Last week, I renewed my annual membership to the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) and got to thinking why I joined in the first place, and why I continue to participate.
Whether you believe leadership is a skill that can be learned or one with which a person is born, it is certain that if one does not practice the skill, it will not improve. A great way to develop your leadership skills is the join a professional association and volunteer. Associations (any non-profit, for that matter) are always looking for energetic volunteers to work on projects. You could join an association that interests you, volunteer to work on a project, or better yet, volunteer to organize an event. There is no better way to improve your leadership skills than to volunteer to be a leader and actually do it. Not only is this an opportunity to build skill and gain experience, you can also put it on your resume as legitimate leadership experience.
You could take it to the next level by joining the board of that organization. There you can really make a difference in the entire organization and further build your leadership skills. There is no reason to wait for a promotion to a leadership role at work for you to start gaining leadership experience. Go out and do it yourself. That's leadership.
To Mentor or To Be Mentored
Not only can you find a mentor in a professional association, but you can become a mentor for someone else. I am involved in a mentoring program in our chapter as a mentor, but I also gain mentoring from other members of the group. As a mentor, I am helping a fellow member gain instructional design experience by helping this person develop a real training class that will be delivered to new leaders in an organization. I learn a lot from being the mentor, and the mentee gains practical experience that can be put on a resume. As a mentee, I learn a ton about how to connect people and how to be an effective board member. Mentoring is the un-sung hero of the professional association.
Network with Interesting People
It is fun to attend a monthly meeting and meet interesting people. I have a goal that in every meeting, I meet one new person, remember their name, and send them a note after the meeting saying how much I enjoyed meeting them. I find that I gain new perspectives when I meet someone new and learn about their interests and projects they are working on. Hopefully, I add value to the other person, because I know they have added value to me.
Get Out of the Office
For years, I worked hard at my jobs, and even though it was with global companies, I mostly stayed withing the walls of my office. Sure, I worked with colleagues and customers all over the world, but mostly, my contacts with people professionally were all with people in my company. Once I joined ASTD, I expanded my horizons and began to work with people outside of my company. It's good to get out of the house once in a while.
There are many reasons to join a professional organization and the ones I describe above are just a few. In the end, I believe I am a more effective person as a result of my participation, and the more I participate, the more enjoyment I experience. Are you a member of a professional association? Why did you join and why do you continue to participate? If you are not a member of an association or non-profit, why not?
Bill Cushard, Chief Learning Officer at The Knowland Group, is a learning leader with more than 12 years experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.