In my time as a member of voluntary organisations, I’ve learnt a lot.  Some of those things are more tangible than others.  Public speaking, debating, chairing meetings, facilitating workshops and writing blogs are amongst those skills which I can readily identify and have put into practice in my career in various ways.  But there are also many things which are not so obvious:

Self-belief – Confidence in myself is one of those things that I didn’t notice happening at first and it did take a while to build up.  I never would have thought that I would ever become local president of JCI London, but through encouragement of great friends in my local chamber, I eventually had the confidence to step up to the role (it did take three attempts at people asking me!).  A few years on and a huge turning point for me was when I decided to stand for Deputy National President (which leads to National President the following year).  Yes I’d had encouragement from other members, but it is not a role that I could have taken on unless I believed I was the right person to do it.  Through JCI I have changed my mindset from automatically thinking “I can’t” to “why not”?

Saying no – I love JCI and have got so much out of it, so always want to be involved and help out other members when I can.  I am also pretty organised and reliable, so other people know that if I agree to do something, then I will make it happen.  It is easy when you enjoy being involved in something for it to become all consuming.  Saying no is hard, but I’ve learnt to do so.  It is also a good skill for your career.  Being able to say no in a polite and reasoned way means that you won’t be taken advantage of and can focus on those things which are most important for your own role.

The power of asking – I really got involved in JCI because someone asked me to.  Firstly to join a project team and then to take on a position in a local council.  Looking back on my own experience, I see how hugely powerful it is to ask someone to get involved and help with something – because it boosts their confidence, because it shows vulnerability, and because it builds teams.

Letting go – I am a self-confessed perfectionist.  JCI has taught me that most of the time good is good enough.   And that in order to achieve a lot, you cannot be perfect in everything.  This also relates to delegation.  When you involve others in tasks, then it is never going to be done in exactly the way you would do it, but this is an opportunity for both those taking on the task to learn and for you to learn how to do things in a different way.

Taking a different view – JCI gives you the opportunity to work with people of many different backgrounds, professions, cultures and personalities.  Through experiences on various teams, I have seen how different people experience the world differently.  This has enabled me to appreciate that there is rarely one view point on a subject or one way of tackling a problem.  Colleagues have asked me how I manage to see solutions that aren’t obvious to them and I think that it is because by surrounding yourself with people who think and approach challenges differently, you learn how to do so yourself.

It is simply not possible to “learn” these kind of skills from just participating in a training course.  That’s why the hands-on experience of being part of a project team, running an event or taking a leadership role on a board that you get in voluntary organisations is so incredibly valuable.

NB The orginal version of this blog was written when I was National President of JCI UK in 2016 and appears on the JCI UK blog ( I’ve been thinking about these learning points a lot recently, so wanted to share them again.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash

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