Simply Volunteer to Supercharge Your Leadership
31 Jul

Simply Volunteer to Supercharge Your Leadership

Recently, my husband Marc and I volunteered to work at Trinity Church Soup Kitchen in downtown Atlanta.  They’ve served meals to the disadvantaged since the 1950s. The day-long experience reaffirmed the truth that when you give of yourself to those in need, you get something much greater in return.

We helped prepare food, transport it to the facility, and then served 320 people within just 90 minutes. That was a lot of meals to serve, but we felt completely energized and so inspired by the people we served. We met women and men who are amazingly resilient, determined, and resourceful – despite incredible hardships. Each day they confront terribly difficult fears and challenges, just to survive. Yet they manage to do so with remarkable dignity and gratitude.

All through the week Marc and I continued to see how our experience affected us, in so many positive ways. It made us reevaluate and put into perspective our own day-to-day problems. So here are four leadership tips and takeaways I learned while interacting with those folks I was fortunate to meet at the soup kitchen.

#1 Be Grateful (and a little forgetful!)

Leaders can be so focused on what others are NOT doing that they overlook what they ARE doing. So, I suggest you spend more time forgetting about the little things that they aren’t doing. Concentrate instead on acknowledging all the vital things they are doing to make your job easier.

As we greeted the individuals we were serving at the soup kitchen, they expressed so much appreciation. They could have instead noticed that all we were giving them was a very simple meal. But they chose to emphasize the positive, with an appreciative attitude. That made us want to do more to assist them. That’s a fantastic leadership lesson. Thank people for their small contributions and make them feel recognized and valued. Be grateful for what they do for you. They’ll reciprocate with higher levels of performance and take greater responsibility.

#2 Trust People to Do the Right Thing

When people came into the church they had to leave their backpacks and other belongings at the door. We might think nothing of it. But for those people who are homeless, those backpacks and totes hold all their earthly possessions. Can you imagine leaving your life’s possessions in a stranger’s care, while you go to lunch? They exhibited a great deal of trust that others would be accountable to do the right thing.

Leadership requires that same kind of trust. Otherwise you’ll be so obsessed with micromanagement that you’ll never delegate. You’ll always have too much on your plate, and the people you lead will be deprived of their opportunity to step up and learn to lead. Too many leaders I observe simply don’t trust the individuals on their team. That stifles collaboration. Develop trust, and you’ll automatically develop more performance-oriented and capable teams.

 

Leaders can be so focused on what others are NOT doing that they overlook what they ARE doing. #Leadership #servantleadership #philanthropy Click To Tweet

 

#3 Always Give More Than You Take

I was surprised to learn that many of my fellow volunteers at the soup kitchen used to depend on the facility for their own meals. They had fallen on hard times. When they got back on their feet, they made a commitment to give back and lend a hand to others.

They reframed the harsh experience of personal adversity, using it to become role models of resiliency and service. That got me thinking about leaders who share their personal stories of overcoming setbacks. Every leader has stories of how they dealt with failure and emerged stronger. Learn to share your stories in an inspiring way and you’ll be a more inspirational leader and mentor.

#4 Create a Sharing Community

As people sat down to break bread, I heard them sharing information of other resources in the city. They exchanged tips on where to find food, shelter, and health care. But they also gave each other supportive words of encouragement. I found it especially interesting that they didn’t really know each other. They were basically strangers who were acting neighborly to build a sense of community.

One of the biggest obstacle to success in companies is a lack of cross-collaboration and inclusive teamwork. I see lots of unnecessary knowledge silos and a lack of communication. As a leader, be proactive about building an intentional community based on sharing of ideas, resources, and skills. That benefits everyone – from small project teams to the whole organizational grid.

Gratitude, Service, Trust, and Community

These four principles work because they are all about a sense of shared purpose and treating others with respect. Oftentimes when I examine the DNA in corporations that are struggling, I discover that the missing link is just these simple aspects of humanity that improve our work lives and our personal lives. If you want to help the world in a bigger way, and give yourself a tremendous gift, I highly recommend spending some time helping someone who may not be as fortunate as you. The experience may be absolutely transformational, for both of you.

 

Apply These Principles

1) Which do you find to be most difficult to apply to your leadership or team? Why is that?

2) Is someone on your team struggling? How can you provide empathy and support in their time of need?

3) Think of leaders who have applied these principles in ways that helped you. How can follow that example now that you’re looked up to as the leader?

 

The answers may reveal great opportunity for improvement, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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Sarah Hathorn
Sarah Hathorn, CEO of Hathorn Consulting Group, is the go-to-expert in working with leaders and companies to create successful corporate DNA. As an executive coach, consultant and speaker she collaborates globally with clients and brands such as Kimberly-Clark, Sherwin-Williams, Home Depot and other leading organizations.
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