The Many Joys of Serving in a Voluntary Capacity : Unexpected Benefits, the Acquisition of Leadership Skills and the Forging of Great Friendships

I decided to get actively involved in the affairs of the Institute of Public Relations Malaysia (IPRM) in the early seventies. It was certainly one of the better decisions in my life. I remained actively engaged with the IPRM in one form or another for over fifteen long, productive and satisfying years.

Initially, my interest was to pursue a twice weekly, evening Introductory Course in Public Relations conducted by industry professionals at Shell House in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. I successfully completed this six month certificate course and earned a distinction grade in the examinations that followed. This prompted me to pursue the Intermediate Course in Public Relations, also over six months. I did well in this certificate course too.

Collaboration with CAM Foundation

A few years later IPRM offered a diploma course in collaboration with the Communication Advertising and Marketing (CAM) Education Foundation in London. I was one of the first to sign up for the year long programme. While in the certificate programmes, we had to sit for two papers after each course, in the diploma level, we had to sit for three papers. The third paper was case study based. I once again successfully completed the diploma programme and earned the CAM Diploma in Public Relations in 1982.

Service on the Committee Level

After I had been admitted as an Associate Member (AMIPR) of IPRM in late 1974, I volunteered to serve on a standing committee. This offer was quickly accepted and I was subsequently appointed the editor of IPRM’s quarterly newsletter. The chairman of the Publications Committee, however, requested that I bring it out on a monthly basis! I accepted the appointment and the challenge and over the next two years, I was able, with the assistance of two eager and enthusiastic colleagues, to produce and circulate twenty four issues of the newsletter on a timely basis.

The four hundred plus members of IPRM appreciated very much news and reports of events that had taken place as well as notification of forthcoming programmes. I was subsequently elected as a Council Member of IPRM by members who were obviously impressed by my contribution.

Chairman of Committees

I was soon thereafter appointed chairman of the Publications Committee. I now had another task… in addition to the regular publication of the newsletter, I had to revive IPRM’s dormant journal. I managed to get an enthusiastic editor for the journal on board, regular contribution of articles from industry veterans and support from corporate sponsors. Being chairman of this committee was tough but the joy and satisfaction of working with eager and willing colleagues made all the difference. I served as chairman of this committee for one term.

Much later, I was appointed as chairman of the Education and Training Committee of IPRM. I enjoyed my tenure as chairman of this committee for two terms and was particularly pleased to receive strong support and encouragement not only from industry leaders but also from the deans of the Communications Department at Institut Teknologi Mara (ITM), Universiti Sains Malaysia(USM) and Universiti Kebagsaan Malaysia(UKM).

The Joy and Satisfaction of Serving in a Voluntary Capacity

In both these committees, I did my best to include as many talented and eager individuals. I personally approached each individual and invited him / her to join me for the greater good of the profession. I managed to achieve a 75% success rate in this effort to entice more public relations professionals to come on board and contribute to IPRM’s continued growth and relevance to the profession and the public at large.

Of course, there were some who decided that they could not spare the time to contribute. Others did not see the point in offering such voluntary service. A few were only prepared to give lectures to the course participants and for this service they were paid a proper professional fee.

Actively Foster Fellowship and Camaraderie

Being chairman of a committee does not end with getting the right people on board. One has to cultivate these people on a genuine and sincere basis, find out their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes and make time to meet and interact with them not just at committee meetings. Seek out opportunities to have a cup of coffee with an individual who has a grouse to air or an idea to float.

From time to time, host a simple lunch, dinner or drinks, at your expense of course, to express your thanks for all their behind the scenes work and contribution. It is simply not enough to just say thank you and leave it at that.

Be the leader that they can look up to, be the kind friend that they can turn to and be the counsellor that they can safely confide a particular problem. Take time occasionally also to write a note or send an email to express your satisfaction at some outstanding contribution that the individual has made. When you take such a caring approach there is practically nothing that these individuals will not do to further the cause or committee that you head!

Leadership by Example

A wise leader instinctively knows that when the team, after having worked tirelessly at a particular project fails in its attempt, it is he who should willingly step forward and assume the blame! The buck stops at the leader and it is wise to remember this advice.

Likewise, when the team is successful at another project, he should remember to publicly credit the team for their collective effort. Far too often, insecure, mean spirited and egoistic leaders want to bask in the glory and acclamation but are super quick to blame others for failures.

Win People over to your Point of View

Later on I served IPRM as its honorary secretary for three terms, then vice president for two terms and finally, I was persuaded to stand for president. I went on to serve as president for two terms before bowing out and giving other aspiring leaders a chance to assume higher office.

It was certainly an exciting time for me professionally and personally. I learned a lot from my more senior colleagues on the council. One unforgettable lesson I learned is that it is far more strategic, prudent and useful to win people over to your point of view than to merely win an argument! I was similarly impressed by the way contentious issues were discussed in a calm and rational manner during council meetings.

Leadership Grooming for Future Responsibilities

I was fortunate to have had good exposure and experience in handling crisis situations especially when I was honorary secretary of IPRM. This was because the president at that time was ailing and undergoing dialysis treatment on a regular basis. Occasionally, a day or two before an event and sometimes on the day of the event itself, where he was supposed to deliver a speech, he would telephone me and request me to represent him at the event.

At such short notice, I had to prepare my speech and make myself available to shoulder this unexpected duty. I did not have the heart to disappoint a sick man and a great president.

Looking back at that period, I must readily confess that these unexpected requests were very good opportunities for me to polish my skills in writing and public speaking. Although technically speaking I was doing the president a favour, it was an excellent preparation in leadership grooming for my future responsibilities in IPRM, Kiwanis International, CIMA and ACCA.

A consequence of working closely with individuals in committees is that over time, you get to know and appreciate people much better. You may have started out as colleagues but often the relationship changes from that of mere acquaintance to that of a good friend. This is one clear benefit that flows from such well meaning service.

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