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Clare's story: how volunteering has helped me to become a better leader

Clare first became a Shout Volunteer during the Covid-19 pandemic when she felt that she wanted to give something back to the many people who were struggling to cope. With 18 months of volunteering under her belt, Clare says the training and experience she’s received has given her leadership skills at work an unexpected boost too. In her own words, Clare shares how beneficial volunteering has been, not just for those she's supported, but for her personal growth, too.

What made you decide to become a Shout Volunteer?

When I first discovered the Shout mental health text support service, it was a lightbulb moment for me. We were in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic and I was fortunate to have a full-time job that I could do from home. I was safe, healthy and earning. But I still felt a strong sense of helplessness; an element of guilt for my good fortune while lives and livelihoods were being lost. I wanted to offer my time to others, to play my part, but I wasn’t sure how. And then one morning a news article caught my eye – Prince William revealing his secret role as a Shout Volunteer – and the lightbulb flicked on.

I have now been volunteering for Shout for more than 18 months and feel proud to be a part of such a caring and committed community, supporting people from all age groups and walks of life in their moments of need.

What do you find most rewarding about being a Shout Volunteer?

It was Shout’s innovative approach to crisis management that initially impressed me. From the anonymous, text-based interactions that enable service users to open-up, to the coaching-driven conversation style that supports them to find their own solutions – the focus was truly on empowering the individual. But it’s the people involved in the service that have kept me motivated; nothing is more rewarding than supporting someone in distress to move to a place of cool calm, to feel better for a moment, and sometimes to even feel hope. And along the way are my fellow volunteers and supervisors, championing me at every step.

What are some of the challenges you've experienced?

The journey of a volunteer is not always easy though, and whilst I have adjusted and learnt how to support each texter in the best way that I can, speaking to people in their darkest moments will always be challenging. But it is these moments that serve to reinforce why the Shout service is so vital and, for myself, have led to much personal growth.

Have you been able to use any of the skills you've developed as a Shout Volunteer in your day-to-day life?

My volunteer journey has left me with a pocketful of learnings to carry through life. And one of the most valuable skills this experience has unexpectedly helped me to improve is leadership. In my full-time job, I manage a team in a busy and demanding environment and face new and shifting challenges every day. Thanks to my training with Shout, I have evolved immeasurably in this role, learning to coach my team through problems, become more agile, and build bridges through better communication.

Thinking back to that day mid-pandemic, watching the news and searching online for the Shout volunteer application, I never would have guessed the journey this experience would take me on. And whilst supporting our service users is always the number one priority, it is heartening to learn that volunteering can enrich our own lives in so many other ways.

Testimonials

One of the most valuable skills this experience has unexpectedly helped me to improve is leadership.

Here are some of the top things I have learnt as a manager and leader:

Building trust

When people are in crisis and distress, we feel a strong urge to rush to their aid and solve their problems. As a Shout volunteer, we learn to do the opposite. Instead, we allow each service user the space to share their thoughts and feelings - actively listening to their feedback and supporting them to explore steps to improve their situation in the present.

This approach has served me well as a manager. Rather than rushing to guide team members through how to tackle workplace challenges, I have learnt to take a step back, listen, ask questions, and help them to navigate towards a solution they feel is right. Problem-solving in this way helps to build trust within a team, strengthening individual confidence and facilitating growth and professional development.

Building confidence and credibility

When someone is brave enough to reach out to the Shout service, they are doing so for a range of different reasons and in varying stages of distress. Each volunteer shift can be completely different in both the types of conversations and issues which may arise. As such, we learn to think on our feet, carefully exploring the situation and calmly assessing the risk to help provide the best level of support to the person texting in

Thinking quickly and being agile are skills that greatly enhance a leader’s performance. When problems arise, people look to leadership for reassurance and a steady hand to help navigate choppy waters. I have faced many sudden and unexpected situations like this at work, and thanks to my experience as a Shout volunteer, I have learnt to have faith in my own judgement, and to act quickly and calmly when dealing with a situation. This has built confidence in my own talents and credibility across my team, peers and senior leadership.

Building connections

When training to become volunteers, one of the first things we learn about is “good contact techniques” and the skills that underpin these – empathy, warmth and active listening. By applying these techniques in every conversation, we can build a rapport with each texter, helping to establish trust and encouraging them to open-up about their situation.

These techniques have been so valuable to me in the workplace, especially when dealing with conflict. Challenges can often arise when different perspectives clash, and as a manager overseeing a team in a large organisation, these types of challenges can be common. Thanks to my experience as a Shout volunteer, I have learnt to be patient in these situations, actively listening to the other person’s point of view, providing validation and sharing my own perspective with warmth and affability. This has helped me to resolve problems and build connections between individuals and across teams.