‘Paying It Forward’
Has Dividends, Too
In February, AAPG was host for the annual Leadership Conference in Tulsa. We invited all affiliated society presidents, committee chairs and others in various leadership positions in AAPG.
The invitation gave me an odd feeling, because I felt like we were imposing on the lives of busy, professional geologists. Plus, the AAPG staff spends considerable time planning the event and then spending their weekend with us.
What if no one wanted to come? What if our planned program was a flop?
Executive Director Rick Fritz, a veteran of many Leadership Conferences, assured me that attendees would be fulfilled by the weekend because, if for no other reason, they would enjoy visiting with each other. As the weekend began my fears soon disappeared, buoyed the enthusiasm and quality of the attendees and the AAPG staff.
The conference was very successful as it fulfilled its three objectives:
- Describe and discuss new ideas, programs and policies by AAPG.
- Receive reaction and new ideas from attendees.
- Allow AAPG and local leaders to network and share ideas.
As I pondered the question, “Why do busy geologists travel to Tulsa for a weekend or volunteer to lead an annual convention?” three main categories came to mind:
Social networking. In situations where you work together on a common project, people can become friends.
In the volunteer world, unlike some professional situations, you have some flexibility to choose your teammates. When accomplished, retired athletes are asked what they miss most during retirement, they usually reply, “My teammates.” So it can also become when working in a committee or planning a convention: We like to spend time with our friends.
Professional improvement. More than one AAPG leader has described how their professional career improved after they learned the role of a volunteer leader.
In professional settings managers may think their position alone will earn respect and performance from workers, but in a volunteer setting you must earn all your respect and performance. Unmotivated volunteers do not quit, but they do something worse -- they do nothing.
Trying to get results in a volunteer setting is like pushing a rope or herding cats; it can be done, but you need a lot of patience and technique. Results are not necessarily directly proportional to amount of effort or quantities of demands. The other volunteers must believe in the goals of the group and want to work for the leader.
Thus, if you can be an effective leader in a volunteer setting, many of those skills and mindset will transfer to the professional world.
Sense of duty. Many of us have been helped in our academic, professional or personal pursuits. Volunteering is an opportunity to “give back” to our communities or profession.
It reminds me of the movie “Pay It Forward,” in which a young boy writes a term paper on how to improve the world. His idea is to help three people, and in return those people must perform an equal or greater favor to someone else. He thinks his idea is a failure, because he sees little change in the people he helped. But away from his observations, his idea starts a remarkable chain reaction, which makes the movie interesting.
So it is with volunteer efforts at times. It is our chance to “Pay it Forward.”
Some of my best training to be a volunteer leader occurred in coaching youth sports teams. The following principles can be transferred from Little League all the way to president of AAPG:
- Listen to your players -- if they say they have to go to the bathroom, let them go. You cannot make them do something they do not want to do.
- Make sure you and the team has the same goals -- some teams do not want to win the championship, they just want to have fun. And goals successfully reached make for a successful season.
- Make it fun for the whole team -- people and players have lots of choices on how to spend their time. If you cannot make it fun, they will find something better to do.
I encourage all AAPG members to actively volunteer your time, talent and treasure. The rewards will outweigh and outlast your efforts.
By the time you read this, the annual convention in Long Beach will be history. Some fantastic volunteer leaders sacrificed untold hours of their personal time, including Dalton Lockman, chairman; Kay Pitts, vice-chair; Jon Schwalback Jr., technical program chair; Larry Knauer, sponsorship chair; and the entire organizing committee.
All of AAPG owes a sincere “thank you” to the Pacific Section volunteers.