Feb
26

Where Can You Develop Leadership Skills?

By Gary Clayton

Where can you practice and develop leadership skills if you aren’t a manager? One excellent answer is your local Toastmasters Club. You thought it was only about standing up front and speaking? Well, it isn’t. You have the opportunity to practice and develop many crucial leadership skills through active participation in the Toastmasters process.
Let’s just look at one crucial leadership skill, evaluation, as an example. As a successful leader, you must motivate your followers to achieve the group’s goals. Besides communicating clearly, you must provide supportive feedback and recognition for group and individual accomplishment. All of these require that you be skilled in evaluating what has been done, your followers’ skills and your own skills in communicating with them.
Where can you learn good evaluation skills, if you aren’t in a leadership position? At a Toastmasters meeting.

Skills Develop through Frequent Practice – in a Safe Place

Every day, your success in getting your goals accomplished depends upon your skills in communicating with and influencing others to do what you need done. That is leadership in a nutshell: your ability to get others to do what you want done because they want to do it. Yet we aren’t born with these communicating and influencing skills. In fact, most of us reach adulthood without being proficient communicators. It is only through deliberate training and regular practice that we become proficient. When we are children, we seem to accept that. As adults…, well, we hesitate.
As children, we assume we can master any and all skills and we aren’t afraid of what others think of our efforts. We aren’t embarrassed by our many repeated attempts to master a skill. Yet by the time we become adults, we’ve learned to fear that others will find fault with our efforts. We feel we will be embarrassed. Even worse, we may be afraid that our career will be hurt if Management discovers just how poor our skills are. So we fake it or avoid anyone seeing our poor skill levels.
We thus keep ourselves from becoming all that we can be. We let our fear override the joy we can feel and the success we can achieve by learning and mastering a skill. For this very reason, we need to find a safe place to learn and practice our skills. When it comes to communicating and leading others, Toastmasters is a great skill-building club. It offers frequent well-structured opportunities in a supportive environment.

Clear Task Objectives and Careful Observation are Key to Supportive Evaluations

Usually, you have a two-fold goal in evaluating someone: recognizing their accomplishments and supporting them in becoming even better at the task. To do this, you must be clear on what their objectives were. Toastmasters makes this easy, as each manual speech and each meeting role has clearly defined learning objectives: standards with which you can create an evaluation. Of course, you have to listen carefully to the speaker and note what he or she is doing well and what does not meet expectations.

Constructive Feedback Benefits the Individual and the Group

Your immediate feedback through the Toastmasters process maximizes the effectiveness of your recognition, praise and suggestions. Learning to do this effectively is crucial for your future as a leader, as timely feedback reinforces good work habits and increases the likelihood of your follower taking your suggestions seriously. Finally, your prompt suggestions for improvement will help reduce the likelihood of the follower’s poor habits spreading throughout your group.
At Toastmasters, you also learn that certain types of feedback are appropriate before the whole group – and other types of feedback are best delivered in private. Recognizing this is crucial to your success as a leader in other environments.

Clear and Sincere Feedback is a Motivator

Leaders who have had inadequate training in giving feedback often end up confusing their follower. Learning and practicing the Toastmasters process helps eliminate this problem through its emphasis on specifics, sincerity and support. Constructive feedback cites specific examples, so there is no ambiguity in the subject or the feedback. Toastmasters evaluators speak from their own viewpoint “I liked…” or “I was unsure…” rather than attributing their points to others. The evaluators also tell the member how their presentation made them feel, something that many corporate evaluators forget to do. Finally, the Toastmasters evaluators recognize the speaker’s improvements and end the feedback on a positive note.

Evaluating to Generate Supportive Feedback is Useful Everyday

Giving supportive feedback benefits you everywhere you give it. At work, it can greatly improve your followers’ loyalty to you and management’s opinion of you. At home, it can increase the strength of the bonds between you and other appreciative family members. At Toastmasters, the goal is to support your other members in improving their communications skills. The additional benefit for you is that it improves your skills as a leader.
Each and every time you do an evaluation, you become a little bit better. If you read the Toastmasters description of the evaluator’s role, be an evaluator once per month and reflect on each evaluation that you do, you certainly ought to become 5% better each time. In one year’s time, you will be 100% better. Practice this skill in other areas of your life, and you will be much better skilled in being a leader.

Build Your Leadership Skills at Toastmasters

Just like few come to Toastmasters with great speaking skills, few come with great leadership skills. Everyone there started from a much lower skill level than what you see when you attend your first meeting. The only expectation they have of you is that you will try on new roles and do your best. You will learn from each experience and, over time, become all you can be as a speaker and a leader.
Note: Toastmasters has two learning tracks: communications and leadership. If you work through the first level within the leadership track, you will become familiar with all Toastmasters meeting roles, all of which help you build crucial leadership skills.


As a coach and organization leader, Gary Clayton has helped scores of first-time and experienced managers develop their leadership skills. He has been a member of Toastmasters for six years and finds his skills continue to improve at every meeting. Gary provides leadership coaching services to leaders and those who wish to become leaders in business and life.

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Categories : Qualities & Skills