Take the Lead! Developing Your Skills Outside the Office

Even if you’re a born leader, maintaining the ability to lead people toward a common goal requires an ongoing approach—and some women are finding opportunities to boost their skills outside their 9 to 5 jobs.

Sometimes an out-of-office leadership experience just might advance your career, particularly at a time when most companies are challenged with finding leaders that have the right skills to impact their organizational goals. Because of this “leadership gap”—85% of companies in a Deloitte survey rate leadership as the No. 1 staffing issue, calling it “urgent” or “important”—a new approach might get the job done.

By seeking out leadership opportunities outside your work bubble, you’ll expand your professional network and get exposed to different ideas that could be applied to your job. Plus unsponsored professional development may expose you to new connections, should you desire to work elsewhere.

4 Ways to “Work It” Out of Office

Ready to demonstrate your potential and cultivate the skills of leadership outside the office? Here are four ways to get started today:

Get on “board.” By sitting on a nonprofit board, you can gain experience on thinking strategically about an organization. The boards for the 1.5 million nonprofits nationwide are the governing bodies that approve budgets, establish long-term strategy and help raise money. So boards need people from all backgrounds to join.

You can get started by visiting a site such as BoardStrong, which connects non-profit boards with new leaders where you note the type of group you’d like to assist (environment, health, animals, arts, etc.) and your location, then the website sends a weekly e-mail with organizations looking for prospective board members that fit your profile.

Take time to lead. Have you ever considered using your vacation to enhance your career potential? Some companies fund their employees to take professional development trips, like Microsoft’s MySkills4Afrika,  IBM’s Global Service Corps and SAP’s Social Sabbatical, which attempt to solve the company’s leadership challenges while creating valuable global impact. However, most of us will need to find leadership-enhancing trips on sites such as Catchafire, LinkedIn for Good, etc.

After your trip, share what you learned with your manager, team and company. This can be done as a summary email or formal report, highlighting the work you did and the practical recommendations that you will apply to your job.

For more conventional leadership trips, The Disney Institute offers Leadership Excellence 1-day and 4-day accredited courses at various Disney locations nationwide, while Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education has upcoming Strategic Leadership two-day seminars.

Lead by example. Whether you’re mentoring a young professional in another company or a child in need, you’ll gain valuable skills that will help you confidently interact with people from different backgrounds and with different personality types. It can help you bridge the gap between generations that have varying workplace values and styles.

As a leader today, you can expect to lead a diverse team, so you’ll need to find ways to get the best from every member of that team. Mentoring is a great way to learn those cross-cultural skills.

You can get started by contacting MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, which sponsors National Mentoring Month, to search for a mentee near you.

Take the lead. Another option may be to simply start your own project. Whether you want to clean up your local park or get local government to change an ordinance, choose an initiative that’s in need of leadership. Choose something that requires you to recruit and mobilize others.  Take a look around your industry or  your community, then go on an up like Meetup to find like-minded people near you.

A leader is someone who leads—and only by leading others can you develop all the skills you need to be a leader.