How does leadership influence the success of an American Legion Post with membership? How do we define a post's success? How do we achieve that success? These are questions well worth open and honest discussions among all our Legionnaires.
If we look at the elements of a local Legion post that are needed for success, most leaders would agree Posts must have at least moderate success with Leadership, Members, Finance, Program, Social and Preamble.
Success with Leadership means post leaders have the success of their post as their primary focus. They have ability to effectively use the basic skills of leadership. They also understand and work towards preparing others to be effective leaders.
Growth in membership is a good indicator of a healthy post. The growth needed for a post to succeed is not just more names on a roster. Although growth in membership is necessary, success also requires members be un-ignored, truly welcomed and cultivated as active contributors to the success of the post.
Financial stability in a local post is not 0easy to obtain, but it is an essential element of a post's success. Effective management of post lounge operations, income streams and expense control need strong post leadership and transparent financial management.
Effective well implemented Legion programs provide good will among our membership and in our communities. They also allow us to fulfill very important elements of The American Legion's Four Pillars of Service. Our support of Veteran Stand Downs, Veteran Treatment Courts, Ride to Recovery, Boys State, and Oratorical Contests are all examples of programs that fulfill our duty to serve veterans, their families and our communities.
The Social success of a post has a far greater impact on the success of The American Legion than most see. In a recent edition of the California Legionnaire, Area 2 Vice Commander, Ron Parshall, highlighted this point,
"Even more important members have not paid their dues the last two years. Those members that don’t renew say the reason they don’t pay dues is no one contacted them and they feel like outcasts in the organization."
Not contacting our post members is anti-social. It is a simple fact that far too often we are socially inept in how we treat our own post members. We ignore the majority of post membership until we need their annual dues. We must learn to un-ignore our members.
This should start the moment we vote a veteran into membership in our post by conducting a well run member initiation. It should continue even after the final transfer is made to the Post Everlasting as we honor their life of service.
The Preamble of our Constitution is the written essence of who we are, it contains our basic values, time tested for almost 100 years. This why the Preamble is recited before every American Legion meeting. Our Preamble contains important ideals, it defines a set of missions and battles that can never be decisively won or lost – only fought for. It serves as a vision for your post leadership to craft a mission statement from which you can establish short and long term goals.
If you are in a restaurant eating dinner and a piece of food gets stuck in your throat, you may not want a leader that calls for motion from the floor about what should be done next. A leader that quickly takes action to save your life would be better. The point here is, different situations may call for different styles of leadership, for the best results.
There are many different styles of leadership and the appropriateness of any given style may depend on the situation. One definition of leadership that works well for many volunteer leader situations in The American Legion, is this:
To get the job done and keep the group together, a leader needs skill to make the changes necessary for success. When it comes to membership, success is directly linked to the leadership skills and teamwork of post leaders.
This page on Leadership offers information on a number of basic Leadership Skills, including: Communication, Vision & Desire, SMART Goals, Planning, Delegation, Mentoring and Team Development. The hope is this information will help you and your post find higher levels of success with membership. On other pages we will focus on topics such as Active Members, Recruiting, Retention, Renewals and Awards. The leadership skills and the dedication post leaders bring to the teamwork applied to membership, can significantly improve your chances of finding success with membership.
As you use these leadership skills let others in your post know how and why your are using them. This knowledge will help all your post leaders become more comfortable using the skills themselves. The last two words of the Preamble to our Legion Constitution are "Mutual Helpfulness." This includes cultivating others, helping them learn the skills necessary to be an effective leader. Knowing how to plan for an event is one level of using planning as a skill of leadership. Sharing your understanding of the planning skill with others is a different level of using the skill.
In this video Kenneth Orrock, National Chairman, Membership & Post Activities Committee Discusses
The Value of Communication Tools in this short video.
Department of Defense support document on: Be, Know & Do
Be, Know & Do are three good words to start any discussion of leadership. The U.S. Army has used these words for many years in their leadership training. The words are also part of the National Youth Leadership Training of the Boy Scouts of America.
The Be, Know and Do of Leadership are considered by many as the foundation of leadership. In the context of leadership in The American Legion the Be, Know & Do of Leadership may look like this:
The Be of leadership includes your internal motivation, the values you hold dear and the strength of character you bring to your leadership roles.
The Know of leadership is found in the skills needed to lead your post to success: Communication, Vision & Desire of Success, SMART Goals, Planning, Delegation, etc.
