In my opinion, there is one trait that all true leaders possess—and that is experience. It is experience that enables our careers in loss prevention to evolve, develop, and flourish. The faster you gain experience, the more quickly you will improve your leadership. One way to accelerate gaining experience is through volunteering for assignments, projects and working groups that are both inside and outside of your loss prevention job description.
We all know that volunteering is a good thing for furthering our careers in loss prevention in terms of visibility to company leadership and demonstrating that you are willing to go above and beyond. However, many people who volunteer don’t truly participate. Of course, you can gain some experience from simply being on a committee or project working group, but if you want to maximize your experience through volunteering, volunteer with a purpose. That purpose should be to gain as much knowledge and experience as possible.
Make every volunteering experience the best it can be. As with anything, you get out of something what you put into it. By fully participating, you will gain experience because the best way to learn is by doing.
How Volunteering Can Lead to Successful Careers in Loss Prevention
Start by fully understanding what you are volunteering for. What is the objective? What is the scope? What are the expectations? Once you have the answers to these questions, determine what you can learn that will increase your knowledge and experience.
Now that you have determined what you think you can learn, participate with a focus on those areas. This is where active listening is critical. In the busy world we live in, most of us have short attention spans and are constantly multi-tasking. Even if you aren’t on a computer, you may be thinking about other things. This detracts from being able to maximize the value you can get from the volunteering experience. By truly listening, you gain practical knowledge on a topic and can learn how to effectively accomplish objectives.
Each person in a group brings their own unique knowledge and experience. How do they present themselves? How do they present their thoughts and ideas? Some may be content experts. Some may know how to format information. Others may know how to present and market it. This is where you gain knowledge from their experience, but you can also observe different ways to present yourself as a leader.
You may even identify someone who could be a great mentor for you. Finding a person whom you believe is an effective leader to be a mentor is another way for you to escalate the gaining of experience. If you are open to it, learning from that person’s experience can increase your own effectiveness and help shape your individual approach as a leader. They can give you advice on what has worked for them and why, which saves you the time and effort of repeating their mistakes.
With most volunteer efforts, there are usually specific assignments or smaller work groups created in support of the overall objective. In order to get the full benefit from your investment in the volunteering assignment, participate in the ones that will help you most to learn.
One of the best ways to maximize your experience from a volunteer assignment is to be the leader of the group. As the leader, you cannot passively participate. You have to be fully engaged. The leader is usually the one who presents the results to company leadership, which can result in positive visibility for your career.
If you are a senior leader in your company, you should consider volunteering in loss prevention industry organizations, such as the National Retail Federation (NRF) and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). These and other retail industry loss prevention organizations provide excellent volunteering opportunities for professional development as well as opportunities to help shape our industry as it evolves.
Another, related experience that can help shape successful careers in loss prevention is community volunteer work. Helping your community is not only personally satisfying because you can make a difference right where you live, but it is also educational: most non-profit organizations operate like a business. You may even learn things that you can bring back to your own company.
This post was originally published in 2017 and was updated February 8, 2018.