Volunteers Are The Real Lights This Holiday Season

"A candle loses nothing by lighting another Candle" - James Keller

Just in the past 2 weeks I have seen holiday lights pop up everywhere in every shape, size, and color! As I drive around neighborhoods I'm amazed, and puzzled, how some of the lights ended up where they now hang sparkling away. I love Christmas lights and I wish that most of them would stay up year round. There's nothing like a twinkle in the trees and a warm summer breeze to help me relax and enjoy the night colors of a garden. The glow of  lights always brings a glean to our eyes and wonderment at all the kaleidoscope  of colors. The best part about lights this time of year is the reaction that they bring out in people and the delight in young  happy faces.

There is an endless array of lights to choose from. I remember when I was little we were stuck with the big, colored, hot lights that looked fake and BIG! Now we have LED, color changing, icicle, net, solar, specialty, globe, Princess, Sponge Bob, Mickey Mouse, - the list is endless! What I enjoy is how lights just seem to give and give while twinkling  their hearts out.

What are YOU doing this year to bring out the light in people?

To me, the true bright lights of the season are all the wonderful unsung heroes that volunteer year round to help others. These giving souls kick it into high gear during the holidays and have a passion for making a difference. These "lights" don't ask for recognition or a standing ovation. Volunteers love to bring out the light in others and leave a lasting glow. I have a close friend that runs around this time of year delivering for the Santa Claus girls. She's exhausted but glows after a long day. At my company we had an Angle Tree for those who have so little. The generosity of complete strangers was astounding. The giving bestowed a glow that lasts throughout the holidays. I've seen it so many times - people doing for people.

As I get older I am less enchanted with the holiday season itself, the presents, the relatives, and the Christmas splashed all over for weeks and weeks. What warms me is seeing others give so much of themselves expecting nothing in return. No applause, no spotlight, no newsflashes. Just humans being, well, human. I eat up stories about people doing for other people. Being a light in the dark. Bringing hope and letting others know someone is thinking of them. Why can't the lights shine bright all year?

If volunteers are the lights, then our various charity organizations are colorful bright beacons. These organizations run on passion and their volunteers are their electricity. If you have ever worked with groups of volunteers you know that it's important to keep those 'lights" burning so that your volunteers have the time, energy, and drive to carry the light out to those that need it. Leading volunteers is a gift and you need to keep them glowing and growing in order to help others.
How do you keep the light burning when leading volunteers?
  • Select the right people. Find those that share your vision and understand your mission so they stay on board for the long term.
  • Consistently share your organization's mission and goals. Update your volunteers on your progress.
  • Show your passion, frustrations, hopes, and disappointments. Be human. Be a leader.
  • Help your volunteers connect with each other and feel a part of the group.
  • Help your people to learn and grow with your organization. Keep them informed.
  • Enable your people to  shine all year. Let them know every day how critical they are to your success.
  • Play and have fun. Set up times to socialize with other volunteers to share stories,  struggles, and triumphs.
  • Constantly coach and mentor people. You will lose volunteers if you fail to mentor them and don't consistently connect.
  • Provide professional training and support.
  • Let your people lead. Have them set the direction and become leaders of new volunteers.
  • Say thank you every day.
  • Know how people want to be thanked. Some volunteers cringe at public recognition. Some eat it up!
  • Celebrate wins as a team. Cry on each others shoulders when there's pain.
  • Be approachable and "one" of them. If you are a director remember that titles are just that - letters.
  • Remind yourself that YOU are the electrical current that can keep those volunteers glowing. Keep the lights on!

"A volunteer is like a rare gem. When placed in the right setting and cared for, they will shine and give pleasure to all who see them" - Unknown

Leading volunteers is a gift and such an honor. They are the energy in any organization. I know from experience how easily volunteers slip away and how challenging it is to keep their fire lit. Take care of your people. Help them grow as individuals and in your organization. Challenge them. Thank them every day. Make them feel needed. Empower them to bring your message out into the community. Be the electricity to keep their light glowing.

To all who volunteer all year long.. THANK YOU!

Photo courtesy of newwavegurly via Comfight

Please, Don't Be A Turkey!

"Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow" - Melody Beattie

Photo courtesy of Marfis 75 via compfight

It's turkey time again for Americans. That's on top of all the high caloric food that we all vow to resist but can't! Years ago I finally decided what bugs me about the holidays this time of year. Too many people are thankful just two months out of the year. It's probably only because many of us are"guilted" into showing our thanks or for some, pretending that they are thankful. Being grateful should be a daily occurrence for all of us. Every day we should sit back and reflect even for mere minutes what we are thankful for. Those thanks should focus NOT on the material goods that we hav, but for life, health, family, rewarding work etc.

Not only should we be thankful for all that we have in our lives, we should voice what we are thankful for to those that it really matters - our families, friends, and teams. Make a practice of thanking people every day for what they do. Tell them the impact that they have in your life and those that they are around every day. Lead by example. Show gratitude in every way that you can and it will come around to reward those that you serve.

Showing gratitude has an enormous impact. It builds trust and fosters communication. It costs nothing but means so much. Be sincere or don't bother at all - people can see through falsities. Thanking others is one of the most powerful and empowering things that you can do for people. Start today and offer up at least one thanks every day!

T - Tell them thanks
H - Hand out compliments and empowering words
A - Ask how you can help them
N - Never thank someone publicly if they are shy or scared of attention. Do it privately
K - Kinds word mean more than money to so many and have a lasting effect
S - Say it often and mean it!

