In the coming weeks, Toastmasters clubs all over the world will begin looking for officers for the 2020-2021 program year. The first question many nominating committees must answer is, “How do we convince members to begin a leadership journey?”
If the club experience is the heart of a Toastmasters member’s experience, then the club leaders are the pulse that keeps the heart beating. The roles vary in terms of time, experience, and skill sets. (Hint: Being President isn’t necessarily the most time-consuming role.) In addition to the President, clubs need a Vice President Education, Vice President Membership, Vice President Public Relations, Treasurer, Secretary, and Sergeant at Arms. The Club Leadership Handbook can help members and nominating committees have a better idea of what the roles entail.
There are many reasons members may be reluctant to become club leaders —some say they don’t have time; others don’t have interest. Many people join Toastmasters with an initial focus on becoming better public speakers rather than better leaders.
In reality, joining the club leadership team is one of the best ways to develop the confidence needed to become a better speaker.
Spotting Potential Leaders
Knowing what makes a good leader and unmasking that potential in others—particularly those who may not see themselves in that role—is a key skill current club officers would do well to develop.
In a June 2016 Toastmaster magazine article, World Champion Public Speaker Dana LaMon, DTM, points out that a potential club leader is someone who is in motion. He explains, “The member who sets and achieves goals, tries new projects, and/or takes on new roles is showing signs of leadership.”
“Openness to personal growth is vital for a club leader.”—Joel Palachuvattil, DTM
Joel Palachuvattil, DTM, of Baltimore, Maryland, who started as Vice President Education for his club and is now involved at the District level, agrees, saying that club leaders need to first and foremost look for members who are open to personal growth.
“Other characteristics come to mind, such as being able to handle stress or being able to listen to people’s criticisms. However, I think those are qualities that a leader can develop over time, so long as they are open to growth,” he says. “Openness to personal growth is vital for a club leader. I believe that this leads to a desire to help others grow.”
Charles S. Gates, DTM, of Toano, Virginia, has been a club Vice President Membership and Secretary. He feels being positive is an important goal for club officers. “Openness to new ideas and to criticism is important,” he says. “There will be days that deserve a do-over—when things didn’t quite go the way you hoped they would. However, when you walk into your Toastmasters meeting, no one needs to know this. Keep a positive, upbeat attitude and keep it moving. Negativity likes company. Don’t invite it to the club.”
Other signs to look for, says LaMon, are members who smile, show humility, and are inquisitive.
When talking to potential club leaders, point out how Toastmasters leadership can build confidence.
“For those who want to develop their leadership skills but don’t have an opportunity in other settings (e.g., the workplace), being a club leader is the perfect place. It is low-risk, and your club members are there to support you,” says Palachuvattil.
Gates agrees, saying he believes in being transparent when explaining each club leadership role. “What I share about Toastmasters to a club prospect is the confidence-building benefit. I make it clear that the only way that your confidence is built is through participation. When recruiting leaders, I take it a step further by explaining the role in detail. I assure them that this journey can be life changing,” he says.
One of the benefits of stepping into a club officer role is the amount of support you receive, from members and from World Headquarters. Districts offer club officer training twice a year to help with the transition, and there is an array of training resources online.
When Michael Notaro, Past International President, spoke about leadership at the 2019 Toastmasters International Convention, he specifically addressed the level of support club leaders receive from fellow Toastmasters.
“In Toastmasters, every leadership position serves on a team,” he said. “Every leader will have fellow members there to support them on their journey as they search for their calling. Remind members that their team wants to see them succeed and will be there to support them in their efforts.
Cindy Cannon, DTM, of Atlanta, Georgia, is a past Region 8 Advisor and says members are cheating themselves if they don’t think they have time to become a club leader.
“[By taking on a leadership role], you enhance your skills and become an overall better person and a better leader, and it will change your career. It enhances your skills, and by learning time management, you are kicked up to a higher level.”
Clubs have the ability to change people’s lives, and Palachuvattil encourages new club officers to ensure the club remains vibrant for others. “The club that I first joined existed because of all of the members before who took care of it and kept it going. That is a debt to my predecessors that I pay by being a good steward of the club in the present so that I can pass the club on to future members,” he says.
Editor’s Note: For more details on club officer roles and strategies for success, refer to the Club Leadership Handbook.
Peggy Beach is a freelance writer and editor in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is a past District 37 governor and is vice president education at both Hi-Rise Toastmasters in Raleigh, and Top Triangle Toastmasters in Morrisville, North Carolina. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.