Leadership: Three Keys to Effective Leadership

Delegate work, communicate clearly and show your appreciation.

By Dee Dees, DTM

Leadership is one of those concepts that is discussed, analyzed and taught endlessly, for good reason: It’s critical to getting things done.

A few years ago, I took on one of the biggest leadership challenges I’ve ever faced when I agreed to be the host district committee chairman for the 2007 International Convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Even though I had been a district governor and international director, this was leadership of a different type. Instead of a year or two of regularly scheduled events and responsibilities, this was a 16-month period focused on – and leading up to – a grand finale: the Toastmasters International Convention.

My role consisted of a lot of planning, organization and meetings. But everything came together as it should, and my team of more than 300 volunteers worked smoothly, accomplishing its mission to support many of the events during Convention. Three critical success factors helped. I’m certainly not the first to discover these, and some would say there are many more than three. But these are the attributes I could not do without as a host district committee chair.

This trait doesn’t always come easy to leaders, but it’s one I learned through my experiences in the Toastmasters leadership ranks. If I had tried to manage our efforts during every event of the 2007 Convention on my own, and single-handedly recruit the 300-plus volunteers involved, it would have been impossible. I would have failed miserably, and the Convention attendees would have noticed. So I delegated the different functions – dinners, Hall of Fame, contests, education sessions – to various committee chairs. Those 16 leaders made it all work.

I delegated, but I also empowered those committee chairs to lead their teams in their own way. By choosing capable people to help, I found it easy, later, to trust them to do their jobs effectively.

I also learned to accept offers of help. Several people were generous enough to say, “If I can do anything, don’t hesitate to ask.” And instead of saying, “That’s okay, I’ve got it under control,” I was able to take them up on their kind offers.

I learned that even those who don’t offer are usually more than willing to help if you just ask them. 

An effective leader needs to be an effective communicator. In planning my committee’s participation during Convention, I needed to communicate with individual volunteers, World Headquarters staff and especially with my committee chairs – either individually or as a group. E-mails were flying back and forth between all these entities and myself for months. The result was that everyone understood exactly what was happening and could see the progress we were making. Regular and consistent communication among everyone concerned is a crucial activity that supports anyone in a leadership position.

A note about e-mail: It should not be depended upon as a sole means of communication. If you need to know something and aren’t getting the response you need, pick up the phone and call. Sometimes computers go down, browsers act up, messages float around the Internet for days before landing in an inbox, or people just aren’t reading their e-mails. Failing to receive an e-mail reply is no excuse for missing the answers you need. 

This is the easiest and most enjoyable leadership responsibility. As we worked toward the start of the Convention, I tried to thank my committee chairs in every e-mail I sent out: Thanks for attending the meeting. Thanks for getting the information to me. Thanks for all you’re doing. I tried to provide snacks for every meeting, having discovered long ago that if you want good attendance – food works!

Appreciation goes a long way toward keeping a team motivated and happy. Everyone likes to be appreciated; even if it’s not why we do what we do, we love it just the same.

There are many other qualities a good leader needs: integrity, kindness, listening skills, fairness, having a vision, the ability to motivate – the list goes on. But if you’re leading a team, and you can delegate the tasks so that the workload is shared; if you can communicate what the end result needs to be and how to get there; and if you will appreciate your team members at every opportunity, you will be an effective leader. 

Dee Dees, DTM, served on Toastmasters’ Board of Directors in 1994-1996, and is a member of Gilbert Toastmasters in Gilbert, Arizona. Contact her at deedees@lifestorylady.com.