5 leadership lessons, benefits of embracing community

The power of philanthropy and giving back to your community produces some of the most rewarding experiences of your professional leadership career. The inherent altruism of giving your time, talent and resources to community organizations amplifies itself and rewards community champions.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a large group of women philanthropists who asked me to reflect on navigating professional life while being an active social impact advocate. It was a great exercise. I conveyed how the latter actually helped me grow and develop leadership skills at each stage of my career. My engagement in the community and in the social impact arena elevated both my personal and professional brands and stature, provided leadership experience, and expanded my network. It shaped me as a person, a company leader, and as a believer in the power of community. It made me a community champion.

Here are a few takeaways I’d like to share as you champion community causes:

Develop leadership Skills Outside 9-5
Serving on nonprofits boards and volunteering in the community allowed me to gain key skills outside of my day job. From convening diverse stakeholders, to facilitating conversations, to learning how to ask for support and funding – all these opportunities translated into tangible skills I needed to know and own throughout my career. It was in board meetings and part of committees where I was able to develop these skills, I simply didn’t have exposure in my day-to-day. And once I was placed in these situations and learn from them, I was able to run with it. With that confidence and immediate impact, I was able to build and strengthen my portfolio, allowing me to rise in my career quicker.

Moreover, if you are an excellent accountant, marketer, or attorney, you can expand your skills and expedite your experience while providing immense value and expertise to a deserving nonprofit. It may even allow you to be more appreciative of that skill in your day job.

Pro Tip: Think about a skill you want to hone and ask to try it out with a local nonprofit. Want to get better at copywriting? Offer to write material for an annual report. Want to learn how to manage multiple projects and stakeholders all at once? Volunteer with a local nonprofit executive director. The idea here is to fail safely. What a wonderful way to test and figure out what leadership style you like and how you are looking to grow professionally.

Build your own personal board of directors
The power of networks is well documented, and I’ve talked about it often in my pieces. But there is something to be said about intentional network building, being part of community organizations is such an opportune place to build the cadre of people who will support you throughout your professional journey. Some of my closest confidants and advisors have come from mutual time with nonprofits and community organizations. I have truly developed a broad and diverse cohort of champions built from service.

Pro Tip: The first time I was exposed to some big executives in town was when I was elected to a nonprofit board and I made sure to get to know them and learn from them. When joining a nonprofit board or committee, get to know everyone and see how you can be mutually beneficial to each other while supporting the organization. You never know if they will become a life-long advisor or mentor.

Grow through collaboration + the power of working together
As you go deeper with community organizations, you will be encouraged (forced) to learn the power of collaboration. There is simply no other choice. Solutions to big social issues can only be realized when you bring together very different stakeholders to galvanize towards a common solution. I honed my superpower by serving as a nonprofit board member, driving people to consensus and deploying collaboration as a powerful tactic to get things done.  The takeaway? If you want to learn how to mobilize outcomes, give time to a local group fighting for change.

Pro Tip: Take a step back and observe how the nonprofit you volunteer for adeptly navigates various viewpoints and opinions and brings them all together to push towards a common goal. Take those lessons and apply them to your team and your organization.

Gain exposure to diverse people, points of view
It is through my work in the social impact sector that I’ve learned most about what’s impacting people in the communities my company serves. This insight has not only helped me as a citizen of the world but has informed how my company shows up for employees, truly getting an authentic look at how people think about issues and helping us shape culture accordingly. Time with nonprofits has also forced me to interact and engage with people who do not look like me or think the way I do, but has provided a beautiful experience of learning how someone completely different than me can be passionate about the same goals and ideals. Learning that is invaluable for effective leadership and as you work through your professional relationships.

Pro Tip: Be open to new and radical ideas, understanding that those ideas will help you and the company you work for. Nonprofit spaces are notorious for being open to dialogue so this can also be a “safe space” for you to better understand issues of today and how you want to engage in them.

Strengthen your own brand via impact
Selfishly, I have gained so much exposure for the companies I work for because of my involvement in the community. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you will see a good mix of my time as a corporate warrior and my time with community organizations that I love dearly.  My association with the social impact organizations dedicated to erasing poverty, providing access to quality healthcare, and empowering underrepresented entrepreneurs have not only informed our own strategy but have built my brand as a leader passionate about impact.

Pro Tip: Be unabashed about the work that you do in the community and make that involvement part of your personal brand. Not only does it draw your network into the organization, it also bolsters your position among those around you.

No matter where you are in your career, you can learn, grow, develop and build by spending time giving back. Responsible leadership mandates it. I know that I am so good at what I do, so well connected, and so tuned into the issues of today that also impact business because of my work as a community champion. The two interests support each other.

It should also be noted that the key to this is effectively managing your 9-5 and these extracurricular activities. The priority must be what pays you, but you also need to be able to learn skills outside of your typical environment. It is a balancing act for sure, but there is a bonus here: Learning to manage competing priorities is easy when they are equally beneficial to your overall growth and development.

And if the above isn’t enough, I recently saw a screening of “Putnam Doc,” a movie about why you should join a club. It cemented the idea that if you want to live longer and develop yourself, one of the best things you can do is join something good. Go forth.

Best known as an award-winning company culture whisperer and strategy guru, Sentari Minor has spent more than a decade cultivating new businesses, building brands and moving people and ideas at several category-leading enterprises and nonprofits in the Southwest. He received 40 Under 40 recognition in 2022 from the Phoenix Business Journal and is currently Vice President of Strategy and Chief of Staff at evolvedMD in Scottsdale, an Inc. 5000 firm. SentariMMinor.com.

Photo by Kindel Media

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