90% of the time, if you volunteer, you’re gonna be stuck doing some sh*tty job. But every now and then when you volunteer for something, it’s actually gonna be something pretty awesome that you’ll be glad you had volunteered for. ~Junior Navy Officer
One of my business partners, Christiane Wuillamie, has just been appointed as a Visiting Senior Professor in Entrepreneurship at a university in England. It’s a big title, but then she is the perfect person for the role. A self-made business woman who started a small IT Services and Consulting firm in 1994 in the City of London servicing the IT needs of large banks and financial services companies. In 1999 she was a finalist in the London Business Woman of the Year awards, having grown her company 100% year on year and accumulating dozens of top company awards.
Anyway, she is giving a class in a couple of weeks at the university. Her topic: Everyone an Entrepreneur. And one of her main points to the young students she will be interacting with is “always volunteer for the worst assignments”. As you follow her career from Vietnam refugee to entry-level programmer to the youngest head of IT in a major UK bank to a top IT trouble-shooter and turnaround specialist, she claims that her rapid rise up the business ladder and her self-confidence to solve any problem came from volunteering for the toughest work assignments.
Nothing becomes great without great resistance!
~William Penn Patrick
Experience is the best teacher
Her logic on this point is impeccable. It’s the toughest assignments where you learn the most; about yourself, other people, human dynamics, creativity, and of course, leadership skills. The reason few volunteer for tough assignments is it’s hard work, and they don’t really understand the value that can come from tough assignments. Her second point is that those who take on the tough assignments get noticed by upper management. The volunteer is not always successful, but the fact they are willing to take up the challenge is not overlooked by senior management. Who would you rather promote, the average person who plays it safe or the warrior who engages a challenge head on?
In a previous blog I wrote about one of my most influential mentors, Thomas D. Willhite. Tom was always pushing us to try new things, take on new and difficult challenges. He taught us to ride dirt bikes, he got us to give personal development seminars for inmates in the Hawaii State Prison, he built his own single-engine stunt airplane. Challenges for him were an opportunity to grow. Whenever he would come to us and say, “Wanna’ grow?”, we always new that something tough was coming up. We swallowed hard, grinned, and said yes. As a result, we learned a lot and grew as leaders.
Psst! Wanna’ grow?
John R Childress
Senior Advisor on Corporate Culture, Leadership and Strategy Execution
Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture
Visiting Professor, IE Business School, Madrid
PS: John also writes thriller novels