The Do of leadership is getting done what needs to be done (the mission) and doing what is right for your post & the Legionnaires you serve.
A simple definition of communication is the getting and giving of information. As we communicate with potential active members there is often a desire to get information about the member and this is important. But don't forget to give the member information about yourself and the post, this is also important.
We call this simple model of communication a conversation. From this conversation we get to know each other. We get to know about what interests the potential active member has and the member we talk with gets to know more about us and our post. This is how we develop relationships with members. It is often the good relationship between two
members that allows a member to say "yes" when they are asked to help.
Public Communications: Public communication, both verbal and written, tend to be broad requests or even pleadings for members to help. These requests can be presented in your post newsletter, verbally in a post meeting or through web sites and social media. An example would be, "We have a big BBQ next month and we sure could use a few more members helping out." Seldom does this request produce the desired result of more people volunteering to help. Public requests for members to become active just don't work well, very often.
Personal Conversations: A simple conversation between members is an ideal way to communicate with members. A conversation is both personal, yet open. Conversations with members are most effective when we make an honest and sincere effort to get to know about our members. In many ways our personal communications with members fall under the heading of just being nice. Humans are social animals and we like to be recognized as individuals by other members of the post, because it helps us feel that we belong in the social setting of the post. When members feel they belong to your post, it is much easier for them to say "yes" when asked to help. Our personal communications with post members are the foundation to gaining more active members.
In the Membership Team Training Guide-published by The American Legion is a quiz about membership. Question 15 in that quiz asks,
the correct answer is:
"Meet the new member – greet the new member and involve the new member in those functions in which interest is shown."
This is very good advice, but we should not be limited to just new members. The large majority of our post members do not get involved in the operation of the post. However, it is possible to increase the number of member who become actively involved in the post. If a member has not been asked recently to help, it may be a good time to ask for their help.
If The American Legion advises us to involve members in the things they are interest in, how do we find out what members are interested in? This leads us to the topic of what do we communicate? We will discuss what we communicate on the page devoted to Active Members.
As we present information on the Leadership Skills of Vision and Desire, Managing Change, SMART Goals, Planning, Delegation, Mentoring and Team Development consider how theses skills can be applied in your post to help increase the number of Active Members.
Vision is a skill of leadership that brings into focus what you want your future success to look like. Your vision gives the post a direction to travel as you seek success. It is bigger and broader in scope than a goal. In fact goals, are what we use to accomplish our visions of success.
A good example of this relationship is the vision of President John F. Kennedy to put a man on the moon and bring him home safely back in the 1960's. That vision of success was accomplished with three major goals: The goals were the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo projects. Each of these three goals were specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and had a specific time frame. The completion of these three goals resulted in the United States of America placing a man (men) on the moon and bringing them home safely.
As an example, a post's vision of success focused on membership might read:
Sample Vision of Success Statement:
To support the successful completion of this vision a post might develop several goals, or better yet SMART Goals. SMART Goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and have a Time component. SMART Goals might be developed to support the post's vision of success for membership on these membership topics:
Recruitment of new members
Member Orientation programs
Development of active members
Retention of members
Timely membership renewals
Desire is not something we normally think of as a leadership skill. However, your Vision of success is tied to your post's desire to succeed. Once your post leadership agrees on a vision of success, they must stand firm with a common desire to complete the vision. However you define your vision of success, it will require your post to change. Change can be a challenge for some members.
Managing change is easier when everyone in your post understands the benefit to the post of any change being proposed. This requires that you communicate clearly and effectively what your vision of success looks like.
Do not be surprised if some members of your post resist the changes you propose. You may even hear something like this being said, "We can't do it that way, because we have never done it that way before." Such attitudes become obstacles to your legitimate success if they are not dealt with properly. Good leaders learn how to overcome, go around and work through obstacles they encounter. If your leadership team backs you and supports your vision of success it is easier to succeed in completing your vision of success. Mutual helpfulness is important in the completion of you post's vision of success with membership. Helping others understand the benefits of the changes being proposed is a good way to overcome such attitudes.
Your desire and the desire of your post's leadership team, to complete your post's vision of success, must be stronger than any opposition you may face.
Keep the post focused on your vision of success, do not let personality politics or any other obstacles deter you and your post from finding the success your post deserves.
Your post leadership and membership must have a firm desire and clear vision of what benefit more engaged members will provide to your post operation. The post must be ready and willing to welcome newly engaged members into the ranks of other active members.
