How to Build New Leaders in Your Branch
With all the responsibilities you take on as an AAUW leader, it can be hard to find time to step back and think intentionally about developing the future leaders of your branch. But building leaders is essential to ensuring that your branch carries out its mission for years to come. This resource for current branch and state leaders will teach you how to delegate tasks and responsibilities — a crucial step in increasing engagement, making an impact with your mission, and passing on leadership roles.
Why Develop Leaders?
Accomplish more. When there are more hands to do the work, more gets done. When members are developed into leaders, you can involve more people to execute bigger and better projects and expand your branch’s reach.
Ensure the longevity of your branch. Developing new leaders is critical to ensuring that your branch continues its legacy for women and girls long after the current board members leave their roles.
Reduce stress. When you delegate, you take some of the workload off your own shoulders. You will no longer feel the burden of having to do everything yourself!
Retain members. If members feel that they have a specific role to play and that they are making meaningful contributions, they are going to feel connected and committed. More delegation means more engagement and involvement!
Improve outcomes. In any job or leadership position, there are going to be some things that you excel at and some things that aren’t as easy or thrilling for you. Look for people who can help balance your strengths and work with them. By working together, you can make the outcome even better.
The Leadership Ladder
Branches sometimes experience challenges finding new people to take over board positions. In other cases, new people step into board roles but feel unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Both of these challenges have to do with your branch’s leadership ladder.
The leadership ladder is the process by which an individual moves from being a community member to a branch member to a leader. As individuals become more and more involved in your organization, they “climb” the ladder of engagement.
|Previously served as a board member; uses experience to guide and support board members|
|Responsible for an area of effective branch functioning: public policy, programming, diversity|
|Responsible for executing a project such as a fundraiser or annual membership drive|
|Commits to working on a project such as a fundraiser or annual membership drive|
|Takes on individual tasks such as bringing food to a meeting or volunteering at an event registration table|
|A dues-paying member of your AAUW branch|
|Follows your branch on social media, receives your e-mails, or has attended an event but has not paid membership dues|
|A general member of the public who is not engaged with your AAUW branch (yet!)|
Part of your role as a branch or state leader is to guide members up the ladder of engagement. Help your members take on responsibility at the appropriate level for their knowledge and skills while preparing them to move up to the next level. When you do, you’ll engage more members at higher levels in your branch, and it will be easier to find people willing and able to take on board positions in the future.
How to Identify Potential Leaders
Everyone has the potential to be a leader. The key is matching up a person with appropriate responsibilities based on their skills, interests, and availability. Look for people who are showing up and pitching in at meetings and events. Some potential leaders will speak up and share their ideas. But not all personality types show their leadership that way. People who sit quietly but take notes or who volunteer for “thankless” tasks are demonstrating their potential to lead. You may find that there are more potential leaders than you thought!
Once you identify someone as a potential leader, have a one-on-one meeting with them to learn more about them, their interests, and how they might like to get more involved. Go into the meeting with specific ideas about what the member could take on, but let their skills and interests ultimately determine their role.
The Delegation Cycle
Once you’ve identified a potential leader and agreed on a responsibility for them to take on, you’re ready to delegate. Delegation means empowering someone else to successfully complete a task, project, or responsibility.
The delegation cycle can help you though the process of delegating: handing off a project and then knowing what to do after you’ve handed it off to ensure the work is completed successfully.
Delegation Step 1: Get on the Same Page
The first step in the delegation cycle is to get on the same page. Discuss the details: why the responsibility is important, who needs to do what by when, and how it will get done.
Why is the responsibility or project important? Describe the responsibility and connect it to the bigger picture of the branch’s goals and mission. Explaining this may help motivate your volunteer.
Who is responsible for each part of the project? Connect the member to the other people involved with the project, including those they should collaborate with directly and those who need to be consulted or informed throughout the process. Also establish how you want to be involved.
What does success look like? Specifically quantify what success looks like for the responsibility you are delegating. If you have predetermined expectations, make them clear. Otherwise, work with the person to set expectations together so that you are on the same page about the final results.
When does the work need to be completed? Establish a reasonable time line based on your member’s other commitments and how much time they think the project will take. If there is a hard deadline, explain the reasoning and make sure the member feels supported enough to meet the deadline.
How is the work going to get done? Clarify what resources or funds the member can access. Provide contact information for other members or leaders who can support them throughout the process. If the project has been done before, connect them with information or the previous leader. There is no need to ask the person to reinvent the wheel, but they should be given the autonomy to complete the work in the manner that they want, keeping in mind previous lessons learned.
If your project has multiple people working together, it’s helpful to have a system that tracks the details of who will do what by when.Download our chart for keeping track of projects
Delegation Step 2: Check In
Maybe you have so much on your plate that you don’t feel like you have time to be engaged in your volunteer’s work process, or maybe you’re concerned that checking in will make them feel micromanaged. However, checking in will help you and your volunteer work through challenges that arise, answer questions, and provide feedback.
Plan to hold one-on-one meetings throughout the project management process or, if applicable, review drafts and segments before the final deadline. Set expectations for how you will stay engaged and when you will check in up front. The level at which you stay engaged should be based on the difficulty of the work and the skill level of the
- If the work is fairly easy and the member has completed it successfully before, your engagement level can be low.
- If the project is highly complex with a lot of moving pieces, or if this is the first time the volunteer has done something like it, your engagement level should be high.
Delegation Step 3: Debrief and Celebrate
For every project, even if the member’s role is not ending, you should debrief and provide feedback — both positive and constructive. Hold a final one-on-one meeting to talk about how the project went, how they felt about it, and next steps.
1. Thank them. Start the meeting by thanking them for their work and for taking the time to sit down and reflect with you.
2. Ask them to reflect on the project. Through their process, they likely noticed some areas of improvement as well as things that they are proud of. Before you provide feedback, ask them to reflect.
3. Give feedback. Choose the top few things that you think could be improved for next time and focus on those, using the “feedback sandwich”:
- Start with positive feedback and be specific: “Thank you so much for finding the speaker for our upcoming program! I was really impressed by how quickly you were able to find and confirm such a high-quality speaker. I heard from many attendees that they really enjoyed the presentation.”
- Then provide your prioritized constructive feedback: “One thing for next time: Please let me know when you have reached out to potential speakers so that I can adjust my own search accordingly. I wouldn’t want us to accidentally confirm two speakers.”
- End with more positive feedback. “Again, really great job! I loved the personal touches you added to the process, including having a thank-you note ready at the event. That’s something I definitely think we should continue from here on out!”
4. Ask for feedback on how and what you delegated. Would they have benefited from more hands-on support? Should you have given them more control of the “how”? This can help strengthen your working relationship for the next project.
5. Reiterate gratitude and set next steps. Tell them again how much you appreciate their work. Then move the conversation to next steps. If their responsibility is continuing, discuss the next project. If not, this is an important moment to make sure you help them continue to climb the leadership ladder. Over time, they will be ready to take on more and more, while requiring less and less support from you.
6. Celebrate! You will already be thanking them in the debriefing process, but also take the time to celebrate publicly. Thank them during a meeting or conference call, or present them with a small gift or handwritten note. Showing that you truly appreciate their work will make them more eager to take on responsibilities next time.
This resource was written in collaboration with MLP intern Miranda Bard.