Tag Archives: Communication

Leading a team of volunteers

My Dad was sharing his volunteer leadership experience of over 40 years with me. I asked his advice while we were together at IABC’s World Conference in San Diego this month.  I am entering a new leadership role and welcomed his guidance.

I welcome your experience on creating a great volunteer team. Please share your comments and links at the end of this post.

By Tudor Williams, ABC, MC, IABC Fellow

Some years ago, the leader of a political advance team said to me “How do you fire a volunteer?” As the public affairs and media relations guy on the team, my response is you don’t – especially in the rough and tumble of politics. The key to success is to critically select the team you need from the volunteers available at the outset and recruit from your personal and professional network if talent is not available. If you develop your team with care, you will never need to fire a volunteer.

Recently I was the leader of a team of volunteer business professionals. As I served my apprenticeship on the board of directors and then as a junior member of the executive, I decided that, if I was to successfully lead this organization, I needed to have the right talent in the right places.

Learn the various motivations, skills and talents of your volunteers as you get to know and work with each person. In the year prior to assuming the chief executive role, I self examined my personal vision for the organization and what I felt I could contribute. Then I defined the type of support I would need to accomplish a succession plan for future years and long term success.

First, I recruited my vice chair – the person who best complemented my leadership skills and vision. Together we examined what talents and skills we needed on the executive team. If we were going to achieve our goals and make a significant contribution to the business community, we need the right team. Then we aligned existing talent on the board with what we needed. The search was out for what we did not have.

I sat down with every board member, new and old, individually before we assumed our term of office. We defined aspirations and expectations of each other. I took that feedback and outlined my expectations for each member. It was equally important for me to ask what they would need from me to succeed.

The board entered its term of office sharing the vision, knowing our objectives, and knowing their individual role in determining the outcomes of the year. You want a team of volunteers that enjoys what it does, procures results and delivers high levels of volunteer satisfaction, do you homework early.

You can follow Tudor on Twitter @tudorwilliams


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IABC World Conference San Diego – A view from father and son

I had a great time at IABC’s World Conference in San Diego last week. I have fully engaged myself this year with roles on the IABC board, the Research Foundation and speaking at the Conference. The more I serve with IABC, the more I have received.

I had the opportunity to meet interesting, fun and smart people. Each of their stories and points of view enriched my experience. I live in a multi-cultural city but at conference I was working with people from South Africa, Australia, India, England and even a few Americans. Each person brought a valuable uniqueness to our conversations but also a universal value for people and relationships. Thank you IABC staff and volunteers for another great year.

A copy of my session handout.

Take always:
1.    Think about how you are thinking – Jonah Lehrer
2.    Have a passion for what you do – Deborah Tabart
3.    It is easier to grow a familiar behaviour than start a new one – Dr. BJ Fogg
4.    You can choose to be happy – Dr. Marshall Goldsmith

I asked my Dad to share his very different view of the conference.

The IABC Veteran View – What 30 years will teach you
By Tudor Williams, ABC, MC, Fellow

In the past few years, I have been adjusting my balance of work and networking at conference. I now focus 90% on networking and my working role is diminished to just 10%. I win on all counts here. I get to reconnect with some very old friends and outstanding colleagues. I never fail to come away from every encounter with fresh insights into the evolution of our professional world.

1.    I try to do this while enjoying the delights of the city I am in and San Diego has to rate amongst the best.
2.    I make a point of making new friends and getting to know rising stars in the profession.
3.    I appreciate what is changing in the communicators’ world.

One of the benefits of 30 years in the conference trenches is that I can pretty well accomplish my objectives without my conference badge around my neck. I would describe my experience as a recharge of my creative and professional energy. It is pleasure to be part of the IABC family.

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IABC Gold Quill 2011 Lessons Learned – Change that didn’t hurt

In this past month’s issue of Communication World the focus was on change and the role of the professional communicator. The issue contained sage advice and examples of how to support and/or create change. In the light of judging at IABC’s Blue Ribbon Panel this weekend it was re-enforced to me that effective communication involves change. We seek to change attitudes and behaviours. Outcomes sought by Gold Quill entries this year included more votes, sales, saved lives, and ensuring human dignity.

The best and the brightest in the communication profession shared their work to be evaluated by peers. The entries were insightful, well measured and at times inspirational. Some took change resistant environments and effectively matched communication tactics with a process that ushered in new opportunities and achievements.

Our Leader

Other entries helped me think big and dream about what could be. Some campaigns really did change the world. When the winners are released these entries will inspire us all.

Providing communication platforms and being change agents with good research and hutzpah entrants charted new courses but they did not operate alone. Many of the successful communication campaigns were in partnerships with larger movements and other change agents. By listening to the needs of our audiences and our businesses many participated in movements. Communicators enhanced the positive sentiments while minimizing the barriers to success. Communicators were crucial leaders and implementers that led to great outcomes.

