Leadership Isn’t About a Paycheck

This sentence caught my eye: “It’s not leadership if they’re paid to follow.” Um, no. Leadership exists at every level of an organization whether it’s a for-profit businesses or volunteer association.

IMHO, the notion that leadership only exists within hierarchical structures is a bit antiquated and somewhat elitist. If companies want to be successful, they have to move past the thinking that leadership is only doled out in pithy inspirational doses from those on high at or near the boardroom.

Sorry, I might have gotten carried away there. But rant aside, if you talk specifically about leadership in the context of leading a team, the paycheck remark still doesn’t hold water.

leadership, leader, business, volunteer, organization, work, paycheck

Having been a volunteer leader for most of my professional life, I can say that it’s a very rewarding role. Individuals who volunteer tend to be invested in the organization and its mission. In one respect, it can be easy to lead a group of volunteers toward helping the organization achieve its goals. On the other hand, it can be a real challenge if a volunteer makes a commitment then doesn’t live up to it.

In the business world, managing expectations can be less challenging. Leaders set performance goals and manage to those expectations (well, ideally anyway). If performance slips, the leader can address it. And ultimately make a change if necessary. It’s not easy but it has to be done. But I’ve worked on some fabulous teams in my lifetime that made significant impact on the business operation.

Leadership doesn’t transform just because money changes hands. Leadership is about working with a team to set a goal, manage the performance of team members, coach for optimal performance and holding people accountable. The goals might be different between for-profit and not-for-profit and the motivation of team members could be diverse. But leaders still have to coach and hold people accountable – whether they are collecting a paycheck or not.

What are your thoughts? Is volunteer leadership different than corporate leadership? And more importantly, should it be?

Image courtesy of the Center for Creative Leadership


  1. Kris says

    Corporate leadership in a highly matrixed organization, which most are these days, is a lot like volunteer leadership. You must use persuasion, instead of authority, to get the team onboard with your goal. I find the key is listen first, really understand where each team member’s perspective, then share the vision by communicating both concerns and opportunities.