It was only about 3 years back when I embarked upon a journey so exciting, and enriching. During college, I did not spend a lot of time in extra-curriculars so when I started my corporate life, I was determined not to be consumed by the day-to-day busy life. As soon as I started my first job, I started tracking all the activities happening within as well as outside my organization and made sure that I did not miss any of them. Now, some may argue that it consumes a lot of time that can be utilized to learn a new skill or maybe put in to earn that ‘promotion’. While this may be true in some cases – it wasn’t for me. The extra- curricular activities I took up at work have helped me gain so much more experience. I feel I have grown not only as a better communicator, but a leader. Yes, you read that right – a leader!
I always thought that I needed to spend a lot of time in the corporate world to emerge as a leader, but my perspective about leadership changed with my experiences. I can now say with certainty that it doesn’t really matter how many years you spend in a system, but the amount of experience gained matters more. When I say the above, I don’t mean to indicate that you become a leader as soon as you gain some experience – of course, it is an ongoing process. Also, there is always a scope to evolve and become a better leader, irrespective of how many years you have spent leading people.
While I have worked in two different roles on the professional front until now, I have had the opportunity to serve as a leader in various positions outside of my work. And that did not happen overnight. Through my various extra-curricular programs, I was able to build up on the below skills that served me well in my professional stint too.
♦ Communication – If you cannot communicate well with your team, you can never be an efficient leader. It is as simple as that. Communication is the essence of any relationship – be it personal or professional. To lead a team efficiently, you need to know your team members and how to connect with them. Giving a lot of presentations/talks, talking to people from various backgrounds always helps a lot to build on the communication skills. Even if you are not a leader in your current job, good communication skills will always help you be better in whatever role you’re working in.
♦ Constructive Feedback – It is very easy to judge people or advise them on what they are doing wrong. But a good leader will always provide the feedback in a positive manner. Instead of telling the team members what they are doing wrong, he/she will tell them how they can improve. No matter where you learn to give the right feedback, it gradually becomes your habit and positively affects the people around you as you begin to implement it in your day to day work too.
♦ Mentorship – When you are the leader, people naturally look up to you. It is imperative that you mentor your team members to become better and guide them towards their respective goals. While you can be a mentor to your team members, it isn’t necessary that you restrict yourself to the team. You can mentor as many people as you can outside your team as well allowing you to add new perspectives from each person you come in contact with.
♦ Coaching – While a lot of people use the terms ‘mentor’ and ‘coach’ interchangeably, they are not the same. When you mentor people, you can just guide them on how to achieve a certain goal; but when you coach them, you transfer your knowledge of a certain skill that you possess so that they can also build on it to come one step closer to their goal. This way you are never out of practice for any skill that is not being used in your daily job.
♦ Collaboration – It is extremely important to collaborate with others, not only as a leader – but irrespective of the role you are in. So naturally when you collaborate better with others, you set the right example for people you lead. For example, even when you are a part of any non-volunteer organization apart from work, you often end up collaborating with a lot of other people for various events and initiatives.
♦ Leading by example – Being a leader does not always mean only to guide others or to give directions. Sometimes it’s impossible to motivate people to do something unless they know it’s achievable. In such cases, the key is to lead by example. If they see you do it, they will follow your lead and work towards achieving the goals themselves.
♦ Networking – The more people you know, the more opportunities you get to learn from eventually helping you grow better as a leader. Doing more than what’s required for your job by being a part of certain extra-curricular activities often gives you a chance to connect with a wider set of people that you would otherwise never meet or interact with.
These leadership roles outside of work also helped me become better at my daily job. The fact that I was relatively new in the system didn’t matter. I am still a leader in making, with a lot to learn as learning only stops when you do. But along the way, I learnt that we should never let the fear of inexperience or the seemingly less time spent in a particular field stop us from dreaming bigger. The activities that I chose for myself helped me evolve as a leader in life.
Each person has a different goal set for them and not everyone wants to be a leader. Some might want to just ace public speaking while others might want to work on their social/organizing skills. Whatever your goal may be, choosing the right extra-curricular activity at work could be a good place to start your journey!