Toastmasters as a Leadership Model

I was driving home from Toastmasters the other night and talking with my wife when she said what is it that keeps you going back after twelve years? The word Love sprang to mind. You see in my home club there is no doubt that every one there is there to support each other; we take the Mission of a Club seriously. We recite and reinforce this mission at every meeting.

We provide a supportive and positive learning experience in which members are empowered to develop communication and leadership skills, resulting in greater self-confidence and personal growth.

It struck me that many organization could take a lesson from the model of a Toastmaster Club. Let me explain.

Titan Toastmasters, my home club currently consists of 19 members. It represents a mix of experience from Jim, who has been a Toastmaster for 50 years and Mark for 30 years to Gail who has been a member a month or so. We have nurses, sales professionals, engineers, financial advisors and retirees all as members; a diverse group. And yet, one thing unites us all. It is the mission of the club (thanks to David Sandusky for reminding me that a mission is not a mission statement).

I have watched our members, as anew member gives us their Ice-Breaker speech. That is the first speech. You can see it in their eyes, they want this new member to stretch, to experience the anxious energy of speaking in front of an audience AND the thrill of getting a positive reaction from the audience.

When we get to the portion of the meeting where we evaluate each other’s performance, we provide what my friend Maurice calls “The gift of feedback.” it really is a gift. By getting solid, critical feedback on what we do well and where we can be more effective we gain the tools to improve our performance. If we employ those tools, we will not be the same Toastmaster a year from now. We will be better.

So, what can other organizations take from this structure or culture?

One, have a mission that is bigger than any one individual. People are inspired to bigger than life, missions. And, if you look at the Club mission it is all about raising people to a higher level of performance and growth. It is not about the points required to earn club awards.

Every week the culture of the club is modeled, for new and existing members. The ideas represented in the mission are reinforced. We hold ourselves to high standards while recognizing where each member is in their progress. So for example, when I throw together a quick speech and do not take the time to practice and or develop it well, I will be called on it. While a new member that has not learned the skills of organizing a speech effectively will be coached on how that might be a way to improve the next speech.

This culture is consciously managed. Each year we conduct a module “Moments of Truth”. We survey the club along the dimensions that define a strong club; membership, guest reception, fellowship, learning, organization, etc. And based on that feedback we modify the way we conduct business.

  • How long has it been since you and your organization re-examined your mission.
  • Is it still relevant?

Our Evaluation portion of the meeting is designed, to share how we can each improve and how we as a club can improve by pointing out what went really well, (members are encouraged to model this behavior) and where we maybe, missed our potential. Think about your teams. If you can share as a team those areas of strength that each member has and how other team members can learn from them, while delivering opportunities for improvement in a way that is encouraging what would happen? Would your team members step up? Would the peer pressure (I don’t really like the word pressure it’s more peer support) help?

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