Learning and exercising the principles of leadership can be a character-building, life-changing experience. Whether seeking to advance at work, start your own business, or carry out social change, a world of opportunities opens up to you the instant you successfully demonstrate to others you have the knowledge and skills to direct large groups of people toward a common goal.
The workplace, however, isn’t always the best place to exhibit leadership. If your role doesn’t call for it, attempting to thrust yourself forward can be a dicey proposition that can lead to interpersonal conflict, encourage an unhealthy work-life balance, and even place your career at risk.
Luckily, there exist ample opportunities outside the office to cultivate and practice the skills of leadership. In this article, we’ll discuss just a few.
Volunteer Your Time
The idea of volunteering conjures an image of ladling soup at a homeless shelter, but there are plenty of other causes you can donate your time and service to. Sites like Volunteer Match.org can help you to locate big-name charity organizations in your area that are always looking for help.
But there’s another angle you can pursue as well. Small organizations — that is, groups of just a few people with little more than goodwill, time and an idea — are infinitely abounding in most communities. Especially in a city, it seems as if you can’t throw a rock without hitting six people who are trying to start a movement, a blog, a business or an arts collective.
The fact is, many of these organizations suffer from a crucial lack of leadership, and they know it. Trying to get a cause off the ground is hard work enough, but even once that’s done, the to-do list only grows, because leadership is more than simply having ideas and making decisions.
It’s hard work. Someone’s got to:
• Make calls
• Send emails
• Set up spreadsheets
• Build calendars
• Organize events
• Motivate others to get things done
By its very nature, the line that separates “zealous volunteering” and “leading a volunteer organization” is as thin as you want it to be. To find small organizations near you, check Craigslist, local papers and other community forums. Chances are, whatever kind of organization you’d like to lead, there’s already one in your area in desperate need of good leadership.
Alternatively, you might try to…
Start Something Yourself
It can be easy to forget, but “leader” does not mean “person with a management-level job” or “entrepreneur;” it simply means one who leads. If you want to gain or offer leadership experience, then your best option to do so may simply to be to get on a site like MeetUp and go for it.
Tired of seeing trash in your local park? Start a group to clean it up. Thinking about getting back in shape? Get a jogging club together. Create a sports team. Plant a community garden. Start a band. Build a business, if that’s your thing — just do something that goes beyond the abilities of a single person and that requires you to recruit and mobilize others.
And the best way to gather people to your side?
Share Your Skills and Expertise
Carol Tice is a professional copywriter, who earns a living creating content for clients like Costco and publications like Forbes — and she offers her expertise to up-and-coming freelancers for free. Keith Springer is the president of a financial investment firm — and he gives financial advice to his audience through blog posts and free podcasts. Chuck Wendig and Hugh Howey are two of the biggest authors in publishing right now — and they both share their thoughts, expertise and personal life with an audience of thousands every day.
Sensing a pattern?
Whatever you do, there’s someone out there who desperately wants to know how to do it. Whether you run a blog, organize a meet-up, or teach a workshop, freely sharing your expertise with others is the best possible way to establish yourself as an authority and exercise real-world leadership.
In the end, if you want to lead, all that’s required is for you to…
Just Step Up
Open your eyes and stick your neck out. Look around your industry, your community and your network: you’ll find countless initiatives in need of leadership and countless opportunities to jump in and take charge. Don’t wait around for someone else to wave a magic wand; you can’t passively follow someone else into a position of leadership.
A leader is one who leads — and the best way to be a leader is to do just that.
Scott Huntington is a career expert who studies employee productivity and creative workplaces. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington.