Except she was not in a position where she could fix the problem herself. She had to rely on organization's staff to fix the problem, and they did not necessarily see it as the problem my friend did. She was growing angry about the situation. She felt like she was beating her head against a wall. Why couldn't these people just wise up and do what she wanted them to do?
Leadership is not about getting your way, I told her. It's not about convincing others to see things your way and do what you want them to do. That's just giving orders. Leadership is about action that results in the organization developing the capacity to achieve a higher level of success. I suggested she work to focus people's attention on the envisioned outcome, the higher state of performance, not the mechanism she thought was necessary in order to get there.
Because here's the thing. My friend wasn't close enough to the problem. She thought she was. But compared to the people she was trying to convince, she was an outsider. They were dismissing her concerns because from their perspective my friend's recommended actions were unworkable. Maybe they saw the same problem my friend did and maybe they didn't, but either way what my friend was demanding was unreasonable. It would've made things worse, not better.
But when she switched her focus the situation changed. Rather than telling them to do things her way she asked them if they saw the same problem they did. They did. She asked if they had any ideas on how to solve the problem. They did. She asked why that hadn't implemented them. Because there were other constraints on the system--constraints my friend was unaware of--and they were preventing the solution from being implemented. She asked if there was anything she could do to help alleviate those constraints.
And just like that the two sides that were in opposition were on the same side, working together to solve a problem that vexed them both.
It was a valuable lesson. Both for my friend and for myself. Leaders should focus on the outcome, not on the methods to get there. The people closest to any problem are usually better at determining what the right solution is. Outsiders--and sometimes the volunteer leader is an outsider--can't fix it, because they exist outside the system that makes the organization work. Their job is not to impose solutions from above, but to help the organization develop the systems and resources to adequately address the problems that are holding it back.