3 Surprising Lessons from a Toastmasters Club About Leadership

Toastmasters is where leaders are made. Really? Wait…isn’t Toastmasters a public speaking organization? Let’s find out via a personal reflection.

A leader creates a vision, builds a team and makes the team unbelievable.

Creating a Vision

Member: Why should I follow you, presidential candidate? Why are we doing this?

My first attempt at creating a vision failed! I focused on me, me, me... And I forgot the “visual” of the term’s focus (if you elect me, y’all will get unicorns at every meeting…maybe). People are not inspire by promises. They want to hear what they will gain (Why are you taking me from point A to point B? What does point B look like? Why do I want to go there?). To the left is the first draft of the election speech. My mentor replied:

“Apollo 13: Houston, “I” Have a Problem. Yes, too many I’s and me’s. It’s a good expression of Rocio’s emotions. But…It should be about YOU, the voting members: what’s in for YOU. Can Rocio clearly state 2~3 things YOU will get in the next 6 months?”

To the right is the revised election speech. Was this the perfect election speech that won the hearts and minds of members? Ask the members.

Building The Team

Inner Voice: How do I recruit? There aren’t enough people running for position x, position y, position z. He/She is too busy.

This is perhaps the toughest part and where members helped me understand the potential of people beyond experience and expertise, sometimes the hard way. The Yoda of Toastmasters, Michael Tao, shared with me this simple criteria for identifying candidates:

Learning — Does the person want to learn?

Ambition — Does the person have a goal/dream?

Love — Does the person genuinely care about the well-being of others?

Integrity — Does the person show commitment?

Making Them Great

Robert Joss: Your job is to walk around with a can of water in one hand and a can of fertilizer in the other hand. Think of your team as seeds and try to build a garden. It’s about building these people.

During my first term as president, I approached several situations as “you’re wrong, I’m right” and scared some away in the process until I served as the Club’s secretary. Someone always commented on the Minutes (summary of the meeting) I sent every week. Sometimes it was feedback. Sometimes it was encouragement that motivated me to continue doing this work with more enthusiasm each week (remember in a volunteer organization nobody gets paid to do anything). This experience ingrained in me the importance of recognizing the work of others at all times.

The next term, I let go of control (maybe not 100%). It wasn’t smooth at times but it felt invigorating to give ownership. I followed an Officer’s decreed to dressed up as a Minion for the club. At Officer meetings, others presented the challenges instead of me. I did less talking and more listening — that’s still a work in progress.

Experiences in Toastmasters are worth more than a thousand books. I lived through many by only investing $96/year, instead of 200k (2 years of business school). Each year, I gained new friends from all over the world and explored many places together. These videos do not do justice to our adventures:

2014 Adventure

2015 Adventure part 1

80th Anniversary part 1

80th Anniversary part 2

Thank you Toastmasters. Thank you Lee Emerson Bassett Toastmasters!

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