Let’s Move On! Working with Action-Oriented Volunteers
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By David Ewald, CAE, President

Many have served on boards that were immersed in a deep debate about an important topic when a member of the board impatiently declared, "let's move on!", signifying that as far as he or she was concerned, enough had been said to make a decision. Action oriented and decisive volunteers are drawn to associations, especially if they find value in the time they spend and view the organization as an appropriate outlet for their energy, enthusiasm and competitiveness. They can be great and decisive leaders that help move organizations to make difficult decisions. They help bring speed and vitality to organizations. At the opposite end, their impatience and competitiveness may alienate or marginalize others, pushing less forceful participants to the side as the organization is rushed into a decision supported by few.

Where the "detail oriented" volunteer — discussed in another article — is interested in careful debate and using data to make a decision, action oriented volunteers may rely on instinct or at least will require less data to be satisfied that they are making the right decision. They pride themselves on having a business-like approach, decisive manner and being focused on results. Often strong-willed and purposeful, they frequently are given leadership positions in organizations not only because they wanted them, but because others see their decisiveness as an attribute needed by the organization. As with other personalities, the best traits of the action oriented individual are highly useful to an association. Here are some thoughts on how to work best with them:

Identify Them

The action oriented individual is usually easy to spot. They will make statements like, "let's move on," or "let’s make a decision," signifying that they have heard enough and think that the rest of the board should have as well. These are often people who will identify themselves as "type A." Whether or not they have read them, these individuals are often the ones making the motion to approve the minutes immediately at the beginning of the meeting!

Appreciate and Involve Them

These decisive leaders can be very useful when difficult matters face an organization. Where others may become mired in endless debates, data gathering and indecisiveness, action oriented leaders will help cut to the chase and make a decision — even if it is a painful and difficult one that others are afraid to make. As presidents, they often come into office with specific things in mind that they wish to accomplish. As long as these are in the best interest of the organization, one can be assured that those items are likely to be accomplished.

Adopt the Best of Their Skills

If this is not your natural style, what can you learn from the action oriented, decisive leader? There is usually a happy medium between snap decisions made impulsively and slow, or no, decisions reached after endless discussion. Author Malcolm Gladwell, writing in Blink, discusses the idea of "thin slicing:" the act of making a decision after reviewing only limited information. He shows that often decisions made by thin slicing are at least as good as those made after more extensive data gathering. Action oriented volunteers are the masters of thin slicing!

Confrontations May Be Difficult

This type of individual is often viewed as competitive and aggressive. When in a situation where disagreement exists, he or she may forcefully argue a position and focus more on the outcome to be achieved than the feelings of others involved in the discussion. These individuals do not like to be told why something cannot be done, because in general, they have made careers out of finding ways to accomplish the ends they desire, even if it is at the expense of the feelings of others.

Communicate in Their Style

Once you identify this person, the best way to work with them is to communicate in their style. They are not interested in lengthy discussions of data, drawn-out stories or endless debate. When it appears their interest in making decisions is contrary to the best result, point out that others need more information. To satisfy their interests in decision-making, set limits on the amount of data to be gathered and develop time frames. Then stick to them.

Make Sure Others Get to Participate

Forceful and decisive leaders may participate in discussions in a way that leads others to silence and non-participation. This is detrimental to the organization, especially when those not speaking have wise points to make that they keep to themselves. When debate or discussion is moving along too quickly, ask for the comments or thoughts of others, especially those who haven't spoken.

Successful associations embrace the best parts of the personalities of their leaders. Clear and decisive actions help move organizations toward the fulfillment of their missions. Organizations that identify and work with action oriented leaders, using the best of their traits, will help to make significant progress toward identified outcomes. It is important to work with them in the style that they prefer: quick, business-like and outcome oriented. The challenge lies in making sure that the outcomes that the action oriented leader helps achieve are consistent with the mission of the association.


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