Volunteerism: A path to leadership potential
Somewhere in every leader's personal history is a tremendous amount of giving back and community involvement. For leaders, their philanthropy includes giving financially and volunteering their time, energy and experience to support causes. First and foremost, people volunteer for altruistic reasons, but there is a very positive by-product of volunteering. It cultivates the same skills we value in the best leaders.
Leaders say 'yes' when asked. We've all witnessed that leaders step up and accept more responsibility when asked. Perhaps because they want to push themselves, or because they effectively juggle many demands at once, or maybe they see opportunities where others see challenges, or they want to be a part of the solution. We heard a keynote speaker say this recently - this is exactly what volunteers do. They keep saying 'yes' when asked to get involved.
Leaders know the ask is an opportunity to learn. Making an ask is an essential business skill, but the fear around this skill can be paralyzing for many. Leaders make 'the ask' a seamless conversation, learning more than selling. Serving on a nonprofit board or volunteering for fundraiser events is one way to overcome this fear, because you're asking for a commitment in support of a mission. Advocating on behalf of a charity can be a rewarding way to practice the art of the ask and the leader in you will take shape, learning more about social issues impacting communities.
Leaders are resourceful. 'Doing more with less' is an expression heard at workplace water coolers everywhere, but it's an operational reality in the nonprofit sector where growing unmet needs outpace current programs and services. Volunteers often generate creative ideas to find new resources or tap into their resourcefulness to keep critical programs going. To grow your leadership abilities, join a nonprofit cause and help them find solutions with limited resources. Then, apply to your career.
Leaders exude confidence. Some people are blessed with confidence, but this is also an acquired trait. Imagine, you show up at a volunteer project, in a new environment, outside your comfort zone. You're learning a new process with little knowledge beforehand and working beside people you've never met. A volunteer experience is a great immersion exercise on how to make friends, activate your natural gifts, use your voice and apply your skills & experience, all behaviors which create confidence.
Leaders have strong, diverse networks. By way of habit, leaders cultivate their networks, seemingly knowing someone in every field or the exact right contact when needed. They grow their network by finding unique new ways to connect with others and offer connections themselves. Volunteering exposes us to people and mentors from across all walks of life - business, community, faith, government and schools. It also gives us the chance to interact with leaders we admire and to create shared experiences with them through volunteering. Volunteering further connects people of diverse backgrounds, with respect to age, race, gender, culture, identification, socioeconomic status or education, because we are bonded through a mutual cause.
Leaders guide people to a shared vision. The same is true for volunteers, who first learn to embrace an organ-
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ization's mission and how to support it. Part of the process is becoming an ambassador for that cause. Through their own example, volunteers continually inspire others to do more and to be more. Like amazing leaders, volunteers quietly and selflessly guide others to a charitable mission and vision. Part of a leader's vision includes perspective to see the big, full board. Leaders see the interconnectedness of things. Volunteering in one's community offers the same vision because, as we get involved, we see how systems and
resources - of housing, transportation, healthcare, food insecurity, education, veterans, arts, senior & child care - are interwoven and impact our lives.
Transformative leaders have a high EQ. The leaders who compel and motivate us, have a high emotional intelligence. Transformative leaders possess soft skills to convey empathy, cultivate understanding, express sensitivity. The volunteer experience mandates service to others and to our community; and if we're being honest, this connection to something bigger than ourselves, is one of the reasons we volunteer. We all want to think someone understands us. We all want others to empathize with us. We all want to feel safe as we expose our vulnerabilities. Through the act of service, volunteering forces us to tap into these inherent EQ qualities.
Certainly, the motivation and choice to volunteer is not driven by an eagerness to develop these skills, but it's nice to know how volunteering can unlock our greater leadership potential. We volunteer because we can and because it's the right thing to do. Today, we are the volunteers and tomorrow we could be the recipient of someone's generosity. Life is a fragile, fine balance and it's lovely to do some good along the way.
Shefali Trivedi is the Executive Director of Giving DuPage in Wheaton - givingdupage.org. Giving DuPage is the DuPage County Volunteer Center, serving as a resource for the business community to organize employee volunteer programs, implement a Philanthropy by Design plan, develop leaders through nonprofit board service or to search our local Volunteer Portal database at givingdupage.org/volunteer, featuring 800 volunteer & in-kind donation needs. For volunteer support resources, contact email@example.com.