Volunteering Fills Your Personal Growth
Working in as many tech jobs as I have in my 30+ year career, I realized not many (if any) of those jobs tapped my true passion, creativity, and potential. Recently I discovered how valuable volunteer involvement can be to invigorate and grow that potential while bringing to fruition my leadership skills. Such an opportunity presented itself for me when I recently volunteered and traveled to Vietnam with a children’s charity and its team.
Initially, when we think and hear of volunteer roles, we wonder why we would give up our personal free time and throw away that precious resource we want more of. Believe me, as I recently learned, volunteerism plays a much bigger part in enriching your life. It’s not only a great way to meet and work with new people, but it is excellent at growing your leadership potential. For one, you will be surrounded by several top-notch leaders whom you can observe and learn from. They are more than happy to help you develop your leadership skills, in your roles together. Though not formal, it’s more of you doing by observing what your leader does and how they do it. How do they delegate? How do they get everyone onside with the same idea? How do they handle each person’s different personality, skillset, and mannerism?
First, let us put to rest a common myth. You won’t become a leader after only 1 volunteer stint. Like most things worthy in life, practice makes perfect. The good news is that because there are so many flavors of leadership, each volunteer role you assume will hone different aspects of your leadership arsenal. Once learned, it is never lost and you retain it for those future times when a real challenge is before you, like getting the entire team on-board with your idea or goal.
What You Will Learn When Volunteering
There were many things I learned and observed. I will try to share them with you now. I also reflect on why I feel they are important.
#1 – Observe
Watch both your leader and others on your team. This is the main way you will learn. Watch what your leader does or says. Do your team members respond favorably to your leaders’ style? Observing is our main way of learning – by observing others in action.
#2 – Ask
Ask short simple questions – Asking short questions ensures the message is not misinterpreted, which happens so much today. The rule is, “One idea – One question”. So many times, while honing my listening skills, I have observed an answer totally tangent to what the other person asked. That tells me that the question was not clear and was misinterpreted by the intended audience.
#3 – Listen
Listen to your team – Good leaders always listen and watch their team members. If they see dissension among the ranks, a good leader can quickly alter their plan or ask for clarification from team members to calm a potentially destructive environment. What and how something is said can be an early indicator of dissension. Then the leader can quickly take action when the problem is still in its infancy.
#4 – Build
Build your team – By doing simple things like all going out to eat together each evening, everyone gets a chance to blend in and learn about each other. Doing some fun things also, like sightseeing, takes some social pressure off each other, especially when members have met each other for the first time.
#5 – Do Daily
Do daily debriefs – This gives each member of your team an equal level of importance. By allowing each team member to speak for several minutes, it tells each team member of their contribution. Nothing builds a team faster than giving each member an equal say, regardless of what they contribute, however small it may appear. The team members also learn about each other.
#6 – Give a Hand
Give a Hand – Lend a Hand – When you volunteer, you initially come in ready to give a hand on what is “asked” of you. But it is a 2-way street. You should also be on the lookout to offer your help when you see a team member struggling to make their part work. It is said, “What goes around, comes around”. Be the first to offer your help and it’s like money in the bank. When you need help, you just may find another team member doing the same for you by offering their help. Some people are uncomfortable “asking” for help. They will literally fall flat, but they will not “ask” you for help. By offering your help, you contribute to the team spirit of your volunteer group.
#7 – You Cannot Fail
In short, seldom can you be fired from your volunteer role (unless you are really REALLY bad). You are working for free and already giving up your free time. This environment takes the pressure off you and allows you to try many things in honing your leadership skills, some of which can fail miserably. But that’s OK. Because if you tried that at your paying day job, you could incur lasting repercussions such as being snubbed by your work colleagues or even dismissal.
#8 – Learn About Gen X’ers
Great way to learn about Gen X’ers – Yes, we are getting older and the next generation is coming up the ranks. While we still have to work prior to retirement, we do have to overlap and work with the younger generation. What a good way to learn more about their general style of being able to text with both thumbs and multitask like we never knew before. They also have inherent skills that you have been dying to learn, such as using your smartphone.
#9 – Volunteerism Sells You
Volunteerism sells you subtly – When being interviewed for a job, the interviewer will learn more about you and your value system by asking what you do in your spare time. Do you just watch TV or movies, play Nintendo games or hang out with friends? No, you volunteer with charity XYZ. That speaks wonders about “you”!
#10 – And Finally
Don’t underestimate the value of volunteerism in furthering your leadership development. Though informal, there are many benefits of taking that real-life training. You can pick the charity and task. You can pick when and where you go. You can even gauge your involvement to the time of the year by engaging doing your annual slow time. You can combine trips to another country with mission projects, going along with people who may know the landscape. It’s a working holiday. It’s also a great way to meet and learn about other people, countries, and cultures while giving something back to a worthy cause or charity. Consider volunteerism in your professional skill development.