Leadership Insights from a Community-Based Learning Experience

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Leadership Insights from a Community-Based Learning Experience  Free Essay

So far, my best community-based learning experience was my volunteer work with Feed the Hungry (LMU-LA 1). Feed the Hungry or FTH is a volunteering program established by the students and faculty from the Loyola Marymount University. In fact, volunteering with FTH was an eye-opening experience for me. First, I learned not to look down on insignificant contributions, because at the hands of amazing people, like my fellow volunteers working at FTH, the small can become significant. Aside from the realizing how ordinary people can help others, my primary learning experience while serving at the FTH was the insights I learned about the role of leadership and motivation in accomplishing a particular goal. I believe that it is easier to appreciate the concepts of power, dependence, and effective management in a volunteer surrounding as compared to professional setting, where leaders are not conscious of their reliance on other people’s contributions.


Management Theory and Management Literature

To meet the requirements of this paper, I have chosen to elucidate Elton Mayo’s Human Relations Theory of Management. Concerning the required management literature, I chose to cite articles written by John Kotter and Ricardo Zemler. Mayo’s theoretical framework fits well with the idea of focusing on humans rather than on systems. In fact, it is an insight that seems crucial in understanding the success of the FTH volunteer program.

John Kotter’s article proved to be useful in understanding the primary reason for establishing connections with colleagues, as opposed to leading the group from a distance, similarly to a tyrant without any type of emotional connection with the fellow workers. On the contrary, Ricardo Zemler’s article provided insights on how to motivate workers, since he described his experience in a successful commercial enterprise that valued people over other business aspects.

Connection to the Community-Based Learning Experience

It is imperative to see the challenges faced by the volunteers before making the connection with the aforementioned management theory and management literature. Once a week, every Tuesday morning, FTH’s main purpose is manifested through volunteers who provide free lunches for at least 100 people. Currently, the targeted community is comprised of homeless neighbors, who congregate at Ocean Park Community Center “OCC” in Santa Monica, California (LMU-LA 1). On my first day of volunteer work, it was such a thrill to discover that the tradition of helping poor individuals and poor families had been an unbroken tradition for 15 years. Thus, the leaders had enough time to build a successful organization comprised of volunteers.

Management theory comes into play after considering the challenge faced by the volunteers. For example, a certain number of workers is needed to feed 100 hungry people. At the same time, the volunteers are required to gather before the 11:30 AM in order to finish certain tasks, such as to prepare the lunches and to pack the food so it is ready for delivery to the OCC.

According to the Human Relations Theory, workers it order to feel motivated do not only require a well-organized and effective work environment, but need to feel that their efforts are valuable to the community (Montana and Charnov 25). This particular theory became popular after the release of the results of a groundbreaking study called the “Hawthorne Experiments” (Montana and Charnov 25). According to the experiments, female workers were subjected to different lighting conditions in order to find the optimal light, which was conducive to productive labor. Researchers were surprised to discover that the intensity of the lighting was not a significant factor in the improvement of the workers’ productivity. As a result of the experiment, the researchers discovered that the employees were motivated to work, because they felt that they were making an important contribution to the pursuit of scientific discovery (Montana and Charnov 25). When I recalled the insights that were uncovered by the scientists, I saw the connection between the theory and my CBL experience. The volunteers believed that they were part of something important, and thus spent more time and effort on the work they were assigned to do.

Nature of Work within the Feed the Hungry Volunteer Program

Before uncovering the core concepts of leadership and effective management, it is imperative to examine the nature of work within the FTH volunteer program. According to the official website, the leaders need to raise $130 per week (LMU-LA). This particular amount is enough to feed from 100 to 125 people. At the same time, there is a need to recruit a certain number of volunteers, because various tasks have to be completed during the weekly work cycle, including the need to gather ingredients, food, and the materials that are required to package the meals in a cost-efficient manner. In addition, leaders are supposed to outline the work assignments and establish the teams that are responsible for the orderly and efficient distribution of the free lunches.

The amount pegged at $130 does not guarantee that a certain number of people will receive help that day (LMU-LA 1). The number of the recipients of the food drive fluctuates between 100 to 125 people, because of the cost of the food or ingredients available that particular week (LMU-LA 1). As a result, FTH's core leaders are looking into the ways to boost the cost-efficiency of the program in order to increase the number of people who are going to get meals within the set amount of money available to the group. In addition, the core leaders working for FTH often manage to stretch the budget. For example, they collaborated with a group called LMU L.I.O.N.S., an organization that maintains a garden within the university, in order to harvest fresh produce and thus enhance in the most cost-efficient way the quality of the food they serve (LMU-LA 1).

