Have you ever had the inclination to start your own business but were confronted with the dilemma of not knowing how to run all aspects of a business? College and graduate school can provide you the education needed, and they may even provide limited experience through apprenticeships and entrepreneurial programs but nothing will provide you the actual experience until you make the leap. One must trust themselves before taking on such risk and this is where ASQ can provide assistance.

I became an ASQ member leader (aka volunteer) back in 1992 simply to earn recertification units needed to help retain my professional ASQ certifications, and now, after over 30 years of ASQ service, I know that my volunteer contributions have benefited me much more than they have ASQ. Not only has member leader service provided me countless recertification units but it has also generated a tremendous personal network, enhanced my writing and public speaking skills, and helped me succeed as an instructor and developer of course materials. However, most importantly, ASQ service has provided me the opportunity to hone my leadership skills and practice business related skills in an actual but safe environment.

ASQ is composed of over 250 member units, some industry related (aka ASQ Divisions) but mostly geographic Sections (aka Chapters) located throughout the world. Each essentially operates as an individual business unit, allowing the 2,000-plus ASQ member leaders to serve with great autonomy. All member units are member led with no oversight from ASQ’s paid staff and little oversight from their segment (Division) and regional (Section) leaders. In actuality, Segment and Regional leaders and ASQ’s staff are a resource to member leaders rather than providing managerial direction. A member unit runs its “business” by executing ASQ’s Strategic Plan; this plan is created annually by ASQ Strategic Planning Committee and approved by the ASQ Board of Directors. The annual strategic plan is filtered to each member unit where it then develops a tactical business plan in order to serve the members within the member unit.

Each member unit is led by a Chair who is responsible for creating and executing the member unit’s annual business plan, and is empowered to guide a leadership team composed of several committees. Each committee is led by a volunteer member leader. A good business plan will have one or more activities assigned to each committee. A member unit’s success is gauged on how well it executes its plan and meets the goals it has set for itself. This is where leadership skills are developed because unlike a business where authority is bestowed upon “the boss,” a volunteer is not motivated by a fear of unemployment, so a Division/Section Chair must deftly motivate a team of volunteer member leaders.

It takes considerable skill and tact to lead a team of volunteers in order to execute a business plan to achieve the plan’s goals. While achieving the goals of a business plan may be a Chair’s primary objective, doing all the work themselves is not leadership and will surely cause burnout and resentment. While volunteers are self-motivated, having a leader who is dedicated and knowledgeable on how to do things helps tremendously. Leaders also quickly learn to provide ample praise and recognition; this is how ASQ “pays” is member leaders. Food is a wonderful and effective motivator too!

Business skills are inherently developed through committee work. Most Division/Section committees, such as the education, conference, and scholarship committees, have a budget so financial acumen is developed. Further, each member unit has a treasurer, or financial liaison, who monitors the financial accounts and all transactions are approve by the member unit Chair.

Other business skills, such as sales, advertising, project management, change management, communication, and analytics, are developed through service on the various committees. The Conference Committee will address each of these skills while other committees, such as Membership and Newsletter, will have a smaller scope. Fortunately, each a member leader can dictate the amount of effort and support they want and can provide which allows them to focus on what interests them most.

Running a small business is no small task; it requires determination, resourcefulness and skill. ASQ provides its member leaders the opportunity to develop these skills is an environment where failure won’t affect one’s livelihood and yet will provide a tremendous opportunity to learn the many facets of a business. While volunteerism does require a sacrifice of time, it does provide great dividends in personal growth and opportunity.