God bless those who stick their neck out and put forth the effort to start and organize a group of people with a common interest and do it for the love of the hobby. And God bless those who are willing to put their name on the ballot of a national or multi-national automotive club. You are special people who deserve a lot of respect. But know going in, to be successful, you need to be: a politician, a business person, and yes, part diva. Most importantly, you have to be a true leader.
Just because you volunteer your time, and yes, money in a lot of cases, it does not excuse you from performing at the level of a CEO. Simply put, you are. And your club members are your board of directors and your customers. It’s not an easy task. You’ll be criticized, and there will be disagreement. So, how do you navigate through this and keep, attract, and grow your organization? Leadership is not a natural phenomenon. Some personalities take to it easier than others, but it is a learned behavior. We won’t pretend this article scratches the surface of leadership, but I hope it helps and encourages you to look at your organization and your role in a different light.
First and foremost, do everything you can to do forget the words: me, my, and I. Replace those words with: we, our, and us. The club may be led by you, but the club is not about you—if it becomes about you, its time to let someone else take over.
Be a leader, not a dictator. You will have to make decisions sometimes, but the more input you seek the more people you involve in decisions, the better decisions you will arrive at. People feel better when they contribute to the cause. There are times when decisions have to be made in a split second, but you’re not in Iraq leading a military squadron, it should be rare. Express your opinions, but let it go from there. It can be hard when you find yourself at that junction to allow others to prevail. Two things will happen: You will either find yourself learning something new or if you can change course and gain the respect of those who you allowed to try something their way.
Give clear and concise timelines when you have projects. Open-ended projects tend to never end. Hold people accountable, but be understanding that this is a hobby, not a job. That does not mean you excuse lateness, but it may mean an extension or it may mean you have to get someone else to assist that person. Either way, always be grateful for any effort given to the cause, and never degrade anyone! It serves no purpose except to chase a club member away and there is a good chance your behavior will be noticed by the greater group as threatening.
Understand you are a servant. You are there to serve your membership at the same time you are leading it. If that sounds contrary, it’s not. Although it can be like balancing on the head of a pin at times, you are there to serve your customers and your members. The problem is sometimes we don’t understand who the customer is. As a leader, you can be the customer of a member one minute and those roles can reverse in the next minute. It’s a constant pendulum that takes practice to understand.
Give credit where it is due. By default, a leader gets credit for the work of the group. Make sure you recognize those who deserve to be recognized. By recognition, you motivate people to want to help. Be careful to be consistent in your praise.
Communicate with your group. Let them know you actually care about them and you appreciate them. Remember, life is not about the club and always let the group know that family comes first and that the group supports them. In fact, you are an extended family.
If your group is large enough, put a leadership team in place. At that point, you need a chain of command; however, if you establish one, stick to it. The idea of a chain of command is not to create a hierarchy but to make club business manageable. Try to utilize the strengths of your people, However, do not create positions for anyone. Base your organization on need. To be clear, a chain of command is not meant to isolate you either. On the contrary, it should make you more accessible by offloading tasks others are happy to do. As customers, the organization is fluid in that, on paper you may be at the top, but functionally you will be at the bottom a majority of the time.
Realize everyone is human and will make mistakes. When someone does, treat them with respect. While we sing people’s praises in public, their mistakes are spoken of in private. Speaking of which, you will also make mistakes. Own up to them and apologize. That particular piece is counter to human nature, but it’s a sign of strength, humility, and maturity. If you do make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up either. Fix it and move on.
In the end, you are likely to have some turmoil. If at all possible, sit down and try to resolve issues as early as possible. Confrontation is not a comfortable task, however unavoidable in life. There is a saying “Problems are not like a fine wine; they don’t get better with age”. When you confront someone, stick to the facts and never get angry or emotional. Go in with an open mind and listen before you make a judgment. In the long run, there may be times when you need to ask someone to leave. If you have provided good leadership, those in the group will back you up.
Leadership is not a medal to be worn on your chest, it is a responsibility. As we said, this doesn’t scratch the surface but, If you follow these points, you will do well.