How to Become a Leader Before You are One
Don’t tell me what you hope to do.
Tell me what you’re doing.
Reading and talking are useful, even essential, but experience matters most. Leadership is about practice more than theory. Every leadership behavior can be practiced as a volunteer in a not-for-profit organization.
Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned
by reading about it.” Henry Mintzberg
Help yourself by helping others.
#1. Develop experience. Stop wasting time. Do it for free. Whatever you hope to become, can be done as a volunteer.
#2. Grow skills while volunteering. You’re more likely to earn promotions at work if you already:
- Lead meetings.
- Organize projects and plan initiatives.
- Connect with leaders in the community.
- Develop schedules.
- Delegate tasks.
- Take initiative.
- Solve problems.
- Handle budgets.
- Cut costs.
- Motivate others.
- Collaborate and innovate.
- Make decisions.
- Manage projects.
- Form and lead teams.
- Give presentations.
- Endure through adversity.
- Make and learn from mistakes.
- Adapt to diverse personalities.
- Have a track-record. The best indicator of the future is the past.
- Teach others your skills.
- Adapt to others.
- Deal with stagnation and resistance.
- Act with generosity and compassion.
#3. Generosity enhances humility while developing confidence at the same time.
Bonus: Encouraging volunteerism is a free leadership development program for every business.
A note to nonprofits:
Recruiting volunteers is about them not you and your needs. Stop focusing on what you want them to do for you. Connect with their hopes and dreams.
Focus on what you do for volunteers.
The first question to young volunteers is, “What do you want to become?” not, “What can you do for us?” If they want to become managers or supervisors, train them to manage and supervise in your nonprofit.
Nonprofits are so consumed with their mission that they don’t realize the value they bring to volunteers.
What are the pros and cons of volunteering?
How has volunteering helped you develop?
Actually I always thought that was what leadership was until a lot of books got written and read and made things more complicated….
Simplicity is still the best way to success though and to sum up your blog in less than 300 words, this is what I will take with me today:
“Lead by Doing ….!”
I will add words like “good”, “right”, “my best” at the end to give some variation to the theme and keep it motivating me in days to come! Thanks!
Volunteering is a way to learn how to lead by doing. 🙂
I appreciate the challenge of brevity coupled with clarity.
Yes! And stop waiting around for someone to tap you on shoulder… just start leading.. practice in small ways… then when your heart tells you, you must lead now… because you care so deeply… you will be ready.
So true! Stop talking, thinking, wishing, and whining. Just go make a difference. People who say there isn’t an opportunity are excuse makers.
While I started reading the post, the first thing came to my mind is volunteering about leadership and subsequently I encountered this. I agree that volunteering is the great exercise to become leader. I do think that volunteering is more dependent upon individual priority and context. Many times, contexts are more encouraging in nature to help employees to volunteer. Many time, individuals are so demanding from the organization that they can not even think of volunteering. In this way, I think, situational factors play role in influencing employees volunteering. There are other individual expectation that is based on transaction which actually inhibits the volunteering. Such expectations are very natural – what is there for me. Such belief diminishes the role of volunteering.
So, when people act against the situation, it might affect negatively to individual. However, volunteering exercise that aligns with organizational values is valued.
Nevertheless, there are occasions when individual’s organizational status does not stop to volunteer. People need will power and passion to help those who need it. There are works, that need willingness and not permission to act. So, I think, people need to develop individual willingness to volunteer and not the permission.
Great post.. there is no leading without doing, theory is nice, execution is the test…
Volunteering is a great way to gain leadership skills. For people aged 18 to 41, becoming a Jaycee (Junior Chamber International) is a tremendous way to gain leadership and business skills as that’s JCI’s sole purpose.
Beyond that, as I often share with others, leadership isn’t a title. You don’t have to wait until someone tells you to be a leader. Be one. Act like one. Waiting to become one tells me you aren’t one.
Well Dan, when you share and it resonates I will sing your praises!
Today resonated! Thanks!
You wrote connect with their hopes and dreams. THAT is their Why’s, so good Onya! Been saying that over and over and over so nice to see you validate the validity of WHY!!!!!!
I guess one thing that is a little confusing to me is you write about volunteerism and leadership as if there was some kind of separation between the two.