New members often bring new energy into your post, along with new different ways of looking at challenges. New members need be trained in the organization, methods, and operations of our American Legion post, therefore we need to conduct a quality member orientation program to help train and guide our new members. Within the structure of an American Legion post there are many ways to find success, but your post must be open to changing your operations to include the new ideas members present, if the ideas have a benefit to the post.
John F. Kennedy
Managing change is a big part of leadership. Those we serve expect and hope the change we bring will move us closer to success. How leaders manage the process of change is important.
Some thoughts on managing change:
Have a clearly developed vision of the change you would like to see.
Develop a consensus in your leadership team to support your plan for change.
Develop a SMART Goal and written plans to help manage the change.
Clearly communicate to your leaders and all member what your SMART Goals are.
An important element in managing change in your post is to make sure your membership understands what benefit the change will bring to your members and your post. Another way of thinking about the benefit of change is to clarify why the change is needed.
Get as many people as you can to help reach your goal. Those who help reach your goal will feel more ownership of the success your change brings.
Track progress. Keep and routinely publish progress towards your goal for change.
Once your plans for change are put in motion, DO NOT STOP just because you encounter opposition. Sometimes a few vocal members will oppose change, that is just the nature of social groups. Try to help them clearly understand why the change is needed and how the post will benefit. Whether the opposition diminishes after your honest attempts to explain why the change is needed, or not, keep moving forward with your plans. It takes courage and thick skin sometimes to battle through the few who oppose change, but keep faith that your plans for change will make things better for your post.
New active members bring change and others may have difficulty accepting change if they do not understand the benefits of the change. So as your post grows with new membership your skill in managing change will become more important.
It is the duty of leaders to manage change and to ensure the changes they make are good changes. Changes must comply with the values and policies of The American Legion and your post by-laws.
It is through the good changes led by post leaders that the culture of a post evolves in time. Old stereotypes about the Legion, being a place for old men to gather as they tell war stories and drink cheap drinks, will only fade through the good changes leaders bring to their post. Dedication to The American Legion's Four Pillars of Service will bring the changes that will allow less wholesome influences of a post's culture to wane.
Leaders are agents of change. We would like like you to watch a short video with a few ideas (OK, 21) on how to manage change. It may give you a few ideas on how to manage the changes needed to help your post succeed with membership.
Here is, Change is Good, You Go First. Enjoy.
What kind of goal would be appropriate to increase the number of engaged or active members in your post? Consider developing a SMART Goal linked to increasing the number of active members in your post, such as:
A Sample SMART Goal:
Determine a specific number, (3, 4, 5, or any number your post feels is achievable). Come to an agreement among your post leadership on which members are currently engaged as active members. How you define an engaged active member is your decision. But write the names down in a list, then add to the list the names of any newly engaged and active member
Keep your written list of which members help with post activities current. The written record will allow you to determine how many newly engaged and active member you develop.
Select a number of newly engaged and active members that is realistic for your post. Small posts may feel blessed to get on more member to become engaged and active. Bigger post may want and need more active members.
Engaging more members as active members is 100% relevant to your post’s success!
The 6 month time frame satisfies the Time Bound part of SMART.
Later we can apply the acronym of SMART to the question you ask when you want a member to become engaged.
What should your plan contain? The American Legion 2015 Officer’s Guide (page 18) presents these four basic elements of planning: Where, What, Who, and When. We also see the value of including the topic of How in our discussion of planning.
Here are some suggestions on how you might apply these basic elements of planning to a SMART Goal to increase your active members.
The physical location, your post, a community park, etc.,
The "What" of your plant should include the number of steps or layers you will need to take to reach your SMART Goal. This may include things like;
A well designed survey sent to every member of your post may uncover potential engaged and active members that may surprise you. Following up with members who indicate they would like to help is key to the success you will have when using a survey. When a members responds to your survey and indicates they would like to help, you need to contact that member and get him/her started. As an example if a member says that they would like to help with membership, someone from your post membership committee needs to contact that person. Welcome them to the membership team and let them know when the team will be meeting. If you ignore their offer to help then your survey will fail as a tool to generate more engaged and active members.
The orientation your provide to new members is a good time to get to know them. In fact it may be the best reason to conduct member orientation. When your orientation helps them better understand the four pillars of service in The American Legion and gives them a good idea of the programs your post uses to help our veterans and their families you may find them more receptive to volunteering to help after a good orientation program. A good member orientation makes it easier for members to say "Yes" when you ask them to help.
