Lionel is the first to admit, he hasn’t been a volunteer manager for very long. “I took this position, because, and I have to be honest, I needed a job and this one sort of fell into my lap. I figured I could work at this a while, you know, use my education to move up into senior management.” Lionel thought for a moment. “Then last Saturday, something really bizarre happened. I had planned on visiting my grandmother in the hospital. It’s a long drive to get there and I had promised her I would come and bring her favorite take out food. She was pretty excited. But then, my friend called and said he had tickets to a concert I really wanted to go to, but that meant blowing off the hospital.” Lionel thoughtfully shook his head. “I was just about to call my grandmother to give her some lame excuse as to why I wasn’t coming, but there was this voice, or thought or feeling, I can’t put my finger on it. I knew I wasn’t going to the concert. I knew I was going to see my grandmother.” Lionel stopped. “The regular guy in me wanted to just have fun and figure it out later. But now, I just can’t explain it. I’m different, I think.”
It’s pretty normal to sometimes hear your mother or uncle or that really tough coach or quirky teacher in your head, telling you to wear clean underwear, or that nothing good ever happens after midnight. But, shhhhh, let’s be honest. (Is the door shut?) Volunteer managers hear lots of voices in our heads.
Spending every working moment inspiring others to do the right thing rubs off on us like the lotion that softens your hands when you massage it onto a loved one’s back. Being an ethical person becomes the mantra that we come to believe, not only for volunteers, but for ourselves as well. And the positive feedback that we receive from clients, volunteers, staff and the community embeds itself deep within our psyche.
It’s akin to having your own Jazz station looping in the background. We feel this choir of voices, all different, all improvising, but somehow tied together by the rhythm of the right thing to do. It is an ethics ensemble that softly invades our thoughts and actions.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We can just as easily become bitter or self-victimizing or burnt out if we only listen to that voice telling us that our work is underappreciated. It’s even possible to become smug while only listening to the praise voices who tell us how wonderful we are or if we only hear the inner voice that claims we are somehow better than the rest of humanity.
But when we steadily and humbly allow the cadence of those impacted by great volunteerism to lead our paths, we tend to pick our own right course. This aspect of volunteer management is not left at the office. It is carried home, a coaching melody shaping our outlook, our actions and our treatment of others.
Sometimes, the best perks are the ones we don’t expect, but find along our way. Hearing all those inspirational voices in our heads is one of those perks.