When my daughter was living through her first few months of life, I found myself reflecting on how caring for a newborn baby is very similar to being a leader and working with volunteers.
I used to watch parents and chuckle inside when I would see them praise their baby for everything little thing that they did. Now that I’ve been a parent, I can understand why. Everything my daughter did is the first time that she has done it. And it takes time to learn all those things. With each attempt, I found myself praising her efforts and affirming her. She smiles at me for the first time. “Good job!” She starts to control her head movement a little. “Yay!” She burps for the first time. “Way to go!” She grabs my finger with just a little more pressure and force. “Wow! You are awesome! You are so strong!”
These are mundane little things that I praised her for. But are they really mundane? For a newborn, they are a big deal.
When I work with adults in ministry and they start to learn new tasks, I sometimes don’t praise them. Why? That adult volunteer learning to lead a small group of teenagers for the first time is just as big of a deal as my daughter lifting her own head.
I find it so natural to affirm my child for all the new things that she is learning, even when she fails at it. But with adults, I sometimes can’t bring myself to do the same thing. Not that I need to treat the adults I work with in ministry like newborns, but I should be intentional about praising and affirming them when they are learning new skills and become better leaders.
If you have found yourself not being as affirming as you could with your team of volunteers, I recommend doing the following 3 steps:
- Make a list of the adults that you work with in ministry.
- Next to their name, write down three to five things that they should be praised for.
- Next time you work with them, affirm them for one of those things that you listed.
You will find that they will be more motivated next time to do a better job at their ministry role and work to become better leaders. Why? Because we all respond to positive praise and affirmation.
Just don’t talk to them like you would a newborn. That’s an easy way to lose a volunteer.
Question: What is the most powerful affirmation you have ever received?