. Show them that this works takes a team.
  • And some may believe this is not all that serious. Show them a vision of how their efforts can have a big impact.

All of us hope that when the time comes, we will step up and do the right thing. When it comes to encouraging reluctant leaders to join in your campaign, remember to show them the urgency of the need, why they are uniquely suited to help and, most importantly, ask for their help.

Got a story of working with (or being) a reluctant leader? Share it in the comments below.


Photo by Tyson Dudley on Unsplash

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 responses to “Reluctant Leaders”

  1. John C Alexander says:

    Thom, my personal reluctant leader story happened in the fall of 1996. I had just joined the Danville Family Y BOD and had been asked to move up to the chair of the annual campaign….and then the CEO resigned and left. I wondered “What had I gotten myself into?” And then retired Kankakee CEO Wes Walker stepped in as our ICEO, and our team increased giving by 40% in that 1997 campaign. The rest of the story is a long one….about how that reluctant guy got sucked into a wonderful Y career….but you’ll have to buy my book to get the details. I’ll reserve a copy for you if I ever write it.

  2. Thom Thom says:

    John, I was there watching some of that going down. Your big problem was you were so infatuated with the Y in Danville & it’s ability to do good that you’d do whatever was needed. That, my friend, is reluctant leader disease & you got yourself a bad case of it. Hanging around with the amazing & wonderful Wes Walker meant you didn’t stand a chance. The Y has been better for it John.