Building leadership experience will help you in your personal and professional development. But many people are hesitant to take on a leadership role or believe that they can’t build leadership skills if they aren’t a manager. However, the workplace isn’t the only place to build leadership experience, and you can certainly act as a leader even without the word manager in your job title. In fact, unpaid leadership experience can be just as enriching and impressive as paid work experience. The best way to build leadership skills and experience is to start leading, whatever manner is currently available to you.
Building leadership experience will also help you in your career and job search. Even if you aren’t applying for managerial roles, it’s always helpful to have a few good examples of past leadership to use as talking points during job interviews. If you’re looking to build leadership experience right now, try out the following.
You can acquire leadership experience in high school or college by being active in clubs and extra-curricular activities. Greek life, student government, residential assistant positions, sports, and clubs all provide opportunities to take on leadership positions. You can help head up a fundraising, finance, or event planning committee for one of your extra-curricular organizations. These activities are great for building leadership skills, excellent for networking, and fun if you find one that you enjoy! Even if you aren’t given a leadership position, you can skill practice leadership skills by mentoring lowerclassmen, setting a good example, leading change when needed, and contributing ideas to the organization.
If you don’t have experience, it’ll be easier to obtain a leadership role when volunteering rather than in a paid position. You can take the lead on a beach or park clean-up, fundraising project, volunteer recruitment, or any other project available near you. Try picking one that fits with your interests and find a nonprofit whose message and purpose resonate with you! You could also volunteer in a mentorship role. Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Girl/Boy Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club, CASA, and other organizations where you can volunteer by leading or advocating for youth can be great ways to develop leadership skills and experience. One-on-one mentorship experience can be just as valuable as experience leading a group. Evaluating an individual’s needs, goal-setting with them, and doing regular check-ins is something that managers in the workplace do a lot, so your one-on-one experience will translate over very well.
You can gain leadership experience by taking the lead on a project at work, school, or one of your outside activities. If you’re already employed and want to build leadership experience, offer to take the lead on a project or to help show a new employee the ropes. This will allow you to build leadership experience and skills, while also signaling to your employer that you are interested in taking on more leadership activities.
You can also take the lead on school projects, just be sure that you are acting as a leader, rather than just taking on all of the work. A leader will help divide the work, organize meeting times, check-in with group members on their progress, and handle unexpected delays or problems. They will also contribute their own work to the project, but everyone should be contributing as well.
An even better route can be to identify a problem in your organization and to offer a solution. Leading change or improvement is a really compelling form of leadership experience. It shows the initiative that you actively sought out a solution and created a plan to address the issue. Is there a system in place that you could make easier and more efficient? Or something that you notice your coworkers frequently having trouble with? Leaders are always focused on improving processes to increase productivity and morale. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas.
If you can’t find an organization to help you build leadership experience, don’t worry. Starting your own project can be a great way to develop and show off your leadership skills! This can sound intimidating, but you don’t need to found a start-up or anything major to build leadership experience. A great way to start is organizing a community service project. Identify an area of need in your local community and find people interested in helping. This can be a short term thing such as cleaning up a local beach or park or organizing a donation drive or fundraiser for a community member or organization in need.
The key is to organize it yourself! Be involved in finding others to help keep morale high, and directing others by delegating tasks. You can also start a passion project, such as a blog. You won’t need to build a large staff for that. However, you’ll learn how to navigate challenges, make decisions, and communicate effectively. All traits of successful leaders!
There are plenty of leadership courses available at colleges or through professional development classes. You can learn and demonstrate an understanding of leadership theories and best practices. Many people leaders in the professional world have not even completed this type of coursework, so this will show employers that you are committed to being the best leader that you can be and truly understand the principles of leadership.
You’ll also have an easier time stepping up to a leadership role or acting as a leader in your group once you’ve learned the basic principles. Taking a class and having the opportunity to think about how you would approach leadership activities in different scenarios before actually having to do it in a work setting can also help you build confidence. Stepping into a leadership role can be intimidating, so it’s helpful to already have the necessary skills and concepts down.
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