Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Leadership styles

The style adopted by the leaders within an organisation can either support or inhibit the work. Organisations with a maternity focus draw most of their committee and members from the people most interested in maternity issues: mothers and midwives. Some volunteers come into both categories. Occasionally a person whose 'tag' is father, or granny, or something else, will put up their hand to work to achieve the purposes of the association.

The hormonally-driven behaviours common to mothering across many animal species encourage a mother to protect her own young. The bonding between a mother and her infant, resulting in focused attention of that mother to that baby without limit, is a natural phenomenon that no modern technology or systems can replace. Midwives encourage new mothers to listen to the intuitive promptings within their relationsips with their babies.

Mothers of babies and young children are unlikely to be able to devote vast periods of time to voluntary work. Most volunteer mothers and midwives have complex sets of commitments to their families, their paid jobs, and their personal interests. Most volunteer mothers find time when their children are asleep to go to their computers, read messages, write replies, make phone calls, and do the work they have committed themselves to.

A leader who encourages others to engage in the work they have committed to, and to give their best to the work is at the same time supporting the newer volunteers to improve their capacity in that work. A leader who undermines the work of a volunteer, or who takes a strongly authoritarian position (sometimes called micro management), will find a diminishing supply of voluntary workers.

A leader who recognises potential in a person who is showing some interest in the work, and who mentors and guides by example, will find others who take up the challenge of the work, and who develop new skills and new confidence over time.

I have found that there is usually far more work that could be possibly done within a voluntary association, than capacity within the people who are active at any time. We always face limitations, both personal and financial. Each group needs to prioritise, and the activities planned will usually be those that match the interests and abilities of the committee at the time. A leader or president who lacks trust in others' ability to act on behalf of the organisation is in fact limiting the work of the organisation to what she or he can perform. That leader can only continue if the committee is willing to 'rubber stamp' any plan suggested by their president. A leader who facilitates and enables others to take responsibile action multiplies the potential output of the group.

There is no place for carelessness in a voluntary association. There is no place for "I'm just a volunteer". An action that is agreed upon should be carried out to the best of the ability of the person who agrees to do it. All who take on roles in the organisation are expected to be accountable, and to act in the interests of the group.

In considering leadership style I recognise that I am seeing the issues from a midwife's perspective, not that of a business person. A midwife develops a relationship with each woman, and learns to work in harmony with the woman's own strengths and weaknesses to promote natural physiological processes. A business executive, on the other hand, has definite expectations of performance and outcomes.

An organisation that seeks to improve the maternity experience in some way for mothers and babies, or for families, does well to model itself on the mother-midwife partnership in promoting normal birth. I would encourage all who commit to such work to truly value each other, in whatever capacity you and other committee members are able to work. There are practical ways that each person can contribute to achieving an organisation's purposes and goals.

No comments: