Leading by Example: Volunteering to Build Confidence

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Leading by Example: Volunteering to Build Confidence
by: Shelly Joines, CMP

We all probably have a core memory from a day in school where your teacher, extracurricular instructor/coach, or possibly even your family instructed you to “lead by example”. Maybe it’s because you had younger or newer individuals in that group that needed guidance of what was expected. Or perhaps they just couldn’t collect the strength to instruct everyone how to do something correctly for the 100th time. If you were one of my marching band instructors managing over 200 teenagers in the early 2000s, the odds were already stacked against you and I apologize sincerely!


With that concept in mind, I’ve realized that over the last 15 years in association management, leading by example is one of the best ways to grow yourself and your association.

In recent years the expectation to support my associations in new and broader ways has increased. I wondered:

  • How do I become a more comfortable public speaker?
  • How do you show new board members what is expected of them?

I realized that I was already being a servant leader in the local organizations that I volunteer with and that I could lean into those more to gain the experience and understanding that I needed. So I thought of it as “off-site learning”!

Very few people will say that standing in a room of 200-500 of your peers is fun, and they can do it with no preparation. I’m not one of those people! But I’m getting better.

When the Florida Society of Association Executives asked me to speak at roundtables or on panel discussions – I would be terrified. Even worse when I had to get on stage to announce an award winner and write the speech. Last month, I had to give two introductions at a Chi Omega Fraternity founder’s day event in front of 250 women.

Somewhere along the way, I learned, “the only way through is out”. By putting myself in situations of growth and serving with these organizations – I was gaining the experiences and practice that I needed to feel more confident. I will say, if you’re wanting to grow but still want some training wheels or a safety net – I encourage participating in a panel discussion. The group practice and knowing that not all eyes are on you makes the leap a lot less scary.

Take-away: Realize that your board members and committee members may be feeling the exact same way when you ask them for last minute report or to do a speaker introduction in front of their peers. Provide encouragement, time for them to practice where needed and share your learned experiences on what worked best for you.

Do you know the best way to be in a volunteer’s shoes? By actually putting them on! I serve with the Florida Society of Association Executives as a committee chair, Alumni Relations Advisor to the Gamma Chapter of Chi Omega (FSU), and Vice President of the Greater Tallahassee Chi Omega Alumnae Group. And through those opportunities – I’ve greatly come to realize the expectation we can sometimes put on our leaders. Despite them managing their full-time job, and family.

At Partners in Association Management, I know that our staff also serve as committee and board members in a myriad of organizations that are aligned with their values and hobbies – from running/track groups, religious affiliations, local economic groups, humane societies, state and national non-profit associations, and PTOs for just about every school in a 20 mile radius.

By volunteering with an organization that you’re passionate about, you’re going to gain skills and have opportunities for growth, usually in a much smaller and often times more forgiving way. Do this long enough, and two things will happen. One – you’ll truly understand the work-life balance that your members and leaders may struggle with – despite a deadline and project being important to you. Two – you’ll also learn ways to improve your weakness in a safe space – because those with the same values as you want to see you succeed and will cheer you on.

Take-away: The best way to lead volunteers is to be one yourself – and truly understand their challenges.

Leading by example, doesn’t mean that you’re without fault or that you’ve mastered all personal and professional requirements. It means that you’re acting as a mentor – and providing knowledge from learned experiences to the next generation. So I encourage you to join many at our office, and consider serving as a volunteer to something your passionate about. You will be better for it, the organization will flourish from your support, and your business will benefit as well!


ShellyShelly Joines, CMP, has been a Program Manager at Partners in Association Management for nearly 16 years—with the last several years focusing on membership and meeting planning for her state and national trade associations. With her BS in Communication from Florida State University —she uses her creative eye to drive projects and event design.

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