Choose Your Own Adventure: Leaders Volunteer to Serve Beyond Their Day Jobs
Most of us focus all our time and attention doing our day job. What is your “day job?” It is on your job description. It is probably what you went to school for. It is on your goal sheet, and you talk about during your performance review. This is critically important, and it should take up most of your time, but not all of it.
Other duties as assigned
There is another category of work, which is the work your boss asks you to do because it needs to be done. Depending on your attitude, you will do it begrudgingly or enthusiastically, but either way, it has been assigned so you need to make it happen.
Choose your own adventure
There is a third category of work. This is truly optional. You can say “no” and it won’t negatively impact your performance review. This could be a passion project. It could be a volunteer assignment. It could relate to your day job, but it is definitely above and beyond your normal scope of work.
To clarify, I will provide some examples:
- Organize a charity drive
- Organize corporate innovation or education events
- Serve on a committee or review board
- Plan a departmental social event
- Serve on or lead an Employee Resource Group
- Be a wellness champion
- Be a safety/floor captain
- Serve on or lead the COVID-19 response
- Be a change management champion
- Lead the intern program
- Become a Lean expert
- Write a blog, shoot photos and videos, or record podcasts for professional social media
I’m sure you can come up with some more examples yourself, but now you can understand the common elements. Your boss may bring up these opportunities for you to consider, but there isn’t any significant downside if you say no. Therefore, it is truly optional.
What about the upside? You could spend a lot of time on these activities and it all very well may be irrelevant on your performance review. If that’s the case, why should you bother? We all have plenty to do, why make work harder on ourselves?
Here is why:
- Networking. In your day job, you work with the same teammates and serve the same customers over and over again. Volunteering creates the opportunity to get to know people in other departments, and for them to get to know you. I guarantee that those new relationships will make you more effective in your day job.
- Enterprise perspective. We all know our job function, but we sometimes fail to appreciate how we fit together with other pieces of the enterprise. Working on cross-functional teams helps to build an enterprise perspective. Over time, that will absolutely make you better at your day job.
- Demonstrate breadth. You may be well-known in the company for being brilliant at your primary job, but you have other untapped skills that no one knows about. Finding the right volunteer opportunity can give you a platform for practicing and demonstrating those skills. I promise you this: leaders will take note.
- Have fun. Variety is the spice of life. Get out of your normal patterns and try something different. Sure, it is uncertain and a little uncomfortable, but you will have fun with it. Most volunteer opportunities are quite enjoyable. When you are having fun at work, your customers and coworkers will notice and benefit.
I’ve described a virtuous cycle. While at first, volunteer opportunities may seem irrelevant to work performance and career progression, you can now see the linkage. You are willing, but still lack the time.
Getting the flywheel started
It’s very important that you don’t over-commit to volunteer opportunities only to let your performance slip for your day job. All of the benefits I described earlier will not offset that disaster, so make sure it doesn’t happen.
There are two steps you need to take. First, you need to master your job. If you are new to your role, then be patient with yourself and give yourself a year or two to get your feet under you. That’s always fair.
Second, once you’ve mastered it sufficiently (you never master anything completely), start to delegate. If you think you lack the authority to delegate, then teach teammates that are newer than you and delegate horizontally.
Make a decision
Volunteer opportunities come up all the time. Perhaps you feel sheepish that you haven’t done as much as you can. I hope this article is the encouragement you needed to stick your hand high in the air. You benefit. Your company benefits. Your customers benefit. Your career benefits. Everybody wins.
Do you have a story about how volunteering made your day job better? Please share in the comments.