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. 

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