A change is as good as a rest!

In the last couple of blogs ACOSVO Chief Executive, Pat Armstrong has been reflecting on her long term leader journey and also looking to challenge herself as a leader. In this blog she talks about how she tried to do just this by volunteering with the Glasgow Games. 

Is a change really as good as a rest? That’s what I set out to discover by spending a week volunteering with the Glasgow Games recently.  I’d heard what a wonderful experience it could be from colleagues who had been involved in the Commonwealth Games and felt it would be a good way to challenge my leadership skills after rather a long time in the same role (15 years). 


I was offered the position of Team Leader of Spectator Services at the Golf at Gleneagles, and no, I didn’t get to stay there.  I had no idea what that meant but decided to give it a go.  The first challenge was to attend the training and try to get an idea of a) how golf worked, b) how a walkie talkie worked, and c) what spectator services was.


It turns out spectator services are the folk that high 5, wave foam fingers, and generally get the crowds hyped up - somewhat more of a challenge in the golf world. I was allocated a team and it seemed that my main role was to make sure I had the right people, in the right places, at the right time, that they knew what was expected of them, enjoyed their role, offered the help and support needed to spectators... and all got a lunch break!


It’s very strange to have no idea what you are doing. To have an unfamiliar language (golf), unfamiliar surrounding, people you don’t know, and people who don’t know you. I realise how much I take for granted and do without thinking in my usual role. It also reminded me how exhausting being on your feet all day can be and how at the mercy of the weather you are being outside all day (I spent 4 glamorous hours on a remote part of the course in the pouring rain directing folk to the loos - all with paper towels stuffed up my sleeves to keep warm). Much respect to those that do these sorts of jobs on a daily basis.


There was definitely something about the camaraderie of all being there as volunteers, how quickly we got to know each other, how folk were happy to do as they were asked even though they hadn’t had time to trust me as the team leader.  This sense of camaraderie was high and we all shared stories and supported each other as the week unfolded.


It was also fascinating to be in a uniform, exactly the same as hundreds of others. The spectators just saw us as “staff”, there to do whatever was needed. Most were very appreciative, although I never did quite get to grips with the question “so, how does the scoring work?” I did however love the fact that I didn’t have to think about what I had to wear for a week, but hadn’t realised how nice it would feel afterwards to be me again.


The experience also reminded me how far a little bit of praise and recognition goes. I got a comment on one of my social media posts saying “perfect volunteer – ever resourceful!” it absolutely brightened my day.  As CEO's we make sure to praise our teams and those around us, and we might even get praise for how well our organisations are doing but rarely for the small actions we, as CEO's, take.


It’s so useful to get out of your comfort zone and do something different. It gives you a whole new perspective on ways of working, but also helps to look at your own position through fresh eyes, appreciate where we are, and how easy things become when they are familiar.

I had a further chance to challenge myself the following week through completing my CBT (compulsory basic training for riding a motorbike – not cognitive behavioural therapy which everyone presumes when I mention it).  Trying to persuade yourself to learn new skills, to do something really scary and push yourself out your comfort zone although really challenging, gives much more of a reward when you achieve it rather than something you have been doing for years and don’t have to think about too much. One lesson that really stuck came from my motorcycle instructor and it's that you have to make sure you always look in the direction you want to go – never at the obstacles ahead of 

you (or you will hit them) – this rings true in so many areas of life and it's something i'm going to take with me well beyond the games and the riding.

So, would I do it again next year? – Bring it on (preferably with thermals!)