hands raised for volunteering

A Surefire Way to be a Better Leader

Gaining real world leadership experience through volunteering

One of the reasons I attended a federal military academy as a young man, rather than a normal university, was that I knew I needed to develop leadership skills if I wanted to become an entrepreneur. After graduation, I went into the U.S. Marine Corps and became a pilot to test my skills in the real world.

I still remember the commanding officer of my Vietnam squadron saying, “Gentlemen, your most important job is to ask your troops to risk their lives for you, your team, and your country.” He went on to say, “If you don’t inspire them to do that, they will probably shoot you in the back. Troops don’t follow a leader who does not lead.”

The same thing goes on in businesses every day. Most businesses fail because they have weak leadership, not because of outside factors.

Say, “I’ll do that.”

One of the most valuable lessons rich dad taught me about leadership was, “A leader’s job is to bring out the best in people, not be the best person. If you are the smartest person on your business team, your business is in trouble.”

Naturally, I get many questions from people on how to be a better leader. I always have the same advice: Volunteer more.

In most organizations, it is hard to find people who actually want to lead. Most people are just fine being told what to do.

I tell people, “At your church, volunteer to take on projects. At work, volunteer to lead projects. In your community, volunteer to coach sports teams.” By doing this, you can gain valuable leadership experience—and make a lot of friends who can help you out down the road, both in business and in life.

The secret of a true leader

Through volunteering, you can get feedback on your real-life leadership skills. If you volunteer to lead and no one follows, you have some real-life learning and correcting to do! You’ll need to ask for some feedback and act on it.

A true leader knows when to listen to others. I have said before that I am not a good businessman or investor. I am average. I rely on the advice of my advisors and team members to help me be a better leader.

And the secret is, that’s one of the greatest traits of a leader—to ask, genuinely, how they can be better. As my squadron commander used to say, “True leaders are not born leaders. True leaders want to be leaders and are willing to be trained.”

Improve your leadership skills by learning from other like-minded individuals in our free, online community.

Original publish date: February 03, 2015