By Division W Governor Bud Brown DTM
I’m not a leader by choice. I feel I make a much better second in command. I like to be the one behind the scenes who lines everything up and hands the primed tool to the leader who can take all the glory (and the deal with the people in the cheap-seats taking pot-shots).
When I joined Toastmasters, it wasn’t because they had a leadership building path. It was because they had a communication program. For the first year I was in Toastmasters, I was just along for the ride. I did my 10 speeches and was called a “Competent Communicator”. What I did not realize was that during that year, I was being groomed for Leadership. They groomed my listening skills by asking me to count peoples’ ums and ahs and to watch for use of a word-of-the-day. They taught me how to be more organized by making me first, a timer then a Toastmasters then a General Evaluator.
They taught me how to assess abilities and give positive, constructive feedback with evaluations of all sorts. They taught me about team building through being a General Evaluator and a Toastmaster and finally by getting me to run a contest.
Then they sprung their trap! “Would you be willing to be the VP of Membership?” I looked around at my club which had 26 members at the time and thought, “How hard can it be?” Under my skilled leadership, I took a thriving club of 26 members and turned it into a starving group of 16 rugged individualists. Clearly, I had a lesson to learn about leadership. Then it hit me: I felt a need to learn about leadership. Without my planning for it, Toastmasters had turned me into a leader-in-training.
Now this isn’t a bad thing. Whether you are part of a business, a social club, a non-profit organization or even just a family, any group of people needs leaders to help them have direction. Often, those leaders are not the people with the titles. Business guru Jim Rohn said “A leader is someone that people follow”. It sounds so obvious but often, the people who are leading, are doing it unconsciously. They are confident in how they approach things and people can sense that. Some people become such leaders because they do this naturally and any group is fortunate to have such people. But the need for leaders is great and only a few get into that role without thinking about it.
A couple of years after I joined Toastmasters, they introduced the Competent Leaders Manual which basically just organized the knowledge I had been getting by simply belonging to Toastmasters. The Competent Leaders Manual did three key things. It put into words, the lessons that people had been unconsciously learning, it motivated people to take on different roles at their meetings and it gave credit to people who learned the whole spectrum of basic leadership skills. Now, while striving to become competent communicators, Toastmasters gives us a focussed tool toward becoming competent leaders.
I am currently on my third time through the Competent Leaders Manual and just like the Competent Communicator manual I get more out of it each time I apply the lessons in that powerful book. Have you actually read your Competent Leaders Manual? This week, take a look at what role you have in your meeting, then go to the Project Completion Record in the Competent Leader Manual and find that role, read what the project says about it and purposefully grow.
I still don’t aspire to the title of leader. Even in my present role within Toastmasters, I think of myself as a servant leader: someone who prepares the way for others to achieve their goals. Something has changed though. I recognize that even staying in the background, I am someone whose example people will follow. If I want things to go well, I had better pay attention to the example I am setting. That means purposefully handling various skills that are called, “leadership”: Listening, evaluating, providing feedback, building teams and motivating, just to mention a few. When you are part of Toastmasters, you can be the leader you didn’t want to be.
H W Bud Brown, at the time this article was written, was the Governor of Division W in District 86. He has been a Toastmaster since 2001 and has earned his Distinguished ToastMaster (DTM) twice.