The Potential of Uniqueness

“Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn’t a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one and calls out, ‘Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!’ she doesn’t get one.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!
This makes things quite difficult at the McCaves’
As you can imagine, with so many Daves.”

– Dr. Suess

It is easier to place people in the same neat little box than to personalize our interactions with them. How much simpler to call everyone “Dave” than take the time to handcraft a unique title?

Growing up, my grandparents had several dogs. Each new dog, my cousins and I were allowed to name it, but invariably, my Grandfather would call them all the same thing. “King” if the dog was male and “Girl” if it was female. He didn’t have to worry about forgetting the new name because they were all the same.

It was easy.

When we work with volunteers, we might find ourselves falling into the temptation to treat everyone as the same “type.” It saves us mental exertion if everyone we work with gets the same end result. The same kind of reward, the same sort of encouragement, the same training, the same correction, the same…whatever.

Granted, working with large groups of volunteers forces us to standardize some aspects of the serving experience: orientation, training, annual rewards or appreciation gifts. But we start to get into trouble when we attempt to apply a one-size-fits-all approach to our relationship with volunteers (or anyone else for that matter!).

Without knowing it, we are forcing members of the team to fit the mold. Be like everyone else. Join the status quo.

What we’re saying through these behaviors is, “Because this is how the majority operates, this is how YOU must operate.” And when we communicate this to our team, they start to believe it. It squashes the creativity, freedom of expression, and the personal touch that comes with people performing in all their unique glory.

Treating people like the individuals they are instead of like an identical cog in the machine takes a little bit of effort. It requires a certain amount of attention. It forces us to get to know people on a personal level. People have complicated, imperfect lives. Things may even get a tiny bit messy.

It’s a challenge for leaders. But one well worth the effort.

What would our organization look like if we began to remember details about our team? If we showed people appreciation in a way that meant the most to them? If we used standardization as a helpful tool instead of a mind-numbing crutch?

I dare say we would begin to see volunteers who thrive in their position. We would see team members who feel valued and come to volunteer excited about their work. We might even start to see increased productivity and more effective staff.

The possibilities are infinite, it just takes a little bit of work. And a lot a bit of remembering names.

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