Everyone should seek to make society better, but in my opinion it is especially important for those who lead mission-driven organizations. For those who hope to achieve impact and receive increasing responsibilities (including potentially becoming a CEO) in the non-profit world, I believe it is essential that there be a high level of consistency between their professional behavior and goals on the one hand, and how they conduct themselves outside of the office on the other.
Contribution to society (even in very small ways) should ideally be habitually woven into your day-to-day activities, rather than something you do only “at the office.” Otherwise, people may sense a lack of coherence in your behavior that can raise questions about your ethics, likely longevity, character, and motivations.
Non-profit leaders – and ethical leaders in other domains – have an opportunity to live their values as consistently as possible, and in so doing inspire more intense loyalty and willingness to sacrifice for the good of the mission under your leadership. Below are eight of the twenty-three* techniques of personal contribution that I have integrated into my life to such a degree that they have become habits.
1. Continually look for ways to make the society you are part of better, even if they are in very small ways. If you see a need that you have ability to address, and that you would take satisfaction in having solved, push through the inertia or any other barrier and get it done. Even if you have been putting it off for years, if you see a block of time when you can finally get it done, go for it. Keep in mind that you are doing these things as much for yourself as for your community. In addition, develop at least one habit of doing something on a regular basis to make your community a little better, such as regularly picking up trash on the sidewalk and putting it in the next garbage can you see.
2. Experiment with asking relative strangers something other than what they do (professionally) as a conversation starter. For example, you can begin with an inclusive and open-ended question, such as, “What are you doing that you are most excited about right now?” It is much easier for people whose career is less important to them than it is to you, or who are unemployed, or who are caregivers or homemakers.
3. Err on the side of generosity with your listening, your money, your time, and what you say. The universe will pay you back many-fold.
4. Try to avoid the lazy trap of talking about the hardship of work travel or managing modern life, as they lead conversations toward self-pity, often among people who are quite privileged, especially in a global context. Experiment with alternatives that guide conversations away from self-pity and in more positive directions, such as, “What are you grateful for?”
5. When you consider whether to affirm a friend, colleague, family member or stranger, assume that your affirmations will be five times more meaningful for them than you think they will be.
6. Each day, try to accept one request to help someone that you are initially not disposed to accept, and also accept one offer of help that you are initially not inclined to accept.
7. When anyone makes a request of you or invites you to some event – regardless if they are family, friend, acquaintance or stranger – resist the urge to immediately decline and think about what you might gain from it, including making the day of the person inviting you. Accept at least one request or invitation per week that your initial reaction was to decline.
8. Aim to make someone’s day – anyone’s day, whether they be a close friend or a stranger – as often as possible. If you are feeling down in the dumps, do this even more frequently – it will help you get back on track.
* If you would like the entire list on this topic, send me evidence that you have bought my book Changing the World Without Losing Your Mind. If you want all 403 lessons on all the topics, send me evidence that you have bought at least three copies of the book.