Jason Lauritsen - Crushing talent dogma to free human potential

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It’s not Leadership if they are Paid to Follow

I’ve always found that one of the best places to develop leadership skills (particularly early in your career) is in the practice of volunteerism and community service.  If you want to learn if you can lead, raise your hand to lead a group of volunteers to accomplish an important task.  I was fortunate to find these kinds of opportunities early in my life and here’s a few of the things I learned.

  • You aren’t a leader if people are paid or otherwise required to follow you.  You are a leader when people choose to follow you.
  • It’s amazing how much energy people will invest into their work when their heart goes into it first.
  • One leader with a compelling vision can make an enormous impact.
  • People are looking to sign up for a crusade.  They want to make a difference, a leader shows them how. 
  • Volunteers are forgiving about poor leadership skills as long as you have a compelling cause and you aren’t an a-hole.  
  • Volunteers give you immediate feedback on your leadership style by voting with their feet.  If you aren’t leading, they stop showing up.   
This list could get very long.  If you are a professional looking for a way to accelerate your development, go out into your community and find an organization with a cause you care about.  Then raise your hand and volunteer to lead an effort.  This will be the best learning experience you can find about leadership.  
If you are responsible for developing others, help them find opportunities like this in the community.  It’s one of the most powerful and inexpensive leadership development programs anywhere.  And, by the way, it helps your community and builds your companies brand.  
Bottom line: if you can lead volunteers successfully, leading in a company where people are paid to follow is a cakewalk.  
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  1. Jay Kuhns, SPHR

    Early in my career I worked for an organization that required all middle and upper managers to volunteer at two organizations in the community on an ongoing basis. It was a great learning experience for me, and also taught me how important it is to be a good corporate citizen as well.

  2. davidburkus

    Great concept. I actually had a related idea awhile back after I spoke at the Naval Academy. Outside of the military, everyone is essentially a volunteer, paid or not.