You know volunteering is good for the community, but can volunteering make you a better executive? As a very active member of two terrific nonprofit boards here in Los Angeles, I can attest to the fact that this type of engagement is not only some of the most meaningful work I have ever done, but that it has made me a far better entrepreneur. It is interesting to note that many corporations now actively support volunteering. Forty eight of the companies recognized in the most recent edition of the 100 Best Places to Work give paid time off for volunteering, and Starbucks and others have made volunteering part of their turnaround stories. Let’s talk a bit about why this works.
Volunteering takes you outside of your comfort zone, giving you an opportunity to work with new challenges, people, politics, and interpersonal dynamics. This means that volunteering offers new perspectives on priorities. Additionally, being around people with different life experiences encourages you to tackle challenges from different angles.
Ideally, you can take risks at work, but that’s easier in some organizations than others. Even in cultures that encourage risk-taking, I know first-hand that it can sometimes feel nerve-racking to try out new skills at work. It may also be difficult to convince someone to give you a chance to use your untested skills. Most volunteer organizations are glad for the help. You seldom have to prove your qualifications to be given a chance. Volunteer experiences can give you latitude to experiment and try new things. This was the most common theme reiterated by everyone I talked to—virtually everyone talked about feeling a sense of freedom to take risks and use new muscles while serving on nonprofit boards. The sense of accomplishment when you succeed can be transformational. Good leaders understand that employees are learning outside of work. The smart ones then leverage these skills.
It has also been my experience that executive awareness of social issues, and of the needs and characteristics of different socioeconomic groups, is also sharpened through volunteer experiences. This is important for managers at all levels who must increasingly reconcile the various, and often conflicting, demands of a multitude of stakeholders and special interests, many of which they may not completely understand. Volunteering in nonprofits isn’t just a charitable act; it’s a way for executives to hone their management and leadership skills.
How has volunteering made you a better leader?