What’s the most important question a leader can ask themselves? What’s my goal, my vision, and how can I motivate my team?

While those questions are crucial to our success, I believe the most important question is, “How can I best serve the people I’m leading?” As leaders, we’re expected to have all of the answers. We’re accustomed to answering questions and moving on, however, “How can I best serve the people I’m leading?” is a question I ask myself throughout every term as a leader. Without knowing what’s important to the people we’re leading, it makes it difficult, if not impossible to help them achieve their goals. How do I know how I’m doing? I ask the people I’m leading.

While knowing what’s important to each person is vital to our success, what’s even more important is knowing how to work with each individual. Some people want step-by-step guidance, while others are happy with a general overview of their next Pathways project. Some people ask to be mentored, while others prefer to work on developing their skills alone. Being flexible in how I relate, communicate, and support each member is the key to individual and team success.

Creating authentic relationships begins with trust. How do we establish trust? By letting people know we’re here to help them throughout every step of their journey. When people feel overwhelmed they know they can turn to me for advice. Sometimes the most powerful skill we have as a leader is simply listening. If I’m not the best person to help them I guide them to someone who can, and then follow up with them to ensure their problem was solved.

All people respond to encouragement, and positive support, especially when it’s delivered in a way that’s meaningful to them. When evaluating a speech, a balance of positive comments and suggestions for improvement is expected. What’s unexpected, and much appreciated, is positive encouragement during a casual conversation.

By paying close attention to people’s emotions and what they say, if they happen to express doubt or uncertainty, I softly remind them of their past success. I simply compliment them on a skill they have that’s often overlooked. Giving a fellow member a sincere compliment or encouragement when it’s not expected is especially important in building their self-confidence. It lets them know we’re paying attention, and that we value them and the important role they play in our life.

When I hear a member say, “I don’t know what to write about for my next speech,” I remind them of the brilliant Table Topics answer they gave a few weeks ago. First, they are surprised that I remembered what they said, and second, they are surprised that their Table Topics answer had such a lasting effect. Then I suggest that they already have a great idea. All they need to do is expand the subject, add a story or two, create a smooth opening and conclusion, and they’ve got a winning speech.

It’s easy to think that leadership in our clubs is all about the president and the executive team. While that is the Toastmaster structure, have you ever considered that leadership involves every member? What often goes unrealized is every time any member speaks they are leading the thoughts, and emotions of the club which influences all of the members and actually shapes our club’s culture.

One day, near the end of my club meeting, I felt the energy and morale sink when people confirmed their roles. Members answered with a listless, “Yeah, I’ll speak,” or “Ok,” or my least favorite, “Well, I guess so if nobody else wants to speak.” Sitting there I thought to myself, “These are brilliant people! What happened to the great meeting we just had? And, what a letdown this must be for guests.” My fellow members didn’t realize how confirming their roles sounded more like a dreaded assignment than an opportunity to fulfill their goals.

Then the VPE asked me to confirm if I would be Grammarian the following week. I answered with a resounding, “Yes! That’ll be great!” The members were surprised by my enthusiasm. Can you guess what happened next? When the other members were asked to confirm their roles they responded with more life in their voices. As if they were saying, “I want to play a part in having fun too.”

Within a few weeks, the energy level and positive expectations of the members improved. What I didn’t expect was the far-reaching effect of my enthusiasm. Over the next few months, the quality of the speeches improved, there was more laughter, and the members who had previously avoided challenging roles now accepted them. At the time I didn’t even hold a leadership position in the club. I was only a club member wondering, how can I make our meetings more enjoyable, and look what happened. Remember, everyone in a club is a leader. Whatever role we fill, we are the leader in that role.

Whether we are part of the executive team or a new member, all of us are involved in leadership development. There’s a hidden benefit of being in tune with the needs of our members. We actually develop the most important qualities of a great leader. They include integrity, empathy, humility, resilience, vision, influence, and of course positivity.

Giving wholeheartedly to the people we serve without attachment, we naturally develop mindfulness, self-awareness, and compassion, which naturally creates an environment of inclusiveness, and belonging. These qualities are the hallmarks of great leadership. The more we practice them, the more they become reflected and adopted by all of the members of our club.

Remember, our leadership journey is one without an end, and yet the destination is always in sight. How can that be? Our journey is without an end because our leadership development is never-ending. And yet, our destination is always in sight because it is realized in the success of our members.

Written by: Michael Chojnacki – D101 Club # 5127 -Surf City Toastmasters