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It is so exciting to meet emerging Business Professionals who are so keen to grow as leaders and make an impact in their companies and in their communities. But they struggle to see how that will happen without a position of leadership. “It is always the executive and senior management that are developed as leaders”, the complaint usually goes.

Leadership is not about position though. John Maxwell coined the phrase: “Leadership is about influence and not about position.” His book, The 360-Degree Leader, explores this topic in more depth. There is a lot of truth in what John Maxwell proclaims, but the reality is that the emerging Business Professional needs to find a place where he or she can hone their leadership skills. The emerging Business Professional will be the leader of tomorrow and leadership comes through practice. But where do we find the opportunity to practice? A classroom is not a practice ground, even though we need the theory and training. Still we need a place where we can develop our leadership acumen.

As a young man I was fortunate enough to travel to the US and attend leadership conferences. I learned a lot. I listened to some of the world’s greatest leaders, but most valuable in my development as a leader, was an environment where I could apply these powerful leadership lessons.

For four years of my career I lead a volunteer organization with over a thousand volunteers.  We had over 250 working groups all lead by volunteer leaders. I was paid a salary for what I did, but these 250 group leaders where volunteers sacrificing their free time for the greater good of their communities, city and the country. When you work with volunteers you soon encounter two challenges: firstly, you don’t pay them and secondly their performance does not get managed. Thus, you get the shocking reality that if you waste the time of a volunteer, they will soon go and ply their trade somewhere else where they feel that their sacrificed time is making a difference.

My responsibility was to empower the 250 group leaders. The 250 group leaders had to lead volunteer groups varying from 3 to 15 people. I had regular meetings with the group leaders as individuals, and once every quarter as a collective group. Most of the 250 group leaders had full time corporate jobs, but sacrificed their free time to be volunteer leaders. When I asked the group leaders why they were so committed, their most popular answer was, the great experiences they had in leading volunteers.

Here are some of the core leadership skills that you can learn in a volunteer organization:

  • How to cast a compelling vision: Keeping volunteers excited, engaged and motivated without pay really challenges your vision casting skills.
  • How to clarify roles and expectations: Volunteers give their precious free time and you as a leader need to manage that by giving clear instructions in terms of roles and the expectations in terms of execution. The biggest sin was asking volunteers for an hour of their time and only using 20 minutes.
  • Placing your volunteers where they fit best: This is a key skill that any leader needs to conquer. How do I use my volunteers in what they are good at and in an area that they are really passionate about?
  • People skills: When people volunteer they sometimes give their opinions without using tact. There is a lot of conflict and miscommunication within these organizations. This is a great environment to learn how to constructively deal with conflict and communicate effectively as a leader.


There are wonderful organizations in our country with life changing causes to better our communities, cities and country. They need you as an emerging Business Professional.  They need your skills and talent to make a difference to those in need. But the truth is that you need them and the opportunity that they provide to you as a young leader to develop your leadership acumen.

Author & Contributor: Hermann Du Plessis – Founder & Director at Themba Thandeka Leadership Institute – LinkedIn Bio: https://www.linkedin.com/in/hermann-du-plessis-01b17618/

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