Find your replacement: Identifying future PTO leaders

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Mentoring PTO leaders

One of the most challenging and time-consuming tasks required of PTO leadership is finding the next generation of leaders to serve and guide the organization. Finding volunteers to help with everyday work requires a great deal of effort; identifying and training volunteers with the time, attitude, and aptitude to be leaders within the organization is an even greater task.

Finding your PTO’s next generation of leaders

As PTO leaders, one of our greatest responsibilities is to ensure that the organization will continue to succeed after we are no longer involved. To do that, we must make it a priority to identify, vet, and mentor the next generation of PTO leadership.

Finding that next group of leaders is far more than just asking for someone to step up and lead. It requires time and effort, and should be a central component of your PTO planning.

Start right now

Identifying future volunteer leaders is vastly different than recruiting volunteers. Not every volunteer has the desire or the attitude to be a leader in the organization. Therefore, you need to start early to ensure that your pipeline of potential leaders is full.

There’s a concept in politics called the permanent campaign. In short, this theory defines the endless scenario in which one must balance doing one’s job and keeping one’s job. While we as volunteer leaders aren’t about keeping ourselves in such a role forever, we should be constantly aware of how this leadership role will be filled once we vacate it. Therefore, part of our regular duties should be working to find our replacement.

Identifying those who will succeed us in leadership can’t simply be something we do at the end of our tenure. Make this a priority from day one, even if you are years away from vacating your leadership role.

Vet the candidates

There is a difference between being willing to take on a leadership role and being able to lead a group of volunteers. A well-meaning volunteer who is not properly equipped for a leadership role can do more harm than good. Therefore, it is our responsibility as leaders to help identify the leaders within the larger group of volunteers.

Vetting potential leaders is a difficult task, requiring both firmness and tact. In many cases, volunteers will self-screen and not volunteer for a leadership role once they realize what it involves. But for the handful of volunteers whose willingness exceeds their ability, you may have to gently guide them toward a more appropriate method of service.

Let them grow into it

There’s no better proving ground than experience. For those who you identify (or who self-identify) as potential future leaders, have them learn and demonstrate what they can do through progressive levels of responsibility.

In any PTO, there is a lot of work to do and never enough hands to do it with. Therefore, there is a multitude of opportunity to work up through the ranks into a senior leadership position. For someone new to PTO who is interested in leadership, start them off with smaller tasks with well-defined boundaries. As they succeed in those smaller roles, have them take on higher levels of responsibility – for example, chairing a committee, or leading a group to organize a specific event – and let them grow both their skills and their confidence.

In setting up this upwardly-mobile path for future leaders, you’ll enable those who are capable of leading the organization to grow into that role, and you’ll help identify any potential limitations in those individuals.

Have a backup (and a backup for the backup)

As the old saying goes, don’t place all of your eggs in one basket. If you have in mind a single potential candidate for a position, don’t stop looking for others.

Situations change. People sometimes move away. New jobs can interrupt volunteering plans. Life gets in the way. If you stop looking for candidates when you think you’ve found “the one”, it might work out well or it might not. Always be on the lookout for other future leaders.

Catch them early

It’s never to early to get parents involved in PTO as volunteers and future leaders. If you’re running an elementary school PTO, you’ll have a fresh batch of kindergarten parents every year, some of whom will likely be eager to get involved in their child’s new school.

By identifying parent volunteers as soon as they arrive, you’ll accomplish two things: you’ll increase the common pool of volunteers for everyday PTO tasks, and you’ll have a larger group from which to identify your future leaders. Sure, you’re going to lose some of those volunteers as their lives change (we all remember the chaos of those transition periods, right?), but for those that remain, you could find your next leader.

Don’t be afraid of differences in vision

When identifying potential PTO leaders, don’t limit your search to those who share your (or your PTO’s) vision of how things should be. While there is value in sticking with what has worked in the past, don’t limit your options by sticking to the “This is the way we do things around here” litmus test. Fresh ideas should be welcomed, especially if they challenge the status quo.

Finding your next generation of PTO leaders

Identifying those who will succeed you in your volunteer role should not be an afterthought. For the organization to thrive, you should be constantly on the lookout for those rising stars who will guide it into the next few years. It’s never too early to start looking for and vetting those future leaders.