Friday, September 9, 2011

Toastmasters Friday: Where Leaders Are Made

Two new members joined my small club last night. They've both joined to gain confidence in their public speaking skills - one specifically to help with his accent and mastery of the English language. Both are assigned to positions of speaking and leadership next week - one's the timer, the other vote counter. Easy entry-level slots for new members.

Toastmasters is the preeminent organization worldwide for people to overcome their fear of public speaking and develop their skills as a speaker and communicator at a variety of levels. It also offers leadership training and leadership roles that can be directly transferable to the real world.

GASP! I know what you're thinking: "Rich, what happened to you hating 'Where Leaders Are Made'?" Don't worry, I still think it's incomplete and misleading. But - I've never said Toastmasters doesn't help create leaders.

Whether you are a timer or a vote counter, a club secretary or president, a district officer or an Int'l officer, you will have opportunities to lead. Even if all you are doing is counting votes, the fact that you took the job shows leadership to others, in that you are willing to step forward instead of sitting back and letting others run the show.

I've heard folks say we don't train leaders well, making the tagline a lie.  I disagree. While our leadership training is not as prevalent or obvious at the lower levels as the speaker training, at the higher levels the leadership training is, in some ways, MORE comprehensive than our speaking training. Once you become a District Public Relations Officer, Lt. Governor of Marketing or Education, and District Governor, training becomes frequent and robust.

Others say we don't have enough material to say we have a leadership program worth marketing. Yes and No. Certainly we have more information available about speaking than leading. More speaking awards that are measured and attainable. But leadership material exists. Those who actually read their CC and CL basic manuals will find plenty of information on how to be involved in leadership roles. The Successful Club series offers leadership training modules at the club level. We offer manuals for the club officers. And we can even talk to a mentor!

There is also a contingent who insist we have bad training and create bad leaders. Yes and No. Training can always improve, and we do have some bad leaders. But the training that exists is pretty strong as it is, and we have plenty of great leaders. In fact, the very act of leading will often create a polarizing atmosphere, with people coming down on both sides of the fence, one side saying "You're doing great", the other saying just the opposite. Welcome to leadership.

Toastmasters is, in large part, an exercise in self-direction. The information and opportunities to become great speakers exists, but not everyone leaves Toastmasters a great speaker. Some speakers who have been in Toastmasters for decades still might not have achieved a competence level as high as some who have been in a year and gone on to win a World Championship. Leadership is the same way.

In the same way, there are some lousy officers from the club level on up - folks that get by on doing as little as possible and get the credit anyway. And there are some amazing officers. Both have the same access to information and opportunity. If we don't create 100% great speakers and leaders, is it wholly on TM? Of course not.

Leadership comes in many forms. It will lead to disagreements. It will occasionally lead to taking a stand that divides the thoughts of others. It can also lead to compromise and common ground. Yes, Toastmasters is where leaders are made, even if they usually become speakers first.

If you are looking for an opportunity to lead, to practice leading, to learn leadership skills, to practice banging your head occasionally against brick walls, like leaders often do, Toastmasters is a great sandbox to do that in. Along the way, you'll most likely become a much better speaker than you are today, because you'll be forced to speak consistently throughout your leadership journey, even if you never give a manual speech (good luck becoming an officer without at least giving an Icebreaker...).

No, fellow Toastmasters, I don't disagree with the statement that Toastmasters is where leaders are made. And I still stand by my earlier posts and actions - marketing ourselves as leadership only isn't a great strategy, in my opinion. But I'm willing to find common ground, and least in my own little world.

Both new members started their journey the same way: visiting the club, introducing themselves, doing table topics once or twice, watching speeches and evaluations, and deciding to join. Speaking is the entry point to our organization 99% of the time, even if its just for people to come have a place TO speak, and they no longer fear the process. Leadership happens along the way, and often in gangbusters.

Toastmasters. Speak Today, Lead Tomorrow.
Before you lead someone, your voice must be heard. 


  1. Rich -

    You're right that Toastmasters is largely self-directed. That is both the beauty and curse of Toastmasters.

    But, I'm lost about how the vote counter and timer roles are leadership positions. I've been baffled by this since the CL manual came out a few years ago. Someone is going to have to lay this out for me as if I was 6 years old, because I just do not see it.

  2. Granted, it's not major leadership, but the fact they step forward, or at least let themselves get dragged forward to serve as a function for the meeting, puts them in a leadership role. I agree its stretching it, but for some, even timer and vote counter is just that - a stretch vs. what they are used to doing in life.

  3. Being a good speaker is one of the most important characteristics to be a good leader. When an individual who possesses a skill in speaking influences people through his powerful words, that's the time he becomes a good leader.

    Alexander Tiedeman



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