"Where Leaders Are Made" is what the Toastmasters' tagline says. Many organizations claim to develop leadership qualities, but we have perhaps the most experiential program in the world. A shining example is the High Performance Leadership project. When I first read the HPL manual, I was amazed at the level of detail even though the projects can be incredibly diverse in their scope. The most interesting part is the project need not have anything to do with Toastmasters. In fact, the process defined in the manual can be applied to nearly every leadership situation you encounter.
Those on the path to becoming a DTM already know about the benefits of an HPL. For the rest of us, this is one thing we should sample ahead of the prescribed course - it will change the way you think about leadership. It asks you to self-assess your leadership skills, form a guidance committee to help you throughout the project, define a vision and mission; then form a team and persuade them to believe in that vision. There are plans to create, tasks to assign, and at the very end, you assess yourself again and see how you've grown as a leader.
For this feature, I interviewed three Toastmasters who completed their HPL projects. Their projects are wideranging and each has a distinct value or lesson that we can learn.
Darshan Khanna, ProductCamp Hyderabad
A networking and learning event for professionals interested in Product Management.
What were your personal motivations behind starting ProductCamp? Why did you want to do it as an HPL?
I had been learning about Product Management by reading online and talking to people and I learned a lot from smart people around me in my career. I wanted to bring the same advantage to others around me, to leverage this experience on a bigger platform.
As to why take it on as an HPL, I have done many events in the past without knowing the dos and don'ts. I wanted to do such a large event with the benefitof the HPL process. I wanted to bring people together and get them aligned with my vision. I don't see a half-day event as an HPL. The idea is to change your attitude; you have to take a project where you have a longer timeline and work the plan to see the difference.
How was ProductCamp unique from other such events?
In large events, you get a lot of knowledge you may or may not be interested in and they are also very expensive. In our case, we got domain experts, put them on stage for an elevator pitch, and socialized their talk. During the day of the event, the audience listened to the elevator pitch and then voted for the speakers they wanted to hear; the talks then happened simultaneously.
One big draw was that the event was completely free! In Hyderabad, Product Management is coming up, people are curious to listen to and apply these concepts. When we took this pitch to companies, they were very interested to spend some money on an event where their own professionals benefitted.
In which area of personal leadership did you see growth as a result of this HPL?
My key learning was that you have to think out of the box. There are many paid events in Hyderabad of this kind and many people called me to say—we've thought of this, it is not possible, you don't have the experience. But you have to say "No, I will do it. I can make it happen!" If you believe in yourself, no matter what people tell you, you can get it done.
Conflicts management is something I really learned—dealing with people, especially when there are emotions involved, and letting people do what they think is best by not overbearing them. You need to have a guiding principle, but let people innovate how they want. I also applied this for the rest of my Toastmasters' year as well. When you dedicate yourself to a guiding principle and read through it again and again, you will see how it changes the output.
DTM Shireesh Nadkar
Motivating the one-year-old Eureka Toastmasters club to host an Area Conference.
How difficult or easy was it for the club to understand your vision and mission?
The club had a small membership base of 16. Of these, 8 or 9 were active, the rest were not. Certain logistical things that needed to be done had to be done by the members themselves, who were busy with their work quite often. To help get them together was quite difficult. I spent quite a lot of time going there and persuading them to the cause.
Unfortunately, after this HPL, the club faced so much difficulty that they did not renew. Some of the key people involved have moved away or left the company. Some had a larger workload. The core team shrunk so much that they couldn't keep going.
Your leadership self-assessment was quite exemplary - What did you take away from this experience?
I had a lot of experience going into this project. My challenge was working in the voluntary environment of Toastmasters and to motivate the members to do the conference. My objective was to understand the dynamics of people who don't really have to do this unless they have a personal interest. There is nothing you can do about it because you don't have any authority. I understood how to grow as a motivating and persuasive leader by appreciating them for everything they did.
As a District Officer, would you consider doing another HPL?
I wouldn't mind it at all. I was on the guidance committee of someone who just completed an HPL and I'm guiding another person to do an HPL. So now, with my experience, I can guide them much better and explain the pitfalls.
Club Coach for Synap Toastmasters, Hyderabad
Why choose an HPL now, when you're so far away from the DTM title. Why choose to be a club coach?
In Toastmasters, I usually gravitate towards developing leadership skills and when Divisions EFH introduced the HPL drive, I had a lot of curiosity on what can be done as part of it, so I wanted to pick it up. DTM Ravi Teja's presentation told us that coaches are assigned to struggling clubs. TM Suryaprathap, my mentor, was the AD for Synap Toastmasters and I went there a couple of times to judge contests and as a target speaker.
When I went to the club, the hospitality was great, management was supportive; they were even recording meetings. The enthusiasm was lacking from the members' side. The challenge was to build the skills of the members.
Suryaprathap suggested that I become the club coach as I wanted to guide and help the members.
What was your learning from this exercise?
>Learning 1: Identify the problem at the right time and reach out to the right people. The coaching assignment should have been done a bit earlier. We knew the club status by October, but we actually started working only by mid-December.
>Learning 2: If required, bypass the system sometimes to reach the next level, as suggested by TM Jagrut on my guidance committee. The company management was supportive, but club members did not have much enthusiasm —so why not approach the management to add more members and then drive it with a new zeal?
>Learning 3: Don't give up even if your efforts are not bringing the desired results. Maybe one more effort, one more try can bring the change. Follow-up more frequently with the club members, even though that is not how the club coach concept works.
Why do you think the club failed? Is there a bigger lesson for us when we charter new clubs?
As Toastmasters leaders, we should understand that if members are not seeing value in the program, we can only motivate them to a certain extent. In this case, not even one member came outside the club despite education sessions, a joint contest proposal, in-person and even a virtual C-OTP. We focus a lot towards opening so many new clubs, but we're not focusing enough on clubs which need support and are hesitant in asking for help.
This club was started by a DTM with a lot of interest. When he left, the rest of the members couldn't see the value in the Toastmasters learning. Also, they couldn't see many implementations of these learnings in their own professional activities. The company also gave them money for membership, so people took it easy. When I gave the closing speech, people said it's not really a failure. Whenever the club comes back, you would still be their coach to guide them.
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