DTM and District Director in the Same Year: What an Honour! What Happiness! What a Horror!

By Laurence Pechadre, DTM, District Director 2017-2018

To become DTM and District Director in the same year, what an honour! What happiness! What a horror! Yes, 2017 remains a memorable year for me as a Toastmaster, leader, and entrepreneur (and mom). Wearing the colours of my home club, 99 Bank, now Downtown Ottawa Toastmasters, and being inspired by my caring mentors. Representing the inventiveness of the 200 clubs in our great bilingual district at Toastmasters International meetings, was a true honour.

For the entrepreneur that I was, to discover the diversity of the members of the clubs in the heart of the cities from Kingston to Rimouski and the unique clubs of Akwesasne and Odawa Neeskak, what a joy. For the newcomer that I was, going through the neighbourhoods of Ottawa, Montreal or Quebec City, what a Canadian immersion! For the leader that I was, passionate about leadership on a daily basis, what a joy to learn from the club leaders I met each week. However, at 55 years old, attached to habits, traditions and paper, what a horror! Because 2017 is the rollout of Pathways around the world. Technology is not my forte. I’m a Code 18, abhorred by computer scientists. Code 18 is computer help desk slang for idiots – i.e. the problem is 18 inches away from the screen. How was I going to reconcile this with my responsibilities?

Fortunately, I had no choice. So, calmly, with deep breaths – as I do before any important presentation – I met along the way the necessary helpers to face the most unexpected events and the challenges that accompany them. Close to me.

Leading the district becomes a collective adventure shared with the District Council: the other members of the trio, the administrative and financial managers as well as the division and area directors, had quickly proved to be precious allies, for the most part. In total, there were over sixty volunteers whose knowledge and experience of Toastmasters were matched only by their motivation to grow and serve. In addition to the monthly discussions with the trio – no, not Tim Horton’s last menu, but the three leaders of any district: the division director, club growth and program quality director – and regular meetings with the financial officer, I added calls with each of the eight division directors. I wanted them to get the most out of this crucial year for them and for all the members of their divisions. How do you measure leadership success? The successful succession plan is certainly a source of pride for me. It shows that everyone was inspired and prepared for the next generation. A way to leave the keys to the house ready for the next generation.

Einstein said, “True experience is not thought but lived.” This quote quite applies to the leadership we developed during this strong transition – to be compared with the one imposed on us by COVID-19 or our excess waste.

Back in 2017, the support of the teams at headquarters played a big role in the implementation of Pathways and also of Concur, which was going mainstream to facilitate financial management, remotely. I found open and efficient interlocutors. In a few months, these tools became more understandable and accessible. And let’s not forget our shared data champions, who were always ready to explain, demonstrate and streamline our processes. They will recognize themselves here, both in Ontario and Quebec. For Pathways, starting in late October, everyone was able to confront their strengths and limitations.

How did you make the connection between your experience of yesterday and this unknown software? The important thing, as with everything, was to practice, practice, practice and share our learning with kindness and patience. These are innate qualities for some, acquired for others, but they exist in everyone. Constructive mentors appeared, the youngest or most comfortable with digital technology got closer to the oldest or the most awkward like me. Kindness and persistence got the better of the frustrations. All of a sudden, mentoring opened up to wider territories: those of knowledge and skills transmission, with a lot of fun and smiles. Many personalities were revealed through the screens and support sessions, from a distance in both provinces! District 61 was confident in its ability to face the technological challenges, which was very useful in pre-COVID times and now.

The benefits of this year of upheaval? Calculate it yourself! Add up the kilometres travelled, the hours of meetings, the new acquaintances in Canada, France and around the world, and take away the printed materials saved. Accept everyone for what they bring, speak respectfully, do the best you can with the resources available, challenge yourself, don’t take yourself too seriously and don’t take anything too personally.

Oddly enough, I just reread the Four Toltec Agreements during my recent wanderings in France, under curfew, before the third confinement. As I pass on these lines, I realize how far I have come in four almost paperless years! It has shown me how to take more steps on the road to a zero waste lifestyle. And that, for an entrepreneur, leader, citizen and parent, what a joy! Sustainable.