Photo courtesy of Cheery Tomato via Comflight

Don't forget that there are so many ways to show gratitude. It can be in person or by sending a note. It can be at the office or to someones home. How about thanking a spouse or family too ? Use your imagination. No matter how you do it, DO IT!

"Give thanks for a little and you will receive a lot" - Hansa Proverb

Are you a Thankful Leader?

photo courtesy of Flickr

"We can always find something to be thankful for, and there may be reasons why we ought to be thankful for even those dispensations which appear dark and frowning" - Albert Barnes

Rose - the flower of gratitude

Sadly, the air is getting cold in the Midwest and I even saw snowflakes yesterday. Augh! Last weekend I said goodbye to my tropical paradise as we closed the pond for the winter and I chopped down my banana trees. The annuals have been pulled out and  my garden continues to slowly die down as the days become shorter. In some ways,  I am thankful for the coming of winter in order to wind down, but look forward to what next Spring will bring!

It's early November and the start of the Holiday Season. The Holiday music is already torturing me even though we just finished trick or treating! Facebook has been telling me what everyone is thankful for every day and will continue to do so for the rest of the month. It could be a long month!

 Unfortunately, too many people wait until the end of the year to think about or even voice what they are thankful for. I've read numerous studies that have shown that if you regularly express gratitude or do something for someone else, it will make you happier and more fulfilled. You may even live a longer life. Gratitude should be a part of our every day lives. Don't wait until the 11th month and wrap it all up in 30 days. Showing gratitude can have a positive and enormous impact on those around you. Make it a habit.

"As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them" - John F Kennedy

One of the areas where I see a strong need to express thanks is in our work lives. Projects loom over us, deadlines shorten, companies work with fewer people, everyone is stressed out, and we have lost the finesse to utter a few simple words - THANK YOU! Worse, it seems that not enough "leaders" even think that they need to express gratitude. They do. Leaders come in all forms, sizes, shapes, and levels. Again, you don't need a fancy title to be a leader. Your thoughts and actions make you a leader. Don't wait until the end of the year or the all employee meeting to say "Thank you".
Your simple words of thanks can have a profound effect on others.
This simple word has to power to.......
  • Positively influence other's engagement and pave the way for their future in your company
  • Offer  meaningful lives for families because people know they are appreciated and families are acknowledged for being supportive
  • Bring out the best in people via engagement, productivity, and willingness to grow
  • Show people that they have overcome hardships and surpassed goals. They beat the odds. You recognize it and express gratitude
  • Your appreciation will shape attitudes, offer new approaches, and bring out new mindsets
  • Gratitude impacts your teams connectivity to their job, goals, purpose, and culture
  • Your words are worth more than money- they are more important than money
  • The work of others offers them a chance to do work that matters. You notice!

Why wouldn't you show gratitude towards others? Not only will it have an immediate impact on others, but it will impact you!
  • Gratitude will impact and improve your health
  • You will find you have stronger and deeper relationships
  • You will be more productive and have a stronger sense of purpose
  • You will leave your mark on the world
Life has a way of engulfing and catching up to all of us. If there were any positives that came out of of the economic downturn of 2008, I feel that we all realized that jobs are precious and those that kept one were exceedingly thankful. Moreover, we were reminded that our employers don't owe us anything. It's critical that we stand up and be the "CEO of Me Inc". I  have worked with, and for, "leaders" that eagerly take their position for granted. They become so wrapped up in themselves and their "leading" that they fail to truly connect with their teams and appreciate what they have.  Eventually, it does catch up to them!
Whether you are a leader at heart or one by position, remember where you came from and truly reflect on what you have and how you can influence others. You can make a difference. You have a purpose.
What are some things that you should be grateful for?
  • Your position. You have the opportunity to serve others. Do it wisely and with passion!
  • The many opportunities that you have to grow and impact the lives of others. Cherish it!
  • Success and failures. Learn and grow from your mistakes. Allow others to do the same. Encourage growth!
  • Mentors. They have encouraged and led you. Mentor your people, make a difference!
  • Your team. They are the reason for your success. Thank them. Tell them they are important!
  • Your company. They gave you the chance to lead. Be humble and thankful!
  • Your family. They support you and fill in the gaps when you can't be there in person. Tell them!
  • Your strength of purpose, humility to serve, and the tenacity to keep going when the going gets tough because YOU are unique!
This holiday season sit back and really search for what you are thankful for. Don't do it because social media tells you or the dancing M&M guys in Santa suits on TV do. Do it because you have been blessed with the gifts to recognize the best in others and have the confidence to step in and lead with sincerity and conviction.  Verbalize your thanks and remain genuine and approachable. Your ability to make an impact will strengthen your gratitude!

Through experience and valued time with others, I have mellowed from my younger years as a rogue professional. I am really thankful for all of the opportunities that I have had to make a difference in my work.  Leadership is important. Will the people that I influenced remember my impact? Nope. They move on to grow and hopefully influence others. That's OK with me. I remember the times where I was able to bring out and develop the gifts in those I have worked with. Their achievements and look of awe when they succeed or move on have been my thanks. I'm thankful that I was a part of their growth!

As with every season that comes to an end in my garden I reflect on what I've learned, experimented with, and achieved. The sight of so many colors, shapes, and sizes outside are my thanks. I'm thankful for the opportunity to build an oasis where the birds, bugs, and critters quickly multiply. I look ahead to what I can achieve next year and share with others...

Leaders, what are YOU thankful for and do you tell anyone???