A phone call to members asking them how they are doing and if there is anything the post can help them with, is a powerful membership tool. The phone call can also let you inform them of upcoming post activities and allow your to verify the information you have on file: (i.e. branch of service, war era, date of birth, address and e-mail address) The phone call can also help you find out what help the member needs from the post. Maybe the member cannot drive at night. This is an opportunity to find another member to pick them up to attend post meetings. If the only time we contact our members is when we money for their dues, members may not feel like they belong.
Every training event your post conducts is an opportunity to find new engaged and active members. When members attend training events you get an opportunity to know them better. Consider putting together a training session on resume writing and present the training in a way that younger vets may want to attend. An example would how to best translate your military experience into key element of an effective resume.
Develop a plan to use social settings as a time to get to know your non-engaged members better. A time to let & get your members to talk about themselves. Have a special invitation to your post events for new and non-engaged members. It is very simple, your Post must be able to engage your members in a conversation before you can ask them to become involved in your post success.
Post members and leaders, at all levels of your post operation need to be involved in your over all membership plans and especially in your finding new engaged and active members.
Everybody might seem to be the most appropriate answer. However, if you plan to communicate with non active members you may find using those member who are good communicators as your key resource. Who are these "good communicators" in your post? Just ask them and they will tell you. But no member should be left out of your efforts to get more members actively engaged in your post. Even new members can be a source of other new members when they invite their friends to join the post.
Your post leaders will be key planning a social setting that involves as many members as possible, so you can engage new or non-active members in conversations aimed at social inclusion.
6 months is the time frame defined in our example goal. To meet this time component of your SMART Goal you may need to look at using existing events or even creating special events where you can bring members together so you can talk with them. These need to be events designed to reach out to non-active members and get them to the post so you can get to know them.
The social settings where you can interact with your members may already exist in your Post, you may just need to change the questions you ask members to better reveal your members might like to do in the post. The goal of your conversations with members should be to develop a comfort level with members and to the extent possible identify the kind of things your member would be most comfortable volunteering to help with.
Consider linking your social event to a specific veteran related date, (i.e. The American Legion birthday (March 15, 1919) or Armed Forces Day (Third Saturday in May), Constitution Day (September 18) or Day of the Deployed (October 26). One of these lesser celebrated dates could the reason to bring non-active members together.
How are we going to find and encourage our fellow post members to become more engaged and active?
It will take 2 members to carry on the good conversations that will win the day.
Basically the members who are currently active and engaged in your post operations just need to be nice to your non-active members when they encounter them and talk with them. In honest and sincere conversations we need to get to know our Legionnaire brothers and sisters. Just "Be a Nice Human" as you talk with non-active members and if possible, find out how they would like to become involved. In your conversations with members they will get to know you and their post better.
Delegation is often thought of as a time management tool and it is. It is also a very good tool for preparing other Legionnaires for leadership. When you delegate a specific small task to a fellow Legionnaire how well they complete the task in the assigned time frame and how well they communicate feedback to you will help you determine what training might be needed before you give them a bigger task to perform. If you are new to the process of delegating assignments to team members, assigning smaller tasks at first will help build confidence. A successful outcome for a task delegated to a team member helps build the confidence of the whole team.
There are few basic steps in effective delegation that can take you a long way.
Be SPECIFIC about the task.
Give them th right TRAINING
Give them AUTHORITY to take action
Give them a TIME frame
Give them a CLEAR picture of the outcome
Give plenty of FEEDBACK
Keep in CONTROL - Delegate not abdicate!
Top Delegation Tips
Mentoring is a powerful and important leadership skill formed in partnership with another. Through mentoring we can help manage and motivate others. It is also a important tool to help others grow and become more effective leaders in the Legion.
When mentoring is done effectively both the mentor and his partner (mentee) grow from the experience. More experienced leaders can use mentoring to help develop those still growing in their abilities to lead effectively. A mentor can improve their own leadership and communication skills while learning new perspectives, ways of thinking, and often experience a great sense of personal satisfaction.
Should you become a mentor, here are some ideas provided by Area 6, Vice Commander, Harley Santos to help you be more effective in applying the mentoring skill of leadership.
The best mentors have been people that have credibility in, and have personally achieved success in, the area where your looking for support.
Most people will seek the guidance of different mentors to help them develop specific skills or qualities, or to help them reach important decisions.
Being credible doesn't mean that you need to have all the answers. The best answers for your mentee will come from their own thinking, with the help of your wisdom to support them.
