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Bolster Your Career With Service (Part 1)

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I write and speak frequently about the personal benefits of serving others, in fact it's one of my favorite things to examine and discuss. Not because I think we should all be selfish, but because I try to embrace things that can help me learn, grow and become the person I am meant to be. And, it's my hope that others feel the same way. After all, if we aren't growing, we are missing out.

Often overlooked, one of the major benefits of service is the development of skills that are essential to successful careers. Unfortunately, we don't typically look at service as a means of growing our skills and illuminating our talents. But, individuals are missing out by not using service as a teacher.

I truly believe that regardless of where you are in your career, if you follow Good Citizen's Five Commitments you can use service to make you better at what you do. Here is a look at a couple examples.

Earning Your Stripes

This is a message to new graduates, I understand that you have a degree from a fancy school, you have impressive internships, may have launched your own start-up and could have thousands of "friends" and followers, but you still need to start at the bottom. I know that's hard to hear, especially since it seems like so many of your peers think they should walk in and have the job of the person hiring them. Do yourself a favor, step back and take an honest assessment of your skills, maturity and experience. Then, figure out where you can use some improvement and see if you can use service to your advantage.

For example, regardless of what industry you work in, interpersonal skills and the ability to collaborate with others are essential. Yet, they seem to be basic skills that many lack today -- I mostly blame technology, but that's a whole other blog. The good news is that just about any service project that is not solitary can help individuals develop and hone these skills. Whether it's tutoring a student one-on-one or working with a team of strangers to build a house, giving one's time to others offers up endless opportunities to practice even the most basic skills, which once mastered can take anyone very far in his or her career.

Being Middle Management

Two of the hallmarks of a good manager are the abilities to lead and solve problems. Both are arts that need to be practiced and fine-tuned over and over again, as nothing in business remains static. Of course, in certain corporate cultures it can be challenging to try new approaches to solving issues, which is not only bad for business, but can also stunt the growth of careers. But, by immersing oneself into service, you can collaborate with others on solving different types of issues, which in turn can help you develop your skills exponentially. And, if you aren't allowed to introduce them at your place of work, it may be time to let another company benefit from your brilliance.

Similarly, while becoming a leader, not just a manager, is essential to ascending the corporate ladder, many companies don't offer opportunities to help their employees with the transition. Again, service can help, as volunteering in a "senior" role can offer enormous opportunities to develop leadership skills. For example, by serving as a board member with a local nonprofit you are able to see organizational issues and business challenges from a unique perspective. Such a role pushes an individual to not only examine and solve problems, but to do so in a relatively safe leadership role. This in turn leads to a shift in thinking, which can ultimately be the catalyst for moving from manager to leader.

Service can also greatly benefit senior level executives, which I will address in Part 2 next week. Stay tuned!