Not saying you did or do that on purpose just the way I hear what you are saying.
For me there is no separation. I have a great spiritual teacher, yep a drunk, Sandy B.
He says we all have these roles we play as we make it through our day. One is Scott the Regional Manager. One is Scott the son. One is Scott the hopeless romantic who hopes the gal I have fallen deeply in love with feels the same one day and we live lovingly together till one if us croaks!! One Scott the recovering dude.
All parts I imagine and act accordingly. Each imaginary role slightly different script. All slightly inauthentic.
Sandy teaches me that is all crapola. He shares with me his insight that there is only one of each of us. He says he learned to just BE himself everywhere.
Not trying to play each of these parts with a different script. There is no separation, I am just me.
I found the reason I created these different roles cause I suffered a spiritual malady. I did not know who I was, who you were and who God was.
As I have progressed in my understanding of being a spiritual being having a human experience I have learned to just BE ME everywhere under all circumstances and situations.
God created me exactly like me, one of a kind to contribute my authentic offering. Being an eachness in the allness of God needs no Scott the Leader script for this and Scott the hopeless romantic for that.
Being me every second everytime every situation I am fully equipped for everything.
So I enjoyed what you shared today just from my experience I don’t see any difference in volunteering in the questions than just BEING.
Bringing the conversation to that specific just for me is the same answer if you change the word volunteer to any other if that makes any sense.
Think you did that cause lots of folks here are non-profiteers.
Then again we are ALL getting something for our efforts, right? Some efforts get money, others good feelings cause we are displaying altruism BUT in any case for any action there is a reaction. So we are all the same, doing something and getting a pay off whether cool feelings or cold hard cash.
So we are really all profiteers, just the pay comes in different forms.
So we are not really volunteering for nothing so no separation. Volunteering for the return the volunteering gives back, right?
So again enjoyed what you shared today, made me ponder your points which is always a good thing. Hey at least I got that going for me!!!!
SP back to Now! Only place there is, think about it!!!! You ever out of NOW? Kinda neat when you realize it and BE in it accordingly!!!!!
We train volunteers, we do not develop them. Development requires education of “why we do it”, the training of “how we do it” and the experience of “when we do it”.
“Rational prediction requires theory and builds knowledge through systematic revision and extension of theory based on comparison of prediction with observation. It is an extension of application that discloses inadequacy of a theory, and need for revision, or even new theory. Again, without theory, there is nothing to revise. Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence without theory, there is no learning.” W.E. Deming
In short, theory is a statement of causality. Practice is the test of the statement. Learning is the revision of the statement.
With only experience, volunteers may develop skills of coping with reality, but that is not the same as learning and developing competence.
I Concur 1000%!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
YES YES YES All Hail Demmings!!!!!!!!!!!!
Shifterp back to Now!!!!
Dan – You are so right that people can gain amazing leadership skills when they volunteer with charities. However, as a nonprofit CEO I beg to differ with your final comment. Volunteering at nonprofits is not all about the volunteers and their leadership development. Ideally, it is about a partnership between the nonprofit and the volunteer to aid in advancing the organization’s mission. Our small charity is fortunate to partner with over 300 volunteers annually – we could not do our work without them.
Volunteerism is a terrific training ground for all sorts of skills, not just leadership. But this paradigm works the other way around, as well. The skills that I have honed on the job are delivering value in my volunteer work. The line between personal and professional continues to blur the older I get.
I absolutely agree with your point about volunteering. As a matter of fact, almost all of my leadership skills and most of my leadership function has come from volunteering! By organizing local youth leadership workshops and service opportunities, I have expanded my network, won countless friends, and been able to have a great impact.
The beauty of volunteering is that it develops those leadership skills in young professionals who may not otherwise have the opportunity to lead! Large organizations are realizing this and really investing in getting their team members out into the community, plugged into worthwhile causes.
During my 40 career, I have worked for the federal government, fpr three larger corporations, and for two smaller ones. In none of those settings did the organizations have systematic processes to try to identify and develop future leaders. Much was left to being in the right place at the right time.
So for me, volunteering was THE primary way I got leadership experience. And my first experience was as a consumer arbitrator with the Better Business Bureau. I don’t think they even have the program any more; but when I volunteered, it was a brand new experiment and they provided the training. The role was that of arbitrator between businesses (members of the BBB) and consumers who felt they had been wronged.