Good mentors are respected by their mentees.
A mentee can learn a lot from their mentor simply by watching how their mentor behaves in any particular situation.
Good mentors will also look out for experiences, or even create situations in which their mentees can become involved to learn new things.
Example: Providing a look behind the scenes or a glimpse at how other people do things.
A mentoring relationship is a very personal one, which is often very important.
As a mentor, you need to get to know your mentee personally, about their hopes and dreams, so you can help them in a way that meets their personal best interest.
For this reason, a parent is often not a good mentor for their child, as their parenting relationship and emotional connection will influence their guidance. That's not to say that a parent can never provide a mentoring moment for their child - they can - however, a parent can't be as objective as a person who's independent of the parenting role.
In the same way, a manager is also not the best person to mentor someone on their team, as they'll often have a conflict of interest to contend with, between what's in the best interest of each individual and what's in the best interest of their team.
In doing so, choose stories that you feel are appropriate and helpful, but do so in a neutral way, without any attachment to how your mentee will use this learning.
Be open to sharing your mistakes and failures too, as these are often where our biggest lessons are learned.
It will also help your mentee be aware that challenges will arise, and the way you dealt with the situation might also help them gain insight about how to build resilience.
Asking your mentee open questions will help you as a mentor to identify their real needs, values and passions.
It's also a great way to get your mentee to think through situations themselves and draw out the consequences of the various choices or courses of action they can take.
During these conversations, you can share your wisdom, without making decisions for your mentee. That's their job!
Allow them to explore their thoughts and ideas openly with you.
This will often help them unravel their thinking and gain insights about a situation as they share their concerns with you.
One of the benefits of working with a mentor is that a good mentor will often provide their mentee with a fresh perspective on an issue.
A good mentor will often have the clarity of distance from an issue or problem that's needed to provide objective feedback to their mentee.
They can also hold up a 'mirror' to the mentee to let the mentee see what their behavior looks like to others.
Not all feedback is helpful. A good mentor knows this and will deliver feedback in a way that will help their mentee gain insight to further develop specific qualities or skills.
For example, a good mentor will always ask for permission to give feedback before doing so.
Giving unwelcome feedback can be detrimental to any mentoring relationship. Instead, explain what you'd like to talk about first and highlight the benefits of doing this.
Highlight for your mentee any achievements they might have forgotten, to help build their confidence.
Remember to celebrate their successes on your mentoring journey too.
It can be very tempting for a mentor to just jump in and offer advice before a mentee has actually asked for it, especially when you've dealt with a similar situation yourself.
Being a sounding board for your mentee, allowing them to discuss situations with you, then helping them to think through the situation by:
Asking them questions to draw out the consequences of various actions. It is always more empowering for a mentee than advising them what to do.
It helps them work through the issue and come to their own conclusions. You will ultimately help them to learn to think through issues themselves and trust their own judgment, both valuable life skills.
All teams, including leadership teams, go through specific stages of growth and development in which skill levels grow, enthusiasm evolves and the leadership needs of the group changes. The team could be a Post Executive Committee, a District Committee, a Department Membership Committee or the team of people working together on your monthly post BBQ, but they all go through specific stages of team development.
Models of team growth differ, but most define team growth in stages similar to: Starting, Tempests, Typical and Competence. Each stage in the process of team growth has different characteristics of enthusiasm, skill level and the style of leadership they need.
When a team first assembles it requires a lot of explaining so the team members understand what their goal is and how to accomplish their goal. This includes clarifying the plans for who, what, when, where and how their work will be done.
As members become engaged in accomplishing their team goal expectations of one member may not meet another's expectation of performance. Personality politics can soon overtake the team interactions.
When a "tempest in a tea pot" erupts among team members, a good question to ask the members involved in the tempest is, "What do you want?" This question gives everyone a chance to think about what is important. Leaders can then redirect attention back to completing the Team Goal. It is the completion of the Team Goal that should be the center of attention. It is the Team Goal that binds the team together in pursuit of success.
Here the team members enthusiasm and skill levels are growing. They still need direction, but less so then when the team started working together. Team Tempest have been worked through.
When a team reaches the Competent Stage leaders smile, because when a team reaches this stage of team growth, we call it a winning team. They understand and effectively use the skills needed to succeed. They also have the enthusiasm and energy to get the job done. A leader just points the Competent team in the right direction and makes sure they have the support and resources needed for success.
Whatever the stage a team is in, the whole team needs to keep their focus centered on their Team Goal.