September 2022 Leader Letter
Start with the Heart
International President Matt Kinsey reflects on his leadership style and shares insights from his Toastmasters journey.
When Matt Kinsey first joined Toastmasters in 2003, his main goal was to strengthen his ability to give constructive feedback as a professional and a volunteer (he was a high school speech contest judge and a Boy Scout leader).
Nearly two decades later, Toastmasters has not only helped Kinsey master the art of giving feedback, it has also shifted his understanding of what it means to be a leader.
Kinsey used to view leadership as being in a position; now he understands that he is a steward of his office, tasked with making decisions based on the organization’s needs, rather than his own, and with setting his successor up to build on the organization’s successes, rather than their own.
With this overall philosophy in mind, and as he takes on the International Presidency, Kinsey reflects on leadership, starting with three key traits:
Start with the heart. Connecting with others on a human level and building positive relationships lays the foundation for mutual understanding and respect, which is helpful for navigating tricky conversations and decisions with healthy relationships intact, says Kinsey. Perhaps more importantly, though, "starting with the heart” serves as a reminder to prioritize the wellbeing of others—recognizing we are all humans before we are Toastmasters, after all.
Have the courage to be different. Kinsey believes that acting in the best interest of the organization means looking at challenges with a fresh perspective and asking questions differently, rather than traditionally, with the goal of fostering unique, forward-thinking results for the organization.
Think several steps ahead. Kinsey’s current strategy for Toastmasters International can be summed up with two words: forward focus. On an organizational level, this means focusing on items that directly impact the experience of members. On an individual level, it means focusing on the essential role responsibilities that contribute to the mission of the organization, District, and/or club. Understanding that there will always be distractions that steal time and mental energy, Kinsey advises leaders to keep their eye on the core of the Strategic Plan.
But it doesn’t have to stop there. Based on his experience, Kinsey offers more advice for both new and seasoned Toastmasters leaders:
Build a solid relationship foundation with both the people you serve and the people you serve alongside. For example, part of building a healthy working relationship is using language that extends the conversation rather than one that creates a judgement or ends a conversation. Because there are very few aspects of Toastmasters that have one correct approach, he encourages leaders from all walks to embrace differences of opinion. Think of the power of simply shifting language from “we should do this” to “we could do this.”
Examine everything related to your club or District, from Table Topics to dress code to financing, with these questions in mind: Is this a required practice of the organization? Is it allowed? Is it serving us well?
Traditional practices don’t necessarily make good practices. If it isn’t serving a club or District well, it’s time to make a change. Just make sure you know why you want to make changes, as well as the desired outcome. Additionally, don’t change too much at once, he advises, because it will be difficult to measure cause and effect.
Take inspiration from the best—look at what the top clubs or Districts around you are doing, but with a twist. Don’t just look at them separately. Instead, compare the top 10 or so, and see what they’re all doing similarly. The common practices among the top performing clubs and Districts are worth replicating.
To sum it up, Kinsey thinks his mom put it best when she told him, “In whatever you do in life, find the purpose.” He hopes you will take positive action in your leadership role, while you find your purpose—and joy—throughout the journey.