I received an e-mail from a visitor to our web site asking for “your thoughts about leadership within volunteer organizations and what can be learned for people who provide leadership for ‘paid employees.’

Here’s my response:

I have long believed that managers who provide leadership for paid staff can learn a great deal about true leadership from the volunteer sector. A manager gets people to do what needs to be done. A leader gets people to want to do what needs to be done.
I first wrote about “voluntarism” in my book, Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Performance, in the context of providing an environment that nurtures the discretionary effort that leads to outstanding customer service (the only way we can get there). Here’s a passage from the Passion and Commitment chapter of my recent book, The Leader’s Digest: Timeless Principles for Team and Organization Success, which attempts to summarize some of my views on the topic:

Taking an organization from good to great customer service ultimately depends on the people who provide that service. It can only happen through the volunteerism – the willingness to go beyond what is merely required – of people who serve on the front lines. Going from ordinary to extraordinary performance happens through the discretionary efforts of frontline staff deciding to make the thousands of “moment of truth” (any time a customer interacts with the company in person, by phone, or electronically), they manage every day as positively as they possibly can. This enthusiasm, loyalty, or devotion can’t be forced on people. It only happens through a “culture of commitment,” where frontline people reflect to the outside the intense pride and ownership they are experiencing on the inside.