Volunteer to Grow as a Leader

I volunteer at our local Food Co-op most weekends.

Before you think I am a great humanitarian, I volunteer so our family can receive significant discounts on our Co-op groceries.

But I do not have to go. I do not have an assigned shift. I show up when I want, and I leave when I want. I just have to get sixteen hours for the month to get the discount.

My core job at the Co-op is stocking shelves. Since my normal job involves a lot of screen time, it is very gratifying to do something tangible with my hands, and it gets me out of my house, which doubles as my office. 

I have also discovered that putting myself in situations where I am led is one of the best ways to grow as a leader. 

Volunteering has also taught me three key things about leadership.

Since 2000, most of my jobs have involved a primary or secondary leadership role. Because of those roles, people have listened to me, valued my opinion, and done what I have said.

(This was not always a good thing. Many times, someone else should have been in charge. I made many mistakes and wish I had given more responsibility away.) 

However, when I volunteer at the Co-op, I am far from a leadership role, and it has taught me a lot. 

1. Clear direction is fantastic.

Our shifts have different leaders. Some leaders say, “You can do whatever you want.” Others provide clear, concise directions on what they want me to work on. 

I greatly prefer the second. 

I like to be told what to do. It provides a clear goal and gives my work purpose. It makes me feel like what I am doing is valuable and worthwhile. 

2. Best practices are great but don’t tell me exactly how to do something.

Best practices involve shortening the learning curve and clarifying why we do certain things. 

In the Co-op world, we rotate the stock so older items are in front. It keeps our food fresh and prevents customers from finding an item that is way out of date. This is a best practice, and it makes sense. 

Just don’t tell me how exactly to put things on and off the cart. That’s micromanaging and demotivating.

3. I like to be checked on.

Last weekend, a leader I rarely work with stopped what he was doing and asked, “Brian, how is it going?”  

I didn’t know he knew my name, and it felt good to be asked.

Volunteering reminds me that one of the best ways to grow as a leader is to put myself in situations where I am led. 


Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford is the Chief Operating Officer for Leadercast. Brian has been telling stories professionally for twenty-five years. Stories that inspire people to see themselves and the world differently. Stories that challenge people to take meaningful action in the world.

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