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Nine Ways to Spot a Leader

Learn what qualities make a great club officer.

By Dana LaMon, DTM, AS


How to spot a leader

Soon you will be choosing members to lead your club. Should you elect the member who has been around for several years but not yet served as a club leader? Perhaps. Should the member who has been around only a few months be chosen as your club president? Maybe. The issue is not the duration of membership; it is the ability to lead.

As I read the book The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership by Michael A. Soupios and Panos Mourdoukoutas, I identified some telltale signs of a leader. If you want to spot the next leader in your club, here are nine things you can look for.


1

Look for motion.


A Chinese proverb says, “[It’s] not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, that leads the flock to fly and follow.” A leader must be in motion. A person who is standing still may be in front, but there is no evidence that she is going anywhere. It is when she takes that first step that she shows her potential to lead.

Motion in the club is evidenced by personal growth. The member who sets and achieves goals, tries new projects and/or takes on new roles is showing signs of leadership.


2

Look for a smile.


I took an informal, non-scientific survey of members of the three clubs I belong to. The unequivocal conclusion was that they would not follow a person who doesn’t smile. In her article “There’s Magic In Your Smile,” posted on psychologytoday.com, Sarah Stevenson writes that smiling is contagious. When you smile, you make others smile.

At your next Toastmasters meeting, look around the room. Your potential leaders are among those who are smiling.


3

Look for confidence.


Your club leader must be able to make decisions without wavering, determine direction without hesitation and guide through difficulties with courage. Only a confident person has the capacity to carry out these responsibilities. He fulfills the aphorism of ancient Greece, “Know thyself.”

A member’s confidence, or lack thereof, can be seen in how he gives and receives evaluations. A leader knows the value of feedback, negative as well as positive, to stimulate growth. As I think about the club and district leaders who have come from the clubs I belong to, the successful ones have been those who welcome constructive criticism.


4

Look for humility.


An “I-centered” individual usually crowds out everyone else; she has to have room for her ego. She is without followers, and you can’t be a leader without having at least one follower.

Who claims the credit for the accomplishments of your club? If it is “I,” she is not the person you are looking for. The leader you need talks about “we” for blame as well as for credit.


5

Look for camaraderie.


One member asked me to count her out of a planned club potluck lunch. She wasn’t interested in socializing with the club. And you know, when I asked members about having that same person as president, the response was unanimous: “No.”

The authors of The Ten Golden Rules of Leadership hold that community development and positive group sentiment are virtues that leaders must nurture. These virtues can be found in the person who treats his fellow Toastmasters as comrades rather than stepping stones toward a goal.

Camaraderie among club members is more likely displayed in activities outside the regular club meeting. These activities can be area and division speech contests and district conferences as well as celebratory social events.


6

Look for candor.


The person you should choose as your leader is one who is just as willing to hear the truth as she is willing to speak it. To be sustainable a club’s growth must be based on truth. However, knowing that sometimes the truth hurts, she will insist that it be given with kindness.

Just as you can look at speech evaluations to spot confidence, you can look at them to find candor. A leader will invite honesty and truth.


7

Look for excellence.


“Excellence demands that you do your best, not that you be the best,” is Principle 2 from my book, The Excellence Book. Your club leader will not be paid to do her job. Nonetheless, you want her to perform to the best of her ability. The member who is giving her best to her personal growth will most likely be the one to offer the same standard of performance to her leadership role.

Excellence can be detected in a member’s performance from speech to speech. It can also be seen in the attitude toward speech competition. If the attitude is about improving, you have a potential leader.


8

Look for inquisitiveness.


Gladys (a pseudonym) took over as president of her club when the president abruptly quit. Most of the members were like Gladys, with less than a year experience in Toastmasters. The club is on the right track and growing thanks to Gladys’s leadership and her willingness to ask questions. She sent question after question to the area director to understand her role and Toastmasters’ processes. I know about the questions because many of them were forwarded to me for answers. The key question that a leader must ask is, “Why?” When she understands the why, she can lead to the how.

If you want to spot a leader, don’t run away from the person who is asking questions. Consider the member who challenges the process by asking, “Why?”


9

Look for integrity.


Sophocles wrote, “I would prefer even to fail with honor than to win by cheating.” Need I add more?