How to Lead Volunteers Who Don't Like You

Have you ever had a volunteer on your team that didn't like you?  I have.

In an ideal world, everyone would think you're a great leader and want to be your best friend.  But we both know that is not reality.  Normally on a team, there will be a few people you just can't seem to click with.

So...what should you do?  Here's some tips on leading volunteers who don't like you.

Accept the fact that not everyone is going to like you.
There's an episode of Seinfeld where George is vexed because a lady that Jerry is dating doesn't like him. A friend asks George, "Does everybody have to like you?"  George responds, "Yes...everybody has to like me!"
If that is your mentality, you are in for some disappointments.  Not everyone is going to like you.  Many of us in ministry lean toward being people pleasers.  We have a shepherd's heart so we naturally want to help care for people.  Simply put...we love people.  And we want them to love us in return.  But that doesn't always happen, does it.

Accept it and be okay with it.

Make sure it's not because of a shortcoming or blind spot in your life.
If a volunteer doesn't like you, make sure you're not giving them a reason to not like you.  Are you leading with integrity?  Humility?  Discernment?

Ask someone you trust to speak into your life.  Do I have any blind spots that offend people?  Are there any areas of my personality that could be offending people?  Are there areas of my leadership that I need to improve in?

Be kind to them and remain positive.
Treat the volunteers who don't like you with kindness, respect, and love.  You are not kind to them because they are kind to you, you are kind to them because you are a kind leader.  Respond to the scowls with a smile.  Respond to the angry words with calm words.  Respond to the criticism with compassion.                                                                           
Show them you care. 
People won't follow you because you have a title or say you are the leader.  They will follow you when they know you care about them.  You are only their leader when they say you are.

Give it some time.
Many times, there will be volunteers who don't like you when you step into a new role or position.  They will naturally compare you to the previous leader.  You will be the brunt of their hurt over the previous leader leaving.

In this case, it's usually not about you.  They are in a grieving process.  Be prepared for this.  Some volunteers may leave.  That's okay.  It's part of the process.

Just be patient.  Most will come around.    

Sit down with them and find out why you're not connecting. 
After a period of time, if you have a volunteer who you just can't seem to connect with, invite them to sit down for a conversation.  Be honest with them.  Share with them that you want to have a solid relationship with them but you feel there are roadblocks.

Ask questions.
  • I feel like we are not connecting well.  Do you feel that way?
  • Why do you feel like we are not connecting?
  • Is there anything I have done to offend you?
  • How can I serve you better?
Listen.  Listen.  Listen.

Define what is acceptable.
When dislike moves into disunity, there will be disaster.   Nothing will destroy a team quicker than disunity.  Set clear guidelines for what is and is not acceptable.  If a volunteer has an issue or complaint, they should come straight to you so it can be dealt with.  Direct communication is the key. If you begin to hear of hallway or side conversations, go to the person/people immediately and ask them to talk directly to you instead of sideways.

Don't let your emotions get in the way.
When you know someone doesn't like you, your emotions amp up when you're in the same room with them.  Act...don't react.  Establish your responses and reactions ahead of time so you are not controlled by your emotions in the moment.  When you are controlled by your emotions, you will say and do things you will regret.

Redirect as needed.
There will be some volunteers who won't like you to the point where they will leave the team or you will need to ask them to leave the team.  As mentioned above, when you step into a role or position that was formerly occupied by a previous leader, there will be people who get upset.  Some of them may even resign their volunteer role.  That's part of the process.  Help them find another role in the church.

What do you do when a volunteer doesn't like you?  
How do you respond?
Share your thoughts and tips for us in the comment section below.