The holidays don't just mean gifts and celebrations. For many of us, this season also gets us thinking about how we can help others. If you're feeling inspired to give back, I want to cheer you on. The world needs your unique gifts and skills. But here's something else I've discovered as a longtime volunteer: As you serve others, you also grow as a leader.
The very roots of my business go back to volunteering. My first client was United Way in conjunction with Shell, which stemmed from a relationship I had with someone I worked with on another nonprofit board.
Board involvement has also helped me get to know other leaders in the community and them to get to know me — how I think and work, my strengths, the value I can bring.
Giving back has also exposed me to other parts of the world. As an advisory board member for Akola Project — which trains and employs underprivileged women in Dallas and Uganda — I visited Uganda to understand firsthand the obstacles these women face. Through serving as faculty for the George W. Bush Presidential Center's Women's Initiative Fellowship Program, I have helped women in Tunisia and Egypt to strengthen their leadership skills.
Volunteer roles can even provide a way to expand your skill sets. Chairing the advocacy committee of the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas introduced me to public policy, which was foreign to me at the time. I enjoyed stretching out of my comfort zone and learning more about the legislative and political process, and our committee experienced success in advancing state-wide legislation.
No matter how you choose to volunteer, there's one key thing to remember. You'll do more good for others, and for your own career, when you choose service roles that authentically reflect who you are and what you're passionate about. Don't volunteer for something just because you think it will build your network. It won’t have the same impact.
You can also consider helping some of the other worthy causes I've been involved with over the years:
Above all, though, take some time to think about the causes that fire you up and that need your unique expertise. Then commit to even one small way that you can use your talent and skills to support those causes. This will help others, add meaning to your holiday season, develop your leadership and possibly lead to purposeful, ongoing work.