Saturday, November 30, 2013

A Word or Two, Maybe Three, of Thanks

I recently did a presentation at the HealthToasters Toastmasters club as they celebrated their 20th anniversary. I was asked to a talk on what Toastmasters had done for me. I agreed, but immediately realized I had a dilemma. As a speaker, the last thing you ever want to do is stand in front of an audience and talk about "me."

As I thought about the answer to the question on what I had learned from Toastmasters, it would have been easy to just say that I have been able to improve my communication and leadership skills. As I really put more thought into the question, I thought about all the speeches that I had given through 10 years. I thought about all the leadership positions that I have had the opportunity to serve in and all of the leaders that I have had the opportunity to serve under and with. I think of all the feedback that I have received in each of these roles. 

The feedback. Through the years, hundreds of people have given me effective feedback on what I was doing right, but more importantly, on how to be better. Through all of this feedback, I have been able to learn, refine, and gradually improve. I have discovered that I have a passion for all things related to Attitude. In short, I found my voice. 

Now I am using my voice to help people find their voice, or change their lives with simple attitude changes.

Toastmasters has some incredible programs and tools, but it is the people that make the programs a success. I am grateful for all the people that have taken the time to give me the encouragement, support and feedback through the years. What a beautiful gift. To all the dedicated Toastmasters that have made and continue to make a difference in my life, I offer my sincere gratitude. Many thanks!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Leadership and Communication

I recently attended our District 6 Table Topics contest for Toastmasters. Table Topics is the part of our program where we practice our impromptu speaking skills. Generally, a Table Topics Master will ask a question, and then pick someone to answer the question. The chosen person then has one to two minutes to respond, off-the-cuff. 

In a contest, all the contestants are taken out of the room, then brought in one at a time. They all answer the same question. Judges then determine the best response to the question.

In this contest, the question was "There are many leadership skills. Which do you think are key, and why do you think they are so important?" While I have certainly had some time to think about this question, and I am not speaking off-the-cuff, I have some thoughts.

When I first heard the question, my immediate thought went to a session I attended where Stephen Covey was presenting. He stated that the most important leadership skill that a leader must master was communication. Thinking about that now, I would agree one hundred percent. The next question becomes, what kinds of things must leaders communicate? 

First, we must be able to communicate our vision. Sometimes we think that we can share the vision, and everyone will go forward and make it happen. I have found that this is not the case. We must communicate our vision over and over, and at every opportunity.

Next, we must communicate our goals, and action plans for achieving them. We must constantly give effective feedback as to whether we are getting closer to our goals or if we are just floundering. We must be ready to communicate change when course corrections are needed. 

Finally, we must be able to communicate praise and encouragement when appropriate. One of my favorite definitions of leadership comes from Stephen Covey's, The 8th Habit. He defines leadership as "communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly, that they come to see it in themselves."

These just scratch the surface of the need for leaders to communicate. Think of any leadership skill, delegation, team building, or motivation, and there is some level of communication needed to be successful at any of them.

Communication is a very important skill to master, both verbal and written. Struggling with communication can inhibit your ability to master other important skills.  Mastering this one aspect of leadership will help you to enhance every skill in your leadership arsenal.