The best leaders are lifelong, insatiable learners. Research proves that. But while you and I have a natural inclination towards learning new things, it doesn’t mean we’re good at learning.
Because we’re not always great at learning new things, companies are investing more resources than ever before in developing “learning” skills in their employees. Many of these companies are striving to become a “learning organization” in hopes of becoming more innovative and better at adapting to customer, economic, political, and environmental pressures. According to research from Deloitte,
“In today’s business environment, learning is an essential tool for engaging employees, attracting and retaining top talent, and developing long-term leadership for the company.”
But saying you want to be better at learning and actually becoming a better learner are two very different things. As with all things, experience is the ultimate learning tool, and purposeful volunteering is a great way to get the experience you need to become a better learner.
First: Volunteering Puts You in the Center of a New Environment
New environments inherently get you to open your eyes—and mind—to differences. Because we typically volunteer on a short-term projects or in limited free time, you’ll be pressured to learn quickly. The more times you have to learn quickly, the more adept you become at learning quickly in the future.
By immersing yourself in new environments more frequently, you’ll program your brain to adapt to new environments, people, organizations, and processes faster in the future. As the Global Citizen Digital Foundation shared in the article The 6-Step Guide to Becoming a Better Learner, by getting out of your comfort zone:
“…we can inadvertently discover useful information and insight to not only help us thinker better, but to also change the way we do our work.”
Second: Volunteering Exposes You to New Ways of Doing Things
For people who engage in skills-based volunteering — Experteering — they will see new ways and applications that their skills and tools are applied. This can be as simple as observing how other people use the same programs as you, or by forcing you to deliver projects in new ways that require you to adapt the way you do things.
The more often you adapt, the better you become at adapting. Learning is about recognizing the things you need to adapt to, and improve the speed at which you do just that. In fact, learning new skills increases your IQ. Trying new things actually changes you as a person, as the very popular TED speaker Matt Cuts explains:
Third: Volunteering Exposes You to More Resource-Scarce Environments That Are More Creative
We support a skills-based volunteering program for Microsoft that sends volunteers to Africa for two-week Experteering engagements. Almost all participants talk about the stark contrast between the resource-rich environment they have in their home office and the more resource-scarce environments they experience while volunteering.
As the age-old wisdom goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. By exposing you to environments that are more inventive, you become more creative and capable of doing more with less.
Fourth: Volunteering is a Gateway Drug to Learning
Once people take the often daunting first step to volunteering, they tend to keep giving. They volunteer more and they donate more money. This virtuous cycle continues to expose you to new organizations, industries, and people. As a result, you continue to learn about more, and become better at doing it.
Fifth: Volunteering Is Supportive and Empowering
Environment is one of the most important parts of learning. Volunteering is inherently a safe, warm, and supportive place that enables you to take some changes, learn from mistakes, and be recognized for your contributions. These combine to create more personal confidence and learning agility.
Sixth: You Expose Yourself to Other Learners
Fat friends make you fat. Curious friends make you more curious. By volunteering, you’ll build your network with other people who want to keep learning, growing, and making a positive impact. In doing so, they’ll continue to teach you new things and keep inspiring you to keep learning.
According to Deloitte, “Millennials and other young employees have grown up in this self-directed learning environment… While many organizations are struggling to adapt.. high-performing companies are seizing the opportunity to promote a new culture of learning, upending traditional models and transforming how employees learn. These organizations are adopting new mind-sets, fundamentally rethinking what ‘learning’ and ‘development’ mean”
Tomorrow’s global citizens, leaders, and world-changers are today’s learners. And by volunteering, you can help make the world today while becoming a better learner for tomorrow.