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

Choose your own adventure

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

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.

I’ve already written extensively on this subject, so I will refer you to my theory of delegation, and these steps to grow your capacity.

Make a decision

Do you have a story about how volunteering made your day job better? Please share in the comments.

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Technology Leader at CHS. Passionate about leadership and innovation. Posts are my own.