A memorable conversation
Blue Ribbon brings together communicators from around the globe. I find my colleagues challenges and insights invaluable. This weekend, I learned from an American adjusting his style to operate effectively in Hong Kong. His story unearthed some vital principles that will help me be successful in Canada. The conversation left me with some questions to contemplate.

  1. How and when should we adjust our approach to meet the culture we are operating in?
  2. Does the culture we are operating in need to be challenged so we can achieve our goals?
  3. Are we evaluating the positive and negative aspects of our own culture?
  4. How is our culture impacting our communications?
  5. Do we have overarching principles as professional communications that apply across cultures?
  6. Am I, North American centric and believe others should conform to my cultural beliefs?

Asking these questions will enable me to understand the needs of those I interact with and adjust or advocate depending on the situation.

Linking Communications to Leadership
Great conversations and great communication entries reminded me that transformational leadership is not asymmetrical. As communicators we have espoused two-way communication for decades as necessary for positive change. Recently, the topic has moved to three-way communication, where the audience communicates with the change agent and with others in the audience. Steve Crescenzo in this month’s Communication World stated this as a new responsibility for communicators to foster.
Interactive communication acknowledges that for leadership to be sustainable the leader and the led both need to change. With the increased emphasis on dynamic feedback and interaction this becomes more likely. Effective communication and leadership both seek to deepen relationships – relationships impact both parties.
My challenge for professional communicators and myself is to be willing to change as part of the communication process. When my audience shapes me, I am able journey into a deeper relationship. The relationship should grow the influence of all parties involved.

Thank you – IABC
To all the wonderful people and minds that make the Gold Quill experience possible, thank you for engaging in the profession and enabling our community of professionals to learn, grow and transform. This weekend many fun stories were told, collectively we encouraged passion and the food in San Francisco fed my growth.

I hope to see many of you in San Diego in June for IABC`s world conference.

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SAS Uses the fundamentals and gets great results

Leadership does not have to be complicated. Asking and responding goes a long way to developing a relationship. Relationships are founded on trust and in an environment of trusting relationships people preform better. It creates great business results and a great place to work.

SAS Tops Fortunes List this year – here is how they survey employees

Regan Interview about survey results

From Mat Wilson’s Regan article

Karen Lee, senior manager of internal communications at SAS, said the #1 spot reaffirmed the role of communications in creating a stellar work environment:

“In an  era of social media where communication is critical, transparency within internal communications at SAS reflects the trust our employees have in our leadership and in one another,” said Lee, who was celebrating the selection with team members before dawn on Thursday.

Every year, managers/clients expect a complicated process or survey. The fact is a simple survey that is discussed, turned into action themes and acted upon creates a positive momentum. Surveys are the most scalable and demonstrable activity an organization can do that proves they are listening and that they care. Today, social media can also do this but the advantage of a survey is the legitimacy that the methodology brings to the conversation. Both should be used and likely in combination to enable a dynamic conversation with employees that encourages innovation and creativity.
Employee Survey Process Achieving Leadership Results Ryan Williams Oct 2007 http://d1.scribdassets.com/ScribdViewer.swf

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I Trust Nothing – You Probably Don’t Either

I was creating a presentation yesterday and came across a problem that I was not expecting. I had just created a series of slides about a coffee company that did a great job of aligning their brand statements with actual behaviour. They had noticed that the majority of customers were using disposable cups and through a great communications program they changed that to achieve 60% travel mug usage in their coffee stores. At the end of this case study I wanted to highlight the point that our behaviour is equal – if not exceedingly more important – when constructing our communication programs. We need to check our performance and enable our brands to align with what we do.

So here was the problem: what image speaks to the reliability or confidence that is created through aligning behaviours and messages? We used to think of Toyota but now what icon do we have?  As a society where are the big images that we instantly recognize as trusted?

The best my group of colleagues and I could come up with was Apple. Are we one corporate failure away from losing trust? Is it even possible, given our human failings, to build iconic images of trust in our media saturated transparent world?  It is possible that we may pay a price for knowing too much and sharing the good and bad sides of everything? Trust is a commodity that we seek to earn and maintain but are we able to achieve consistency and reliability as well? We may have to define trust as honesty about who we are and not the infallibility we may hope to achieve. Trust may really be about managing expectations.

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Leadership Lessons from Lincoln

Leadership is always about people. No matter how much technology we have, the big question is did we connect with followers and do we have influence. Not the influence of power, while sometimes that may be used, an influence that is sustainable, one of leadership.

