Always volunteer for the worst assignments

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?

Posted by:

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


About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at or
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2 Responses to Always volunteer for the worst assignments

  1. Raunak says:

    “always volunteer for the worst assignments”: story of my professional life!
    glad to have read this post. Makes me feel good about always being called upon to clear a mess made by others.


  2. Shirley Hunt says:

    John, I just stumbled on this…it’s great. And how I remember those days. Jane and I are still running PSI World and going strong. Shirley Hunt


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