Volunteers are celebrated around the world on “International Volunteers Day” and this event triggered some questions for myself: Why do I volunteer? Am I clear on the benefits of being active in different communities, and how that enhances my career? Do we sufficiently realize the ways that volunteering makes us better leaders?
I started volunteering in high school as a scout leader and definitely gained maturity and skills out of this experience, but did not engage in further volunteering activities until about eight years ago. Looking back, I can see that work and family absorbed me and captivated the major part of my time and attention, and I did not realize that volunteering was missing in my life.
An unexpected encounter with an HR Consultant who co-founded an association that supports women over age 45 in the job market (Action Femmes), struck my heart. I was inspired by their commitment and the structure they brought to this issue and felt it was time to give back to my local community. I was keen to contribute further and later engaged with the HBA (Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association) to further support equal opportunities for women.
Volunteering Makes Us Better Leaders in Three Ways:
Leading through influence and engagement
While in all organizations a dissatisfied employee can vote with their feet and choose to walk away, this is particularly true in a volunteer organization. When there is no obligation except for a mutual commitment, inspiration, vision, and engagement of your volunteer team are critical to making anything happen.
Volunteering will always be on top of a day job and keeping volunteers engaged and willing to provide that extra effort develops your ability to lead through influence and engagement, critical skills in today’s highly networked and matrix organizations.
Confronting different backgrounds and experience
One of the reasons I volunteer is for the privilege of interacting with many people I may not otherwise meet. When volunteering, we are bound by a shared mission or cause, which draws individuals from very diverse backgrounds, experiences, skills, and even nationalities. Each individual brings their unique personal stories with them and I am enriched by my conversations and interactions in ways that go beyond the traditional workplace and professional encounters.
Opening your mind to new perspectives
Volunteering takes us out of our professional world and obligations and opens our minds to societal issues that encourage curiosity and creative thinking. Taking ourselves out of the familiar questions and obligations of our day jobs is one of the great benefits of being an active volunteer; in today’s fast-changing and interconnected world, staying too internally focused on what we already know and what is familiar can limit our ability to question our thinking and discover new perspectives.
Is your organization encouraging volunteering for both junior and senior executives as one of the pathways for development? Is it the right time for you to challenge your leadership style while making a contribution to a cause that is close to your heart? At Insigniam, we have a commitment to service and we encourage and support volunteering in addition to a policy of giving three days off for pro-bono work; it is a privilege I treasure.