September 2023 Leader Letter
Nurture Leadership; Share Success
International President Morag Mathieson reflects on her leadership style and shares insights from her Toastmasters journey.
When Morag Mathieson is asked about when she first joined Toastmasters, she likes to say that she met Toastmasters twice. The first time was as an MBA student when a few Toastmasters came and spoke to her cohort. At that time, she saw the value in polishing her public speaking skills, especially for academic presentations. However, there weren't any clubs near where she lived at the time.
Years later, in 2006, Mathieson moved to Germany and was again “introduced” to Toastmasters through a friend inviting her to visit their club. New to the country (and to the language), Mathieson visited the club, joined, and hasn't looked back since.
At the time, Mathieson was, as she retroactively describes herself, a “hidden leader.” She was relatively shy, and rarely had the confidence to volunteer herself for roles or leadership positions. However, whenever a trusted leader saw her potential and asked her to take on responsibility, she accepted, and flourished, within each successive role.
Now, as she takes on the International Presidency 17 years later, Mathieson values a leadership style that focuses on acknowledging, developing, and supporting the leadership potential in others. Here, she reflects on leadership and shares her advice for new and seasoned leaders.
Success is for all, not just for one. When you commit to a leadership role, you are committing to serve the best interests of the people you represent. This means setting your ego to the side and “pulling up your sleeves” to get the job done with (and for) the benefit of others. You share power with others and put the needs of the organization first. This means encouraging and helping those around you. When you help each individual develop and perform to the best of their ability, everyone succeeds.
Commit to action-centered leadership. In British Theorist John Adair's model of leadership, a successful leader focuses on creating balance between three main tenets. Mathieson believes only when you balance all three will you see fulfilling success:
- Achieving the task — First, a leader must bring the overall task (or in the case of Toastmasters, the mission) into focus. Does each person on the team understand and commit to the mission and its purpose?
- Building and maintaining a team — Next, there must be a cohesive team; no one is equipped to lead alone. Whose strengths best fit each task? Does the team trust and rely on each other?
- Developing each individual — Finally, it is a leader—s responsibility to identify, nurture, and support the strengths of each person on the leadership team and of the people they directly serve.
Achieve in the role. In Mathieson's estimation, there are three different ways you can approach taking on leadership. You could occupy the role, whereby you hold the title but don't really do anything with the position. You could also choose to serve in the role by carrying out the day-to-day responsibilities, and probably learning a lot about yourself through the process.
Mathieson hopes you will push yourself to achieve in the role, though. While serving in the role, ask yourself, “What can I do to help my club/District achieve our mission?” Part of your why for taking on a leadership role is probably to help more people develop their communication or leadership skills. That's the overarching purpose of the organization, too. Leading your team to achieve your mission is an admirable way to help others achieve their own goals.
Take accountability but remember, it's not personal. When you fill a leadership position, people will come to you for solutions because of the office you hold. Sometimes they'll have feedback that is less than complimentary. Always keep in mind that you and the people you serve are on the same team and everyone ultimately wants to experience success together. Listen to feedback and requests with an open mind, and approach conversations with a willingness to set any potential defensiveness aside for the overall good.
By the same token, be ready to take accountability. Do your absolute best to deliver on any promises you make but be ready to account for any gaps between what you say you’ll do and what you ultimately deliver. That also means taking accountability for success, too! Highlight everyone’s contributions and share in the fulfillment of a job well done.
Overall, Mathieson reflects on the old saying, “No man steps in the same river twice.” Just as water constantly flows, our society and circumstances are evolving. Toastmasters International is not the same as it was five or twenty years ago. But Mathieson is a believer that Toastmasters has a positive future ahead if each leader has a plan to adapt to change while keeping the core mission of the organization in focus.