Volunteering to Be Better Leaders

If you are not volunteering your time in your community, not only are you failing your community, but you are missing out on a 5-in-1 personal development opportunity. While you are giving you are getting. Unfortunately, it will be hard for me to write a compelling article to do this justice.

I serve in several community capacities, and the one that takes the most time is Cub Scouts. The only person who truly knows the time and dedication that I put into this is my wife Sylvia. Without her support I would not be able to do it. Ironically, I am no outdoorsman, nor was Cub Scouts something significant in my life as a child. While emphasizing fun, scouting establishes and builds the foundation for future leaders and good citizens. In a simple and subtle way, our program is built around and develops the following 12 core values: character, spiritual growth, good citizenship, sportsmanship and fitness, family understanding, respectful relationships, personal achievement, friendly service, fun and adventure, preparation for Boy Scouts. I believe this is important and do whatever it takes to make sure my pack of approximately 90 kids and 180 parents enjoy the program and want to come back for more.

While obviously drinking the Cub Scout Kool Aid, I have learned a lot from this rather challenging experience of taking over a Cub Scout pack and getting involved at a District level. One would expect to feel rewarded by helping out the kids, and I do. However, what I did not know is how it would help me address five personal development areas: career, social, family life, mental, and ethical beliefs.

Career Development – The Board and senior management teams of today’s corporations need to step out of the corporate cocoon to see what is really being lost by not making community involvement a required part of executive development. While many organizations partake and encourage their people to give donations to worthy causes, they should be doing more to support their present and future leaders’ direct involvement in charitable endeavors. If you have been involved in charitable or nonprofit organizations, you will immediately realize the validity of this point. There is no better test of true leadership skills than being a leader in the volunteer environment. In the volunteer world, titles, defined positions, and required responsibilities take on a different meaning. Leaders cannot count on attractive compensation plans to drive performance or to even get people to show up. It takes true leadership and management to get things done.

The leadership ranks have been facing serious challenges in present times as the old “command and control” style of leadership and management has fallen by the wayside. With greater information and changing social norms, we are experiencing more frequent employee turnover as money, prestige, and power are no longer considered adequate motivators. Leaders are finding that the “servant” leadership approach commonly used to lead and manage volunteers is very effective in the business environment.

Volunteering not only helps develop existing leaders but also provides an avenue for people seeking management opportunities. This is a free fast-track management training program for those who do not want to wait until their number in line comes up at the office.

Social Development – This is a great opportunity for exposure to a whole new social circle. Voluntarism creates a venue for developing new friendships and exposes you to people that have interests similar to your own. In some ways, this ties back into career development, since networking is very important in most career paths. One of my former colleagues pointed out to me that his involvement in community causes has given him access to CEOs and presidents of some of the largest local companies. These are people who would not have found time to talk to him as part of their usual routine.

Family Life Development – This is a great opportunity to pull your children and spouses away from the usual vocations to consider doing something really special as a family. In the pursuit of helping the community we can also help to build stronger values and beliefs at home. I have done community clean-ups with my children, done food drives, and other activities that have helped in the education of my children and hopefully brought me closer to my family. By being involved in Cub Scouts I have combined both worlds. I am helping scouting by organizing camp-outs and then going on them with my kids.

Mental Development – I have arrived at some of my best ideas once I have broken away from the usual day-to-day activities. In addition, being exposed to people from different professional backgrounds, companies, cultures, countries, etc., provides us with different perspectives on how to address complex issues. Further, volunteering presents opportunities to address issues you might never face in your personal and business life.

Ethics and Beliefs Development – I think this one is obvious, but let me share an observation by William Osler: “We are here to add what we can to life, not to get what we can from it.”

In summary, I would recommend that volunteering be at the top of your “to do” list if you want to have a dramatic impact on the lives of others lives and your own. Moreover, it’s the right thing to do!

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