The aligning of followers aspirations to a higher goal is the process of leadership. The effective leader balances a vision for a better future with the practical realities of their relationship with followers and the relative persuasion that the followers represent. The transformational process has many contemporary and historical examples where societal change is initiated or represented by leaders.

Enduring attributes should remind us to look at the legacy and impact leaders have made. We can learn from the exercise of power, that of influence and the resulting legacy of the different styles.

In Canada, culturally we do not celebrate our leaders. I have always been interested in American heroes/leaders. In Canada, our historical figures do not take on the hero status of the American founders. Our founding Prime Minister is remembered as much for his drinking as he was the political achievement of connecting our country.

My cultural proclivity makes me wonder if my caricature view of American historical figure is accurate. Lincoln is a case of where the more I learn about his leadership, the more remarkable he becomes. He may be a hero that we can learn from and seek to aspire to his leadership abilities.

Here are a few things that struck me about his leadership:


The emancipation proclamation was the right thing to do. In Lincoln’s day it was politically unattainable. At a time of civil war, the north and bordering states needed a unifying message. Large scale social change would not be the most practical agenda.

It appears that from early on in Lincoln’s career he showed sympathy to the abolitionist movement. He was the person in a position to make this change. He had the emancipation policy laid out and shared with his cabinet six months in advance of announcing it. The cabinet was not sure if he was wavering with his delay.  Lincoln was focused on getting the popular support to have this change come to be a reality. He was taking the steps to frame the decision as one of saving the union and depriving the enemies of resources. Not the same aspiration of the abolitionists, but the same result.

He had the patiences to wait until the north would follow. He still had detractors, but he needed the populist mood to be on his side to make this happen. His timing was spectacular. Lincoln’s patiences enables strong support for a tactical change to win the war that became a transformational change to the American society.


Lincoln was an underdog. He was underestimated and built a reputation as a conciliator. He did not let ego get in his way of progressing an agenda. The best example of this was his interaction with one time presidential rival and then Cabinet member Salmon Chase. Chase bad mouthed Lincoln; he kept his own leadership ambition alive and many times threatened resignation.

Lincoln had a purpose for him and he needed Chase’s influence to achieve his goals. He did not turn Chase’s attacks into a personal battle. Most of us would have sent Chase away for disloyalty, inconsistency and sensitivity. Lincoln recognized his value and was humble enough to do want needed to be done to progress his agenda and that of the nation.

Shaping the story

Leaders have to suffer defeat and criticism (this may be a good reminder today). Lincoln had many defeats and in the darkest days of the civil war he stood firm. He worked to unify fighting Generals, encouraged a dejected Cabinet and continued on working the plan. As quoted from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book Team of Rivals “Lincoln withstood the storm of defeat by replacing anguish over an unchangeable past with hope for an uncharted future.” We do not lead with defeat, but from the hope of a better tomorrow and the belief that our actions will make the difference.

Lincoln leaves me with the intentions to be hopeful. I know that we have achieved great things before and will again. I need to be humble in the face of adversity. I will see the right time to act and not just the right action. These lessons will be helpful when guiding businesses or my family.

It is fair to say that we have big challenges around the world today, but the challenges of a fractured country in Lincoln’s day would be more than daunting. I hope our leaders have the similar characteristics to that of Lincoln. It may be possible for the pragmatist to be the one who delivers the vision.

  • Thanks to Ronald Kustra (Proud torch carrier Vancouver 2010 Olympics) for recommending the Team of Rivals, The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It was a great read.
  • The second book that I am reading for the second time is Leadership by James MacGregor Burns (1978). Great books have timeless insights and that is true for this book.

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Symbols work, but few use them at work

As much as I am an optimist, I know that our business world is in a funk. Here is the thing, it is summer and my optimism grows when the sun shines in Vancouver. So if you want to gain that positive momentum back into your work place here is one trick in the leadership trade: Use symbols that support who you want to be and where you want to go. They work to focus and encourage the positive. When done well, they become a point of celebration and encourage progress.

Four great reasons to use symbols:
•    Motivational
•    Fun
•    Values re-enforcing
•    Unites

Ax Handle

Key things for successful symbol implementation:
1.    Be right for the group and the organization
2.    Have a story
3.    Leader shares the story and builds the process
4.    Award it to those that epitomize its symbolism
5.    Build a routine
6.    Look for opportunities for the team members to champion the process
7.    Select things that need to be celebrated

The video tells a story of two different approaches that football teams have used to encourage and celebrate what they wanted to be. Sports teams do this the best in my experience and that is why I use their stories. We can do this at work; it will just be a different symbol, one that is right for you and your team.
Screaming Eagles – D Line
Golden Bears – Defence

Others who have posted on symbols:


Leadership and Symbols By Robert Behn

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