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Kyle Graham: Leadership by Example

CBN.comMy grandmother, who spent her whole life serving others, gave me one piece of wisdom that I have never forgotten: “If you’re not doing something for someone else, what’s the point?”

With her words in my heart, my first experience volunteering as a young teen was to help John, a good-spirited young man who was bound to a wheelchair due to muscular dystrophy. My role was simply to help John learn how to bowl, and I will never forget the first time.

Holding the ball was difficult for John, the wheels on his chair got in the way, and the involuntary movements of his head had to make seeing the lanes very difficult. While holding the ball in his lap, we walked (and rolled) toward the foul line. Using a specially designed ramp, we set the ball in motion toward the pins — and when the pins fell, John’s face lit up as much as my heart warmed. To this day it still amazes me to think that such a simple task could bring so much joy into someone’s life.

Since then, I have served as a volunteer in various capacities — from helping near-blind people play bingo, to lending an unskilled hand while building a house, to organizing a communitywide event to raise money for cancer research. However, service to others is not just a good way to make friends and spend a few hours of spare time; it is a context in which anyone can exhibit a powerful form of leadership — leadership by example.

While studying leadership at Regent, one of the key concepts highlighted throughout was servant leadership, which is the notion that service to others first and foremost — in and through one’s organizational, community or familial role — is an integral part of effective leadership by example. Whether people spend their time in the classroom or the boardroom, working at home or in the community, their example has the potential to lead others through positive influence and inspiration.

There is a good chance that a would-be volunteer can find an organization whose mission speaks to his or her own avocation; however, national volunteer demographics are unbalanced across the board. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that only 26.4 percent of Americans 16 years of age or older volunteered between September 2006 and September 2007, and the percentage is declining. In addition, there were more married people, females, working adults and college-educated volunteers than their single, male, unemployed or less formally educated counterparts.

There are millions of other volunteer-driven organizations that rely upon people who are willing to donate their time; however, most volunteers (35.6 percent) devoted their time to religious organizations, such as their local church or other nationwide organizations, such as the Salvation Army, YMCA or Habitat for Humanity. In addition, 26.2 percent of volunteers served in educational/youth organizations, and 13.1 percent served in social or community service organizations.

In hindsight, years of working with various volunteer-driven organizations shaped my leadership philosophy long before I could articulate its definition. In addition, formal education has not only increased my understanding of leadership, it has solidified both the importance and systemic impact a service-minded person can make here and now.

Volunteers not only provide a helping hand in the moment, their example often inspires others to do the same. Reflecting upon my grandmother’s advice, I think she was right. Generally speaking, it is easy to focus on one’s own needs, but is not as rewarding — and arguably not as important — as working to meet the needs of others. In essence, that’s what volunteers and leaders do. They consider and act upon others’ needs in addition to, and often before, their own. Thankfully, just ditching the television or a few hours of aimless Internet surfing can make a real difference.

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