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Explaining the Success of the FTH Volunteer Program

John Kotter's article, entitled Power, Dependence, and Effective Management, comes to my mind, whenever I think about the leadership requirements at FTH. Kotter's article provided a framework, which explains effective management and leadership skills. Kotter's idea had struck me as truthful and practical, especially since he made the assertion that effective managers were those able to acknowledge their need of other people. He said that in comparison to specialists and professionals, such as doctors, mathematicians, and lawyers, managers were more dependent on fellow employees (Kotter 34).

In addition to the concept of dependence on other people that helps develop an effective organizational culture, Kotter also suggested that leaders misuse and sometimes abuse power. He points out the wonderful things that leaders are able to accomplish after they learn to use their power appropriately. However, he also clarified the reason for the reluctance to use the given power. In a society characterized by democracy, the collective understanding of leaders suggests that too much power is a bad thing. As a result, leaders are prone to make mistake by not using their power in order to avoid being criticized for the misuse or abuse of power. I believe that this is a weakness of many leaders, especially if the resources are inefficiently used because leaders are unable to “rally the troops” due to their sub-conscious fear of using power.

Furthermore, the ideas of power, dependence, and effective management become more practical after examining the leadership and management situation at FTH, considering, for example, the financial and labor-related constraints (LMU-LA 1). In this context, it is difficult to find a single leader able to accomplish these two critical organizational requirements on a regular basis.

When looking practically at the challenges faced by FTH, it is easy to believe that one leader can handle such task as raising funds while another can be exceptionally good at recruiting volunteers. One can argue that it is rare to find a leader who possesses the skills and traits needed to perform the same job description at an exceptional level. Thus, the idea of “dependence” was manifested in the weekly operations at FTH. At the same time, one can argue that there is no other way to do it, except to develop a culture of dependence or the sharing of the workload among volunteers.

It is also interesting to point out that a different display of power relations between leaders and volunteers was observed during my community-based learning experience. In typical power relations, such as an employer-employee relationship, the managers or supervisors who misbehave or act rudely in front of co-workers and subordinates are culturally and socially accepted at the office. As I was considering such common practice, I realized that different culture and work requirements could be observed in the volunteer program, as opposed to a commercial enterprise.

Ricardo Zemler's article, entitled Managing without Managers, provided good examples on how to motivate workers. In this article, the author introduced revolutionary principles, including 1) work-force democracy; 2) profit sharing; and 3) free access to information (Zemler 70). Semler pointed out that the workers determine their working hours, which they intend to give to the company. The managers and top-level executives have a free hand in setting their own salary (Zemler 70). He also pointed out that the workers have access to the company's financial information (Zemler 70). It was difficult to accept everything he said, however, his ideas to set personal working hours and allow free access to information seemed to be within the realm of the possible.

At the FTH, I saw how the worker's ability to set their working hours each Tuesday gave them the flexibility to do a good job. In addition, the work was not a burden to them. In addition, the regular meetings were held to give the volunteers an opportunity to see the impact they made in the community. I wonder how commercial enterprises are going to change the way they do business. Leaders from a typical organization can learn a great deal about human behavior and effective management by studying the community-based learning approach defined by volunteer work. In my opinion, it is harder to motivate workers who do not get paid for fulfilling their tasks. In fact, the task of good leaders is not only to inspire their followers but also provide the, with the necessary skills in order to help them become effective solution providers.

Finally, the application of the Mayo’s Human Relations Management Theory enabled me to appreciate the value of the volunteer work. It is important to point out that the FTH program is viewed as one of the critical opportunities for the students at LMU as well as the other members of the LMU community, to serve others and change the world. The people involved with the FTH volunteer program appreciate the possibility offered by their activities to create a practical way to provide service, and to do something about a tangible social injustice issue in the community. For many volunteers, the work they do in FTH is a result of their religious beliefs. I agree with them, but also see the interaction between the volunteers and the leaders as a chance to test certain theoretical concepts discussed in class, especially concerning leadership, effective management, and the importance of motivating team members in order to accomplish specific set of goals.


In conclusion,I was able to find the connection between a popular management theory, Mayo’s Human Relations Management Theory, and my CBL experience. I learned that effective management empowers people by letting them understand the value of the work they are doing. My volunteer work at the FTH gave me the opportunity to interact with people who had a clear sense of purpose. Moreover, I learned to appreciate the abstract leadership concepts described in the articles of Kotter and Zemler. I did not realize at first that a deeper appreciation of the described concepts could appear after working as a volunteer in the FTH program. It was truly fascinating to see people motivated enough to make sacrifices and to go beyond the expected job description. Moreover, they did not aim to receive any money or appreciation; they had intrinsic motivation for their actions. People working in a typical commercial enterprise will learn a lot if they find time to immerse themselves in a community-based learning system. In the process of immersion, they will understand that even if there is a need to use power, the effective use of it can be seen when workers are involved and like what they are doing. Without the ability to inspire workers, the compensation package that was set in the employment contract cannot sustain them, especially during the times of difficulties and great challenges. It is important to learn insights regarding human behavior.

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