Every corporate leader stands to hone their interpersonal skills and become a better person by lending a simple hand to those in need.
Consider America’s corporate titans as examples. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates created a foundation with his wife, Melinda, to improve public health and eradicate poverty worldwide. Warren Buffett gave $2.9 billion of his personal fortune to nonprofits just this year -- and plans to part with all but one percent of his wealth over the next few decades. Michael Bloomberg, the majority owner and co-founder of Bloomberg L.P., regularly supports complex causes such as gun violence, the opioid crisis, and public health.
These three are just a few of the most successful philanthropic business leaders that have made tremendous contributions to their communities by volunteering their time, resources, and efforts towards good causes. Such leaders participate in these charitable acts not to receive public recognition or financial gain but to lay the foundation for a better society and hone their capabilities as empathetic, thoughtful, and big-picture leaders.
To clarify: personal philanthropy is different from corporate social responsibility. When volunteering comes up in conversation among business leaders, most automatically connect the sentiment to corporate social responsibility, or CSR. While CSR can technically encompass all kinds of volunteerism and philanthropic donation, it does so on behalf of the business in which the leader represents. In contrast, personal philanthropy offers a way to selflessly give back without the good deed being linked back to the company.
CSR has its merits and should, for the good of the business, have a place in any corporate leader’s efforts. However, I want to focus on the intangible benefits that personal philanthropy and volunteerism can offer top executives.
Volunteering Helps to Build Emotional Intelligence
It’s all too easy to lose your capacity for connection as a leader. Research backs this point; in 2009, a British researcher named David Owen discovered that many long-tenured and influential political leaders tended to develop what he dubbed the hubris syndrome. Owen’s analysis revealed that many top changemakers tended towards impulsivity, recklessness, and contempt towards others.
In more recent years, other researchers have analyzed Owen’s theories within a corporate context and come to similar conclusions.
“Through our interviews, we heard variations of this time and again,” Researchers Rasmus Hougaard, Jacqueline Carter, and Louise Chester explained in an article for the Harvard Business Review. “It’s not that power makes people want to be less empathetic; it’s that taking on greater responsibilities and pressure can rewire our brains and, through no fault of our own, force us to stop caring about other people as much as we used to.”
But empathy is essential in leadership. Past research initiatives have shown that empathetic leaders tend to be more aware of their customers’ needs, more innovative, and more capable of connecting with and motivating their employees. Leaders need to recoup their capacity for empathy -- or else they may find their interpersonal skills deteriorating.
Nonprofit work encourages collaboration and interpersonal connections, so those who have become accustomed to overseeing and delegating will have a chance to experience what it is like to work side by side with others to tackle a mission. While on this quest, leaders naturally become more empathetic and learn how to communicate with greater tact and effectiveness.
Importantly, nonprofit organizations are often made up of diverse team members with vastly different perspectives on life and work. By interacting with people outside of their social circle and not subject to their authority, leaders gain a broader perspective and can better connect with others.
Lending a Hand Is the Way To Gain Transferable Skills
There are only so many skills that can be learned in a set environment, but when leaders submerge themselves in the world of volunteering, they become more well-rounded in ways they might never expect at the outset.
Unlike running a business with clear guidelines and a more linear structure, volunteerism often requires participants to challenge themselves and think differently. This gives leaders the rare opportunity to expand their creative thinking skills and become better problem solvers, all with their newfound peers' help. Whether serving in a soup kitchen or organizing an event for community entertainment, a business leader can find at least a couple of skills to their list of mastery, many of which can get them further in life, both personally and professionally.
Giving Back Will Spark a Greater Sense of Purpose
There might come a time when leadership fails to deliver true happiness. People are meant to help each other, no matter what role they play in society. While stepping up for strangers may sound intimidating at first, the benefits of doing so are undeniable. Multiple studies have shown that volunteering not only supports the betterment of society, but those who participate in the act often feel more fulfilled and have lowered stress levels.
While there is a lot of freedom and opportunity that comes with making money, being financially sound isn't enough to solidify true fulfillment. The most significant rewards come from lifting others towards success and making an impact that reverberates beyond the confines of an office. So, give your time, effort, or resources to those who need them most. You may find that the act makes you a better person -- and thus, a better leader.