Want to be a Better Leader? Volunteer!

thank-you-volunteersVolunteerism around America is declining in droves.  People are too busy to “give back” to their community.  Nonprofit organizations are struggling to fill their Boards.  Local sports leagues cannot find coaches, umpires or administrators. 

And guess what?  Our businesses are going to feel the effects of this decline.  One of the best ways to learn to lead is to do so through volunteering.  You are one of a team of people who have a similar interest in a topic, let’s say children’s athletics.  Your goal is simple- improve the experience of every player in the organization.  But how you get there is unique to each team member.  In order for this team to function, someone needs to take the lead.

There is one big difference between leading at work versus volunteering- most people in volunteering are agreeable to being led, especially if the person is likeable, well-spoken and almost smart.  They want to achieve a common goal and are giving up their free time to get there.  Politics, back stabbing, fear of job loss, etc. are not in the equation.  Volunteers are willing to work with a leader and accept mistakes more readily because “it is not their real job”. 

The skills that you learn from leading during your “volunteer” time is invaluable.  Skills like managing people who do not work for you, making change with minimal resources, time management, consensus building, customer service, and conflict management are must haves for the strong volunteer.  Funny because they are also some of the key skills that leaders need to be developed.

Why do companies look for team captains and student government for employment after college?  Easy, they are leaders in the making.  They were seen by their peers to be worthy of following.  So why do companies want you to volunteer?  For the same reason, they want to see who their leaders are.  They want to see how you work in a group of strangers and whether you lead, follow or drop.

So, make the last third of 2016 productive, find an organization, and volunteer.  Your career will thank you as will the people whose lives you impact. 

How Do You Measure Up to Olympic Athletes?

Rio LogoLike everyone else, I have been enthralled with the Olympics. I love the stories that are told about athletes and their struggles to become Olympians. Overcoming obstacles is one of the greatest keys in life. Anyone can succeed when there are no pitfalls, it takes a special person to find hope in setbacks.

The other thing I like about the Olympics is the different ways the athletes handle success or failure. It shows a lot about their character, leadership and personality. There were three instances last night alone that pointed to these traits.

The first one was the 400M Women’s Hurdles qualifying races. A young woman from NJ had just run in her estimation a horrible race. She was obviously devastated and took her 15 second interview time to make four separate excuses on why she did not perform well. As luck would turn out, her time was good enough to advance. Are the type of person who dwells on the negative or do you look for the silver lining? To be a great leader, you need to take the time to see the wide view, even in a moment of perceived darkness.

The second one was after the Women’s 400M race where the winner literally dove across the finish line- denying a two time defending champion a chance to win a third time. The silver medalist was obviously disappointed with her result and let the world know it. The racer did not lose because of the dive, she lost because she was not fast enough that day. Every person in that race except for one would trade places with her in a heartbeat, but her first reaction was to blame the winner for doing everything it takes to win. Are you that way? Do you want to be the best, but make excuses when you aren’t? If you want to be the best in business, you need to prove it every day.

The last one was in the Women’s Balance Beam event. The prohibitive favorite came in third. She had been crushing the competition all week. And in one of her best events, she made a major mistake. Again, she was obviously devastated, but unlike the other two athletes, she said and did the right things. She congratulated both other winners, was exited to received her medal and gave a very gracious interview. Could you act that way? If you are a true leader, you absolutely must. Leadership is about actions, words, and attitude. Any negative vibe in any of these three areas, make you vulnerable.

There are countless other examples of these types of behavior. These just happened to take place while I was watching last night. Take time to watch through those eyes this week and see how you would react in disappointment. You might surprise yourself.