“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” —Winston Churchill
While widely different in scope, the power of giving back is no less evident in our own professional community. Volunteers across all ranks are contributing: from shaping strategy and products to countless individual acts of helping others, whether advising, mentoring and more. These volunteers selflessly share expertise, time and talent to make our organization all that it is. This connection to purpose and making a difference is rooted in our DNA as leaders.
Most striking is the effect that volunteering and giving back has on us. One might argue we do this for others but, as it turns out, it is also good for us. In fact, there is some evidence that links these acts to improved well-being, including better physical and mental health. A recent study found that those who volunteer reported lower blood pressure and stress levels, less depression and higher self-esteem. A separate study found that people 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer—even accounting for such factors as age, exercise and general health. Research also has shown that generosity provides psychological benefits by stimulating parts of the brain associated with empathy and happiness.
Beyond our own health, other benefits can be reaped.
Opportunity: Giving back connects us to people we might not ordinarily meet, providing us with unique opportunities to expand our professional circles and our network. Whether serving on a nonprofit board, volunteering with your local ACHE chapter or helping our community in other ways, the experience of learning more while forging new relationships enriches us. New opportunities often emerge as we do so.
Reward: Helping others gives us a greater sense of purpose and meaning. It reinforces why we do the work we do. It’s a reward that comes in many forms such as the deep fulfillment we experience when offering our time to support someone else. Whether building houses or careers, there is a personal satisfaction that comes from helping others. We are natural servant leaders, putting others ahead of ourselves. As such, giving back is a gift—the realization that we can make a difference. Through these actions, we are somehow further shaped as leaders.
Part of giving back is also encouraging others to do the same. Instilling and sharing this part of us connects us and nurtures us as a leadership community. As we approach the season of giving and reflect on the year, let us also reflect on the power of giving back and how it can fuel and inspire us. Fostering this in others may be one of the most meaningful and enduring steps we can take as leaders.
Let me close by offering my thanks to each of you. In your service to patients, communities, colleagues and ACHE, you are the lifeblood of our professional society. Thank you for all you do.
Deborah J. Bowen, FACHE, CAE, is president/CEO of the American College of Healthcare Executives (firstname.lastname@example.org).