“To move forward, you must give back.”
— Oprah Winfrey
Leadership in and of itself is the ultimate gift.
Leadership in duration is a blessing.
I am writing this for the leader that has been in the role for ten or more years. If this isn’t you, stay with me anyway. There’s always a lesson, and 10 years from now, you very well may be in this role — might as well prepare now.
The unwritten rule for leaders is that since somebody
was willing to help you in your journey, it is your responsibility
TO PAY IT FORWARD
I want to go beyond the obvious; most will relate the “pay it forward” to be a mentor. This is an incredible resource for you to contribute to the success of others, but I want you to think deeper and find the courage and gratitude to go even further in your commitment.
- Volunteer at a local school: There are so many schools that would welcome you to volunteer, regardless of grade. This is where you can put some thought into it and match your interests. For example, if reading out loud to a classroom of 2nd or 3rd graders sounds great to you, do it! Most schools have mentoring programs where you visit the same student one a week during lunch and just talk. If you have a passion for writing, go talk with the counselor of a high school and see if you can speak to an English class, Yearbook staff, newspaper staff, etc. My point, there is a place for everybody to give back to their local schools.
- Coach a local youth sports team: If you are that person who still talks about the “remember when” from your high school or college sports days, this is right up your alley. There are so many youth-based teams that are in critical need of talented and willing coaches to volunteer their time. I challenge you, though: this is not just about teaching sports. This is also about teaching character, integrity, sportsmanship, the concept of team, gratitude, encouragement, etc. Be the “complete” coach, and you could be doing this for a long time.
- Serve on a community-based board: Go to the website of your local City Council or Chamber of Commerce, and there will be a prompt that will take you to an area listing all of the committees and boards that you can serve on. Do your research, narrow it down and match your skill sets to the areas where volunteers are needed. When you narrow it down to three, go talk to the director or leader of the groups, and get a feel where you think you can make an impact.
- Visit a Senior Center: This is all about perspective. Don’t make the assumption that a senior center is simply a place where people go to live the last days of their lives. Find an “active” senior center, and not only will you be able to contribute your time and skills, but the stories and lessons that you learn will be applicable in your day-to-day life. The best part: you will make friends who will look forward to your visits.
- Volunteer at a disaster area: We tend to fulfill our obligations in this specific category by writing a check. I don’t want to take anything away from your generosity, because money is extremely important in disaster situations. My challenge is to take it a step further. Volunteer at a disaster center in your local community and do whatever it is they need. Whether is a clothing a drive, a food drive, emergency medical equipment, or just setting up cots, anything that can benefit the center is a debt nobody could ever you pay back for.
- Volunteer at a Food Bank: Again, this is a great experience – I would encourage you to go with a group. Call your local Food Bank, find out when they need one person or a group, schedule it and go assist for a few hours helping those in need. It’s a rewarding experience and one that I bet you go back to again and again.
- Become a mentor: When I say be a mentor, I mean call the middle or high school to become a mentor through the school. Your commitment will vary based on the programs offered. There are also community-based mentor programs depending upon the size of your city. Some are weekly, some bi-weekly, or once a month. Regardless, go mentor a young person who needs direction in their life. Teach them about life, and the character and skills necessary to succeed. For some of these kids, you may be the only positive figure in their life. Be humbled and make a difference.
- Help a local charity: This is the easiest one of all; nobody will say to no to, “how can I help?”. You may have friend or family involved in a charity. You may have seen one on social media that sparked your interest. You may have attended a gala or fundraiser and felt compelled to give back. Let that spark determine who the charity is that you want to contribute your time, money and skills in building.
- Clean up the environment: As I have gotten older, it’s funny to me to pass the signs along the highway and read the ones that tell you which organization is in charge of keeping a particular stretch free of trash. I have admiration for those groups, and when I see a fundraiser or event that they are a part of, I tend to give. I call it “top of mind gratitude”. With a few clicks on Google, you can find out how you can assist and volunteer a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday to clean a highway, possibly lead a neighborhood clean-up effort, or even a park. Take your kids along – they will be less likely to litter if they have to experience picking up trash.
- Encourage employee volunteerism: I saved this for last on purpose. Think of it like this. “Pay it Forward Like a Leader Should” and its intention was to focus on what YOU could do. Once you get the motivation to pay it forward, you will see the immediate benefits, and a true leader will find the purpose to get more invested in the mission. If one person can make such a dramatic difference, imagine what an entire team could do. Even better, imagine what an entire company could do.
Giving and gratitude go hand-in-hand. The more you practice it, the better you will get at it. I challenge you to take the first step. Once you reap the reward, pass it on and grow the efforts.
“WE RISE BY LIFTING OTHERS . . .”
— Robert Ingersoll
Here are 50 of the Best Workplaces for Giving Back that have committed themselves to adding the pillars of gratitude and charity to their corporate culture. Let them serve as the example and inspiration for other companies to step up in their communities and make a difference.
Once you’re ready to commit, trying to figure out the how and where can be a job in and of itself! I have found that Charity Navigator is a great resource to match your skills and interests to the right charity. Founded in 2001, Charity Navigator has become the nation’s largest and most-utilized evaluator of charities. Their mission? To help donors by deploying a team of professional analysts to examine tens of thousands of non-profit financial documents. According to their website, “we have used this knowledge to develop an unbiased, objective, numbers-based rating system to assess over 9,000 of America’s best-known and some lesser-known, but worthy, charities”.
I promise you, giving back to others in ways outside of the traditional mentorship role will pay dividends for the rest of your life. The gratitude you will be exposed to will not only change the lives of others, but it will change yours: making you a better person and leader. So go change the world!
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