Back in September, my wife agreed to take on the role of Fall Festival chair. The Fall Festival was a PTSA fund raising event held at my daughter’s middle school. The event is the main fund raising event held by the PTSA and is comprised solely of parent volunteers. She decided to chair the event because she felt it would be a good way to “practice and enhance” her leadership skills. As the Fall Festival chair, it was my wife’s responsibility to ensure everything came together. My wife’s goals were twofold: Make more money than the previous year, and ensure everyone at the event has fun.
So let’s set the stage for the event by providing some background information.
1. My wife works full time (usually around 50 hours a week) and we have a younger son still in elementary school.
2. The financial goal this year was to raise $10,000 and keep expenses low.
3. The school system only provides the school grounds and use of chairs and tables (teachers may volunteer to be targets in the balloon toss).
4. Parent volunteers are assigned a task and are responsible for implementing the task. Tasks are usually various games, prize tables, food and drink coordination, entertainment, etc.
In order to get the ball rolling, my wife decided to meet with the individuals that put on the event the prior year (their kids went on to high school). She took this opportunity to get ideas, left-over supplies, their thoughts on what worked and what didn’t work, and what they would do different if they were chairing the event again. With that information in hand, my wife set out to recruit parent volunteers to run the “main” tasks (mentioned above). Many who were still at the school and who ran events last year signed up to run the same events again this year. This was a big relief to my wife, as she knew that these people already had the expertise to run their events. But even after the initial sign-up, there were still a large number of vacancies that needed to be filled. My wife determined that she needed someone who could head up the task of getting additional volunteers that were needed to run many of the smaller tasks during the Festival (serving food and drinks, checking tickets, set-up and tear-down (of chairs, tables, banners, etc.), and monitoring to name a few. This person would be responsible for making sure these tasks get manned. They would have a variety of tools at their disposal beyond email communications, namely the volunteer website, VolunteerSpot. My wife’s tasks through all of this were to ensure that everything was progressing on schedule, to handle any requests and/or answer any questions by other volunteer parents, to interface and coordinate the activities with the school, and to promote the donations gathering process (this included getting notices into the school’s newspaper and onto the school’s website, as well as updating banners around the school with the names of those who graciously donated money to the event). In order to keep tabs on everything, she established weekly meetings at the school around lunch time about one month before the Fall Festival date. All in all, pretty easy, right?
Well, it was not easy. One thing that I can definitely say about my wife is that she is organized, goal-oriented, and results driven. The problem that I saw (and she felt) was that those parents volunteering didn’t necessarily have the same traits and/or skills. The biggest example of this was from the person who volunteered to run the volunteer sign-up task. My wife handled this task the prior year, so she was intimately familiar with what needed to be done and how to do it. My wife met with this parent and went over the VolunteerSpot website, including importing details from the previous year. My wife even provided email address lists, sample email templates, and general advice. My wife’s expectation was, and as it should be, that this parent would take ownership of the process and run with it. After all, the other parents running the other events had already hit the ground running; why would this be any different? After a few weeks into the planning, my wife had noticed that no one had signed up to volunteer through VolunteerSpot. She reached out to the parent in charge, and they simply stated that they had been busy with work and other volunteering activities. My wife could empathize (maybe just a smidge), but at the same time, she expressed frustration in this parent’s lack of motivation to get this done. Getting other parents to volunteer their time during the event was very critical to ensure a successful, and profitable, event. This continued for the remainder of the weeks leading up to the Festival, and my wife wound up taking on some of the work herself. To the parent’s credit, they did step up near the end, but had it not been for my wife doing the work she did prior to that, the Festival would have been severely under-parented.
The Festival went off without a hitch. Everything went well, the kids had fun, and the PTSA rose just over $10,000 for the school (net, after expenses). There were some areas that needed improvement, and all of these were identified during a “lessons learned” meeting my wife set up a week after the Festival. Will she do it again next year? During the weeks prior to the event, she said no way. After the event, she said she would if asked. It was a lot of work for her, but she felt really good after it was all over knowing how successful it was.
So what leadership style did my wife use throughout this event? I know for sure it wasn’t just one, and no single theory or approach could describe them. It was very interesting to see exactly how much the followers and the situation impact the leadership style. For example, the parent volunteers who had done this before needed very little guidance. Their goals were to do the best they could with their task, knowing that this would help the event, which would help to raise additional money (one of the main, overriding goals). Applied to the Situational Approach, and specifically, the Situational Leadership II (SLII) model, these parents required a Delegating style (low supportive and low directive behaviors). On the other hand, the parent volunteer described above, the one who’s job was to get additional parent volunteers, needed a lot of guidance, direction, and support. Again, applied to the Situational Approach, and specifically, the Situational Leadership II model, this parent required a Coaching style (high supportive and high directive behaviors) (Northouse, 2013, p. 100). I believe there was also a transformational leadership style being applied by my wife as well, at least to those parents that the SLII model would define as “D4” followers. She put forth the effort to inspire these parents to go above an beyond in an effort to help the greater good – the school. While their may not have been much of a moral component to this effort, the inspirational component was definitely there, and it was communicated through a shared vision in which both my wife, as the leader, and the other parents, as the followers, believed (Northouse, 2013, p. 200-201).
This experience, while a lot of work, was very rewarding to my. As she put it, the experience got her out of her comfort zone, and made her think and act as a leader. I think the experience has spilled over into her professional life as well. She is more confident in her job which has paid off in her recently getting a promotion and being assigned as a mentor to more junior employees. Overall, she couldn’t be happier about her decision to take on the role of Chair of the Fall Festival.
Northouse, P. G. (2013). Leadership – Theory and Practice – Sixth Edition (6th Edition ed.). (L. C. Shaw, & P. Quinlin, Eds.) Thousand Oaks, California, United States of America: SAGE Publications, Inc.