Opportunities for Leadership in Your Career
The scope of this article is to encourage you to consider leadership in a broader sense - as a leader in your community, in and beyond the workplace. The benefit of thinking more broadly about the meaning of leadership is to create the capacity for all of us to discover our leadership potential. We can be leaders as individuals, by finding a sense of purpose in our communities, and as employees we can encourage our employers as organisations to take up leadership opportunities.
To achieve leadership in the fullest sense, employees and employers must go beyond building the capital of their organisation and embrace social responsibility in ways that can be challenging and perhaps confronting but ultimately benefit all concerned. Individuals can undertake a leadership role by becoming involved in volunteerism whilst also enhancing their career development.
- What is a
- Community: what does
- Leaders in the
- Workplaces Building
- Practical Ways You Can
The first step to being a leader is to get involved. The philosophy behind the University of Melbourne's Student Ambassador Leadership Program is that students develop their leadership skills through volunteering in the University and in the community. This interpretation of leadership argues that by developing personal skills in team building, ethical decision making and critical thinking students will be able to have the confidence and courage to become leaders and active citizens, with an increased awareness.
This is achieved through an intensive training program via a series of seminars and workshops as well as the active service component. An example of encouraging students to consider their role in a local community is through the Urban Seed Melbourne Walk workshop. Students begin by analysing their responses to urban poverty and associated issues while learning about the role that local businesses can play in contributing to the solution. For many students this has been a challenging and new way of thinking about their future employers. For some employees financial reward is no longer enough, personal reward and a sense of achievement, extending beyond their salary is also important. This can be achieved by working for non-profit and charitable organisations but can also mean that future employees will have higher expectations about the roles their organisation play in the community.
This philosophy can continue to apply to graduates and employees at any stage of their career. Leadership is not out of reach of any of us if we care enough to make a contribution to our community.
The standard dictionary definition of community is 'the people who live in a particular place or region and usually are linked by some common interests'. We can all think of the different communities we belong to - our families, friends, social clubs, political parties, ethnic or religious groups, and workplaces, to name a few. These communities help define us, give us a sense of purpose. In a multi-cultural country such as Australia we pride ourselves on the fact that we can respect each other's differences and live harmoniously with one another. But do we really know one another?
With the focus more and more these days on creating better career outcomes or getting the edge in a competitive job market, where does responsibility to our communities come into the picture? Who has the time to get to know or build our community when we have become so pre-occupied with getting our work right? The current education climate forces universities' clients/students to become more focused on career outcomes. But as we all belong to communities we do have a responsibility as individuals, employees and employers to take a leadership position on this issue.
Leadership begins when you make the decision to take action. As individuals there are many opportunities to take on leadership roles through involvement in our communities. Volunteerism is a key strategy for creating active and mutually beneficial relationships. Volunteering can take many forms and extends from a one off commitment such as Clean Up Australia Day, to ongoing local programs which assist the elderly or youth, or honorary positions on school committees, cultural organisations, or unions. Given the huge diversity of volunteering opportunities, there is inevitably a match for your skills and interests. In terms of your career, volunteering contributes directly to increasing your networks, professional development and specific organisational knowledge.
Working in collaboration with your workplace, you can become a catalyst to encourage a sense of corporate citizenship. Some organisations are adopting the triple bottom line approach, incorporating economic, social and environmental considerations. As an employee you can encourage this leadership perspective, by using your own volunteer experience to create networks and opportunities with local organisations. Perhaps you can start encouraging creative partnerships between your employers and the community based on your knowledge and networks as a volunteer.
You may choose to work within some of the existing programs that assist organisations to become more involved in their communities. One organisation playing a major role in assisting corporations and their employees to contribute to their wider communities is United Way in Geelong. Each year United Way raises money for over 50 vital health and human care agencies within the region. More than 60,000 people within the Geelong region benefit from a United Way funded charity each year, including children, youth, the elderly, families, people with disabilities and people in crisis. Their role in supporting the Geelong community requires the collaboration and involvement of business, professional and community organisations. Business organisations have the option of signing on to United Way's payroll deduction scheme (where employees contribute $4 per month of their pay) or by becoming involved in the Loaned Executives Program. The role of the Loaned Executive is to visit Geelong workplaces to thank current payroll contributors to United Way and encourage non-contributors to consider commencing workplace giving.
The role of Loaned Executive is an example of the way that volunteering can contribute to the development of your professional skills including public speaking, selling, time management and team building. Loaned Executives are exposed to a diverse range of community and business networking opportunities during a 13-week campaign, which helps them to grow in confidence, communication and ultimately, leadership ability.
- Take some time to reflect on what you want out of your
volunteering experience and of what you want to contribute to your
local community. What community issues do you feel strongly about?
Which sections of the community would you prefer to work
- Establish a business case for the introduction of a
volunteering program in your workplace. As a volunteer an employee
will need to be vocal about the potential benefits for business,
such as a more positive corporate image, improved staff morale and
new skill development opportunities.
- Speak with your local volunteering agency, such as Volunteering
Australia, to help guide the planning and implementation of a
volunteering program within your workplace.
- Remember that you are a leader and role model. You may not be
successful in getting your idea off the ground at first but as a
committed contributor to your local community it will be your
determination, commitment and passion that may lead your
organisation to follow.
- Encouraging your colleagues and employers to actively contribute
to the community not only enhances you leadership skills but also
gives you the opportunity to contribute to your organisation's
reputation and innovation. There is also added benefit to your
organisations' triple bottom line' as new relationships with the
wider community may translate into new business partnerships. As an
employee, you will have the unique opportunity to enhance your
leadership skills whilst also gaining a new and perhaps more
positive perception of your career and its
Loeb, M and Kindel, S (1999) Leadership for Dummies, Hungry Minds Inc: New York
Noble, J and Johnston, F (eds) (2001) Volunteering Visions, The Federation Press: Sydney
United Way - Geelong, www.uwgeelong.com.au
Volunteering Australia, Corporate Booklet: A guide to engaging your employees. www.volunteeringaustralia.org, last updated 8/9/04, accessed 24/9/04
Rita Manessis, Student Ambassador Leadership Program Coordinator
© The University of Melbourne 2004