• By Jim Keaveney
  • The Final Say
ISA volunteer leader lessons learned

By Jim Keaveney

I would like to share the top two lessons I learned as an ISA leader and the top two reasons to become a volunteer leader.

Lesson 1: Volunteer leadership or a committee role is like work with one key difference-no one directly reports to you! Indirect influence and team building are the keys traits required to be an effective leader or committee member. Volunteers are not paid to behave in a certain way, but an effective team sets expectations and engagement guidelines. Failure to learn this lesson will earn an "F" for frustration. It is important to find the right fit for volunteers with different competencies and diverse perspectives to build a team culture of inclusion. At the board level, the composition should best reflect the type of society that we strive to become. Patrick Lencioni's book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, should be required reading for any association volunteer.

Lesson 2: It is all about trust; the foundation of any good team is exploring change and new approaches to old problems. Involving all in healthy discussions leads to higher quality results. With trust, team members are not afraid to be vulnerable and are willing to express their views and collaborate to resolve differences. Trust empowers us to help other volunteers become better team players and embrace change in the form of continuous improvement. A trust culture is the cornerstone of any organization\, including ISA. I still cringe when I hear, "If it is not broken, why fix it?" President John Kennedy wisely noted that the best time to repair a roof is when it is not raining. It is rare that we have those light bulb "aha" moments, and we really need to drive improvement incrementally.

Trusting the various committees and task forces to do their jobs builds a strong organization. Board members or committee chairs need to stay focused on overall strategy and avoid micromanaging.

Volunteer leaders also need to trust and respect staff partners who hold the "institutional memory" of the organization. As volunteer leaders, we must hold ourselves-and each other-accountable to ensure that the volunteer-staff relationship is cohesive and collaborative. Drucker nailed it when he observed that culture eats strategy for breakfast. As volunteer leaders, we all need to contribute to a culture of trust, collaboration, and continuous improvement. The Change Cycle by Ann Salerno and Lille Brock is an excellent read on surviving and thriving during organizational change. The bottom line is that building and leading effective teams is always hard work.

My top two reasons for deciding to step up to a volunteer leadership role are:

Reason 1: Understanding and mastering the techniques to be an effective volunteer leader or committee member enhances skills you need to be successful on the job. The time commitment pays dividends in terms of developing a wider professional network for technical issues and professional guidance. Be sure that your company really understands these advantages, so it buys into supporting your time investment and commitments. Make no mistake about it, ISA welcomes and needs more new volunteers. There are many ways for you to contribute, including technical standards development, governance, and image and membership, to call out a few.

Reason 2: Contributing is what it is all about! We as automation professionals make the world a better place. As your professional organization, ISA helps make our world safer (cybersecurity, alarm management, safety instrumented systems) while increasing productivity (workforce development, standards best practices). Be proud of this fact, and make sure that your management, friends, and families all know that you are making a difference.

If I had to choose just two words to wrap things up, one would be gratitude for the opportunity to learn from so many in my volunteer leader role. The other would echo the call from Jean Luc Picard, the fictional Star Fleet officer from the Star Trek franchise, and challenge each of you to engage!

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About The Authors

Jim Keaveney is 2016 ISA president and northeast Atlantic regional manager and strategic account director at Emerson Process Management. He has been an active ISA member for more than 30 years, served in numerous leadership positions, and received numerous ISA honors. Keaveney earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Temple University and a master’s degree in business administration from Penn State University.