Unleashing Leadership Potential: Lessons from Leading a Team of Volunteers

Nurturing Growth, Fostering Teamwork, and Embracing Self-Improvement

For the last two years, I had the opportunity to lead a team of volunteers at my student organization. I’m the President.

There were ups and downs, challenges, and opportunities but also one of the best times of my life.

Leadership is so much more than having the right to decide. It’s about working in a team, helping it grow, and improving our skills together.

Leading a team of volunteers can be your first step to starting your own business or taking a leadership position. This is a safe space to try it out and to experience if it’s a good fit for you.

Here I would like to tell you about the things I learned and experienced so that you can learn from them too. Take the opportunity to grow and you will always remember it.

“Leadership is not about being in charge. It is about taking care of those in your charge.”
— Simon Sinek

Your Team

You have a team of people working for you or the organization’s cause. They are here to have specific tasks, execute them and also delegate them to their teams.

Most of the time, you cannot choose your team. I took it as an opportunity to improve my soft skills to learn how to work with different types of people.

The first important point is to trust your team members to do their job. They should know what their tasks are, when to finish them, and to give you a regular update. They should be reliable.

Unfortunately, not everyone is reliable. This is one challenge I had to face: talking with a team member that isn’t reliably doing his job. Don’t get manipulated by their way of saying things.

The actions count! If the job doesn’t get done, talk isn’t solving it.

Your team is in charge of their own tasks. Don’t micromanage them! Because they have to make their own mistakes to learn. Which is part of the next point:

Helping Your Team Members to Improve

By giving them responsibilities and freedom to choose how to do their job, they will fail, learn and grow. Each challenge is a chance for them to improve their skills and experience.

Someone is shy and you give her the opportunity to lead a project and to talk with customers? This is the only way how to improve her social skills and how to get her out of her head and into doing.

No seminar or workshop can teach them what challenges and failing can do.

Give them the freedom to change, make decisions, and take responsibility. You will get new ideas, better solutions, and a motivated team.

You are changing their lives by giving them challenges. Push them a little!


What challenged me the most is working with different people in a team. I was in my little bubble of “efficiency and everyone is organized if they really try” before starting my leadership position.

For me, organizing and managing my time and myself was easy. With my leadership position, I also managed to study, work 25 hours, and write online.

  • Every person is different.
  • Every person has their own way of thinking.
  • Every person has their own view of the world.
  • Every person has their own way of working.
  • Every person has their own set of skills and flaws.

Working in a team means respecting each other’s differences and using the best of each person.

Teamwork is an essential point of working efficiently in a job. Without it, everyone is working against each other even though they should have the same goal.

Teamwork is not just a social skill but it’s about:

  • how to communicate with each other
  • how the other person is receiving it
  • Figuring out the best skills of each person and applying them
  • Balancing out the flaws of someone with the talents of someone else

Each one of us could also delegate something we didn’t like to do to someone else who is better at it.

I’m organized, and as you can see, I know how to write. So I’m in charge of writing protocol, writing emails, and organizing meetings.

Someone else is better at motivating and socializing with people, so I put her in charge of finding new members and organizing fun events.

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”
— John C. Maxwell

Being in Charge

The most motivating point of my leadership role was to be in charge. I’m the kind of person who hates doing useless or time-wasting tasks. If I get that kind of task, my whole body screams: “Nooooo”. At work, I have to do it anyway because that’s my job: to follow the orders of the boss (stupid requests from customers..)

But as the leader, I’m deciding what is important and worth my time.

  • Meetings about marketing material: not important for me, I skip them!
  • Long meetings because someone likes to talk: nope, I make them efficient
  • Topics for the future leaders: they can decide then!

You decide what is important for your team and yourself. And sometimes I’m just there to offer my help when we are lacking workforce.


Two years ago, when I started my position I didn’t expect to get so much back from leading and voluntarily giving back.

All those challenges and headaches were stressful at times but rewarding after they were done.

By giving to others and working on a goal together, you will learn so much for yourself.

  • Soft skills like networking, how to motivate, how to lead
  • Time management: organize yourself (and also your team) even better
  • Presentation skills: how to communicate, how to present, appearance
  • Out of your comfort zone: different views of the world, but all the same humans
  • Coordination of different roles in life: leader, friend, employee, student…
  • Motivation: what motivates you?
  • Boundaries: setting your own ones, when is it too much

One big thing for me is that I’m not afraid of presentations anymore. I’ve done it so many times now. A few years ago I was really nervous before any presentation and my hands would shake. This was a huge learning for me.

Setting boundaries was also an enormous step for me. In the beginning, I thought I had to do everything and be everywhere. Actually, I don’t. People can do it without me, and it works.

Delegation: Accept Your Boundaries and Skills

You only have 24 hours a day. The same amount as Beyonce or the president. How are they doing so much more then? By delegating to a team of employees.

Do you think Beyonce is good at social media marketing or graphic design? No, these things get done by her team members who have the skills.

What is a task you don’t like to do or that you think you are not the best skilled one? Delegate this to someone who is better and faster at doing it.

I have the skills to do graphic design, but I delegate all social media posts to the graphic design coordinator because he is faster and more creative. And obviously, it’s his job and not mine.

That way I have more time to focus on my important tasks, and he can do the things he knows and likes to do.

Accept the limits of your skills! Delegate the rest and the not important tasks you have to do.

Be aware of tasks that shouldn’t be even delegated but deleted immediately. Do we really have to expand our reach to another university even though we have enough to do with marketing at our university?

No! You cannot do everything. Time and people are limited. Focus on the important 20% that makes up 80% of the success.

Best Reward

The best reward for the hard work of leading a team is seeing them grow. Now that I’m moving on from my position, I can gladly say that I can trust the new team to be as successful as my team. They improved a lot and have all the skills they need to continue the work.

This is the best gift my team can give me: I trust that they will continue my work!

“The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”
— Ralph Nader

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(c) Karina Ahrer

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