For me, the primary caution about volunteering is that once you volunteer, you will be ask to volunteer more and more. It’s important to be selective and to be able to say, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t take on anything else at this time.” Try saying THAT to your boss! 😉
Nice post Dan. Does Parenthood count? It’s a very good point you make, volunteering is a great testing ground, it’s good for your humility and won’t harm your reputation in any possible way. I i would put a twist on it by suggesting that volunteering in an area you may never intend to work is also a good thing – to broaden your understanding and in some cases your compassion- prisons, rest homes, hospitals are some examples. I don’t think their is a downside to volunteering – if you have over-committed – or you’re not committed it’s not the volunteering part that’s at fault. One of the things I really enjoy about North America is how many people do give their time and energy and do so with grace and energy, it’s something that in my voluntary role I hope to pass onto my children 🙂
I think that when volunteering, you should do what they need you to do, ANYTHING THAT THEY NEED. While volunteering you might think you should be doing something you are great at…but that is not what they need. The training that day for you would be, to see what it is like to be in that position and maybe how to improve it at your level at work or just simply to walk in some else’s boots.
I agree that it is a platform on which you can see what your gifts are or maybe someone else can see. It also serves as a way to see if you like that type of work. You might find that you need to head a completely different direction for your field.
Many times while watching people work they do great, but you can see that really they are not happy, really, working in another trade or position would be much better for them and the leader
Ultimately! at the end of they day you hopefully did something unselfishly and WOW how good that feels. Because life is not all about .
When I hire managers, during the interview I often hear what people hope to do, or would do, or could do. What I am actively listening for is: what you have done as a leader, project leader, team leader, volunteer leader, youth leader, etc. I tell my employees, if you don’t have this experience, seek it out, then come talk to me about the next rung in your career ladder.
Do we see the role of leader as a business role or a cultural role?
While business law clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of managers, employees, customers and suppliers, it says nothing about leaders.
This is just a shot in the dark but perhaps business law doesn’t define the role of leader because leaders are a more ambiguous role than managers, employees, etc. I really don’t think it is the role of business law is to define the role of leader in business.
I think you are on the right track Jody. All social environments have structures so that we can live and function together. Perhaps the business environment has the rule of law to govern our external dealing and the norms of culture to govern our internal dealings. Managers are given authority law. Leaders are given authority by followers.
A person can also volunteer at work. I would love an employee to not only tell me about a process that isn’t working, but also volunteer to set up a meeting with stakeholders and together develop a better process. Now that would be awesome.
Hi Dan! Another great post about volunteering! I agree with your post except on one point. You wrote, “Have a track-record. The best indicator of the future is the past.” – Yes…have a track record but I don’t think that the past is the best indicator of the future…maybe of the potential the future holds but the past is an indicator of the past. The future is full of possibilty, change, growth and more learning. Maybe the word I have the biggest issue is “best” – I don’t agree that the past is the best indicator of the future. I feel like if we are constantly talking about yesterday we never fully get to appreciate and take full advantage of today. If that makes sense…?? Please don’t think that I’m not in favor of learning from the past and acknowledging the past…I just don’t want to live in it.
We love the idea that people should focus on what they are giving, NOT what they are getting. Keeping scorecards about what we give versus what we get is not only a waste of time, it takes away from grace the world wants us to embrace. We love the idea that “what goes around comes around,” and by volunteering time, money or compassion, we are spreading joy into the world as well as into our growing hearts. This is a win-win, and makes us a leader for changing the world into a more joyful place. Thanks for writing this post, we love it. We think you might like our related post: http://blog.igniteyourlifenow.com/2013/08/07/give-birth-to-the-best-that-is-within-you/ Take care and keep up the great work (:
Leadership is not only about giving but giving it with love and sincerity without expecting anything in return. It is when you see the other more successful then you are, the ability to pass this concept onto another, the same sincerity of giving and spreading it from one person to the next, the same thought and perception and seeing this vision bloom, now that is what I call a Champion of Leadership. There is no power, money, status that can buy the sincerity of giving from the heart. One has to feel peaceful and full of joy in the act of giving!