You might learn a great deal in school, but it’s doubtful you’ll actually develop as a leader by reading a book or taking a course. The military maintains that leadership development comes through experience, and Alice Korngold, writing for Fastcompany.com, tends to agree. “People grow and become leaders by making a commitment to a cause, and having personal responsibility and accountability.”
For those in civilian life, she says, there is an important route toward leadership development: volunteer service. “There are myriad nonprofit missions from which to choose, roles and positions in which to engage that are meaningful and productive, and paths for personal and professional advancement,” she writes.
Nonprofit board service is particularly compelling for business people and professionals seeking to develop as leaders, Korngold notes. While the CEOs and staffs of nonprofits build and run programs and services, boards of directors provide strategic and financial leadership to ensure each organization’s vitality, integrity, and mission fulfillment. “Business people who bring valuable skills and experience as well as diverse backgrounds and perspectives are uniquely equipped to help organizations to achieve success in addressing poverty, education, health care, conservation of natural resources, and other key issues.”
Through nonprofit board experience, business people participate with the CEO in envisioning an organization’s greater potential, creating the revenue model, and achieving success. Nonprofit board service offers valuable experience in ethics, accountability, leadership, group dynamics, and crisis management and communications.”
She goes on to offer tips to making the most of a service experience:
- Select a cause that’s meaningful to you, and where you like the people. Determine how you can be useful. If you’ll be serving on the board, be clear about what will be expected of you.
- Be open to opportunities to raise your hand and say, “I’ll help.”
- Be alert to potential mentors–on the board where you serve and among your friends and colleagues.
- Always remember the organization’s mission. “It must be at the forefront of your mind as you participate in discussions and make decisions,” notes Korngold.
- Be generous with your time and your contributions.
- “Once you get involved, you’ll be surprised at how aware you will become of who’s a thoughtful leader who gets things done, and who’s not. Whom you want to emulate, and whom you don’t.”
After a lifetime of volunteer service, Korngold says she’s seen firsthand the power of service in fostering leadership development. “Through service, you have tremendous opportunities to develop as a leader, become a more valuable professional where you work, and make a meaningful contribution to improving your community and the world.”