Leadership, Communication and the World of Toastmasters
September 4, 2014

World history is replete with examples of leadership in different walks of life. There have been all shades too - from the evil (Hitler), Spiritual (Pope, Prophets), messianic (Cult figures), political (Modi, Churchill, Clinton, Obama) to Crusaders (our own Kejriwal, Anna Hazare (in his own earthy personal way), yet they all have one thing in common – effective communication. This is besides exhibiting the other leadership competencies in varying degrees. Ultimately, their effective oratorical ability made them stand out, helped them alter perceptions and perspectives, and generally alter the world order – for better or worse. History therefore teaches us one important lesson – While walking the talk is important, talking the walk is higher up the pecking order.

Leadership has many definitions. In the final tally however, it is an attitude. An attitude that is based on a competency to generate a following - either intellectually or emotionally. Leaders cultivate this attitude on the basis of inherent, honed competencies or acquire them in the course of their lives, either through life experiences or through formal and informal training - That is why most writers on the subject agree that leaders are made, not born. 

An attitude bereft of competency, can at best be labeled as ego, and can provide but a lonely perch, while an attitude that is augmented by the five competencies (Zeldin and Camino 1999 ) listed below, results in a following that instigates, initiates, breeds and promotes change - for better or worse.

a. Communication - persuasive argumentation, public speaking/writing, and engaging the participation of others;

b. Teamwork-respecting others, performing roles of both leader and follower, building on strengths, and commitment to free group input and expression;

c. Personal Identity-understanding the relationship between oneself and the community, pride in being a member of a larger group, awareness of areas for self-improvement, taking responsibility for one's actions and the resulting consequences; 

d. Professionalism - demonstrating tactfulness, understanding protocols, appropriate dress and action given appraisal of context, delivering quality work, positively presenting oneself to others; and

e. Project Management - setting goals/developing action steps, meeting facilitation, reflection, distinguishing between one's interests and community needs (Boyd, 2001).

"…[B]ecoming a leader is a developmental process," and this process may not be the same for young people , as it is for adults (Fertman, & van Linden, 1999). People develop their leadership skills in "real situations" that they deem important. People need opportunities to both learn about and practice leadership, in meaningful and authentic ways.

The development of leadership contributes greatly to the positive development of people and their communities. Leadership skills, such as Communication, Team work, professionalism and project Management, are not just necessary for leaders-these skills are needed for success in today's world. Furthermore, helping people develop leadership competencies makes them better able to solve community problems and enhances their civic participation (O'Brien & Kohlmeier, 2003) something that is not really lacking in our country, but the quality could certainly do with some improvement.

How does the Toastmasters, as an organization, help?
Toastmasters is an organization comprising of member clubs, themselves formed by members, that focus on enhancing the Leadership competencies listed by Zeldin and Camino in its members – grouping them for learning into two tracks – Competent Communication and Competent Leadership. 

The Communication track provides a self learning experience that involves a series of public speaking exercises that give members an opportunity to deliver a prepared or unprepared speech to a distinguished audience and not merely to a mirror. These public speaking exercises, impart and hone the skills of persuasive argumentation, communicating with, rather than talking to, an audience that is bigger than a discussion group, and focusing outwards, rather than inwards while speaking in public – which means, being true , rather than wearing a mask. It also teaches us the three rules of public speaking:

1. Ideation and its development
2. Clarity, congruence and continuity in thought and speech
3. Honesty with an audience – being who we are, rather than what the audience wants to see.

The Leadership Track on the other hand provides us with opportunities to develop our skills in Project Management, teamwork and professionalism by assigning to members a series of management activities from managing the clock to managing the session and finally managing a club itself. Along the way we develop a personal identity - we understand the relationship between ourselves and the community, take pride in being a member of a larger group, become aware of areas for self-improvement, and take responsibility for our actions and the resulting consequences; 

Looking at the linkages between public leadership and effective communication, one must commend the Toastmasters organization for drawing those linkages early on, and creating two separate but linked modules with one complementing the other. 

And it all begins with an ice breaker, often a ball breaker! All in all, its a wholesome journey of self development from a rabbit to a lion!

My Journey into the world of toastmasters

I heard about the toastmasters organization and its credo from a friend, who was persuaded to become a member by his friend and so on. It was more by accident than by choice. But then accidents themselves are choices – only, they are somebody else's choices!. Inclination and time drove my curiosity. I scouted around and found out more....

The more I delved into the realm of the toastmaster’s organization, the more I was drawn into its web. I looked around for one to join – its an exclusive club and requires the approval of the club membership and a few urbanized initiation rites - and was fascinated by the name of the club that I finally sought to join – Winners. Yes, that’s what I wanted to be – at the end of it all – a winner. I soon realized that the name was just the tip of the iceberg that brought down the titanic... The Club's membership was varied in age, gender and profession, huge, dynamic and had, in its midst, quite a few winners – at various toast masters competitions across the country...It gave me the jitters, even as I sought an entry to this exclusive band of distinguished people. My subsequent experience though was anything but, especially after I broke ice with them at my second meeting....described below poetically...

thats what I want to be
and the only way up 
is from the bottom of the heap

I’ve got to break ice 
speak from my heart 
what I am, what I want to be 
not what I want them to see....

Up the aisle, a weak knee
a faltering voice 
a humbled me...

And then 
an encouraging eye,
a hint of a smile,
found a winner
in me...

Note: DTM = Distinguished Toast Master. 

If you’d like to become a Toast Master (immediately) and a DTM (gradually) , and just improve your communication or leadership skills, contact any one of the clubs below… NOW.

Club Name: Mangalore Toastmasters 

Meeting time and location: Alternate Saturdays at 7.15 am at Sahodaya Hall, Balmatta
President: Sachita Nandagopal - 9844277475 

Club Name: Winners 
Meeting time and location: Alternate Saturdays at 7.15 am at Sahodaya Hall, Balmatta
President: Savita Salian - 9740082814

Club Name: Milagres Toastmasters 
Meeting time and location: Alternate Sundays at 9.30 am at Milagres Church 
President: Marjoreen Machado - 9448953722 

Club Name: Proact 
Meeting time and location: Alternate Fridays at 6.15 pm at ICAI Bhavan, Mahindra arcade 
President: Sushil Gupta - 9880778464 

Club Name: Inspiron Toastmasters
Meeting time and location: meets alternate Saturdays at 5.30 pm at sahodaya hall balmatta 
President: Akshay- 8722578124

Club Name: Manipal Udupi Toastmasters
Meeting time and location: meets alternate Saturdays at 5 pm at Forrader, Near Syndicate Bank HO, Manipal 
President: Sridhar Kamath - 9341862528