Viewpoint: The Most Important Attribute of a Leader

Viewpoint: The Most Important Attribute of a Leader

A message from our International President

When I first joined Toastmasters, I was extremely nervous every time I rose to speak. My coping mechanism was to speak as fast as possible so the discomfort would end and I could return to my seat. During one club meeting, a speech evaluator gave me advice that changed my life: “If you focus on the audience instead of yourself, you will eliminate your fear.” I did and it worked!

Focusing on others is good advice for leaders as well as speakers. The easiest – and most successful – way of leading others is to focus on service. When you serve others, they want to help you, too.

One of the greatest servant leaders I have ever known is my former employer, United States Senator Mark Hatfield. When I joined Toastmasters 15 years ago this month, Toastmasters gave me the confidence to secure my first job working for Senator Hatfield. After working for Senator Hatfield for a few months, I was given the opportunity to visit his Washington, D.C. office. While I was there, Oregon’s other U.S. senator was going to be sworn in as a new senator. This was a major event, held in the Senate and attended by the Vice President of the United States, who administered the oath of office.

I desperately wanted to go to the Senate Gallery to watch the historic proceedings. Unfortunately, hundreds of others wanted to watch too, so there was no room in the Gallery.

When Senator Hatfield found out I wanted a seat, he personally walked me to the Senate Gallery and asked the doorkeeper to find me, “his trusted staff member,” a seat. When a senator asks, the doorkeeper delivers. I was ushered into the Senate Gallery and witnessed the ceremony. Little did I know that after escorting me to the Gallery, Senator Hatfield immediately went to the Senate Chamber where he delivered a welcoming speech for the new Oregon Senator.

Senator Hatfield demonstrated to me that day what it truly means to be a servant leader. He focused on the needs of others (me, a new staff member) rather than his needs (delivering an important speech in front of all his colleagues and a national television audience). That simple act inspired my loyalty and service back to him for the past 15 years.

Be a servant leader to your fellow Toastmasters. We each have countless occasions to serve others, whether we are an officer, a mentor, a meeting participant or an ambassador for the Toastmasters program. Enjoy your opportunity – and responsibility – to be of service. Your journey of service begins now!

Gary Schmidt, DTM
International President