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5 ways volunteering can make you a better leader

Stand out from the crowd and forge a new path.

Leadership and management are two different things. Yet when we think about leadership within the business sector, we often think of CEOs and senior management as the ones who run the show.

However, leadership can be found everywhere, at all stages of a person’s career. And although it may be true that some are born to lead, many of us can learn the essential skills needed to lead ourselves, our team, our company and others across the organization.

Volunteering for a non-profit organization, festival or special event is one of the best ways to develop the skills you need to be an effective leader, and those skills will transfer to the business world in a meaningful way.

The following are five ways you'll become a better leader through volunteering.

1. Learn to motivate teams

According to Gallup, a staggering 87% of employees worldwide are not engaged at work.

One of the most valuable skills that today’s leaders have is the ability to motivate other employees. If you can show an employee how their work is linked to a larger purpose than just their daily activities, it can increase engagement and the long-term performance of that employee.

Leaders within a volunteer organization encounter many of the same challenges that businesses are facing today, such as motivating teams and working towards a shared goal. The difference is that they are asked to lead without the compensation and organizational structure of the corporate sector.

Volunteer leaders must hone their leadership skills to meet the goals of the non-profit and gain the trust and respect of those they are working with, usually with much more limited resources than they have in their day job.

2. Build strong business relationships

Volunteering is a social activity, giving you the opportunity to interact with a wide range of new people. When you volunteer, you’ll be in contact with people from all walks of life — and many of them are “connectors." These people can be a valuable part of your professional network and connect you to all kinds of exciting opportunities.

As a volunteer, you’ll work with a team of people who have a wide variety of skills and personalities, and who come from every sector. You may also be invited to sit on boards and committees, or coordinate teams of volunteers for a variety of events. These experiences can also help you build a valuable and influential network.

Effective leaders then take their network of contacts and use them strategically. For example, if you volunteer with someone who owns a marketing company, they may end up helping you develop your company’s branding strategy.

3. Get out of your comfort zone

When you volunteer, you challenge yourself to work with new people and explore new surroundings. If you want to be a great leader, that’s exactly where you need to be  — outside your comfort zone.

As a volunteer leader, you face new challenges every day. That’s the kind of experience that teaches you how to react in different situations, and it will make you resilient and ready to face any situation.

     Related: 4 volunteer ideas to beef up your resume     

You will also have the opportunity to try new challenges without the fear of financial or career repercussions. Learning new skills and applying them in a supportive environment helps you grow your skill set and gain confidence.

4. Develop soft skills

When we volunteer, we’re mostly focused on developing professional skills. That’s great, but we’re neglecting another important aspect. Authenticity, positivity and confidence — those are only a few of the soft skills you can develop by volunteering in a leadership role.

You develop authenticity through your daily contact with others, and you have a chance to be a positive influence every day with those people. You’re doing everything in your power to make your community better, and that’s the kind of positive attitude that leadership needs.

You’ll also become more confident about making changes that have an impact — and you'll find that you’re an important link between people. Business leaders use these soft skills to gain the trust and confidence of their team, coworkers and professional network.

5. Become an expert communicator

Leadership requires clear, concise and organized communication — all of which are highly sought-after skills in volunteer roles. Since most volunteer activities and special events often require that you can effectively communicate to teams across a wide range of topics, your ability to send, receive and translate messages with speed and accuracy can be critical to team success.

In volunteer leadership positions, you'll go beyond developing a standard communication skill set. Many volunteer leaders will also gain experience outlining a vision for a project, which is transferable to most workplaces. You may likely also have to take part in persuading and influencing people to donate their time or money — another highly valuable skill.

In addition, many volunteer leaders will communicate with clients of the organization, provide feedback and reports on event performance, address issues with local officials and communicate directly with the media.

Up Next: Here's how volunteering can strengthen your business.

4 ways volunteerism can strengthen your business

Dawn Bourbonnais

Having spent the past 15 years working in the non-profit sector as a communications specialist, Dawn has developed a talent for interpreting what others mean to say and what some want to hear. In her current role at Volunteer Manitoba, she is responsible for increasing awareness of VM’s mission – to encourage and promote volunteerism across the province. Passionate about volunteers and community engagement, she has also managed volunteers for many festival and community events held in Winnipeg, and is especially fond of the volunteers at Jazz Winnipeg Inc. (whom she has been working with since 2004).

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