Servant Leadership in Toastmasters

By Charmaine E. Ralph, ALB, ACB, PM 5, B.A. (Law)

Servants serve and leaders lead. I just described two types of behaviours that are directed by a person’s heart and mind. Normally, we separate leadership and servitude but what if a leader decides to combine both behaviours on the job? What type of leadership would we see? What is the heart and mind of a Servant Leader like? What type of person is a Servant Leader and how would we recognize such a person? Discover, here, the heart, mind, and behaviour that cause a Servant Leader to lead in this specific way, while uncovering who exemplifies it, and why we as Toastmasters need to practice Servant Leadership.

If you compete for a leadership position in Toastmasters then you will start your new role on July first. Have you considered what kind of leader you will be? Consider that your values control your behaviour and your moral code permeates everything you do and say. It will dictate your decisions and may even show in your attitude. If the values influencing your character are not good then your leadership cannot be good, and vice versa.

When you became a Toastmaster, you recited the Toastmasters’ Promise at your induction ceremony that set a high standard for members assuming a leadership position. You swore, “…To treat my fellow club members and our guests with respect and courtesy…[and]…To act within Toastmasters’ core values of integrity, respect, service, and excellence.” The first two values relate to your character and the last two concern how you carry out your responsibilities. According to the Toastmasters Club Leadership Handbook, page 8, “Leadership…includes a desire to serve others and a commitment to lead. Strive to be trustworthy, self-aware, humble, caring, visionary, and empowering.” Therefore, when making these promises you also made a commitment to become a virtuous Servant Leader.

When a senior manager asked me to manage a Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign (GCWCC) in my workplace, I cheerfully accepted the role of Team Captain, despite having no previous experience. I welcomed the opportunity to work on one of my passions, which is to help others. Management at my workplace gave me a team to help reach our objective, which was to raise a specific amount of money. My team and I drew up a campaign plan and decided to hold bake and book sales. We promoted our fundraisers with colourful posters and emailed staff encouraging them to help the disadvantaged by donating cash. We also distributed gift forms, hoping staff would agree to donate money, with an explanation that the funds would go to a charity of their choice. Moreover, if the donation were large enough, they would receive a nice tax credit. With my team of volunteers, we raised a significant amount of money to donate to our community!

From the moment I held my first planning meeting with my team, I felt the weight of my role and responsibilities as a leader to my team, since we had to reach a specific objective. I provided my team with guidance, answers and support, as they could not fulfil their responsibilities without my approval. I delegated tasks to my team members and trusted them to complete their responsibilities to the best of their abilities. We had regular check-in meetings to ensure the team had what they needed to do the job, meet their deadlines and ensure the project was on the right track. As my team’s leader, I also had to be open to changing my plans. During a book sale, I asked my colleague to put the books in alphabetical order, by author. After 30 minutes she said, “Charmaine, this will not work. It will take too long and our buyers will be here soon.” I asked her to suggest another good method of book organization in the time we had left and we agreed that she could classify the books in another way.

The weight of leadership was heavy on my shoulders because I knew that my team depended on me. When they asked me questions, I had to consider my answer, while weighing the pros and cons of every option before me. I had to anticipate what the consequences would be, for advising one way or another and then choose the best option. I realized I might have to defend my choice if my team was unhappy with my decision. I was also keenly aware that if they did not do their job well we would not attain our objective. Therefore, I gave my team clear instructions to ensure that they understood their objectives. In the end, we reached our objective by our deadline because I had the leadership skills to lead my team successfully.

I attribute my success in the GCWCC campaign to leadership ability and my values guiding my behaviour and decisions. I treated my team with courtesy and respect, which created a good working atmosphere. We were then able to work comfortably together, to achieve our goal of serving our community by helping those who needed help. I handled the money we collected with integrity by keeping it safe and gave a report of how much we collected for charity. In doing our work with excellence, we achieved our objective together.

My parents taught me the same values that Toastmasters stands for, and most importantly, how to apply them in daily life. When helping my mother with chores, she would say, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well.” She expected me to put forth 100% effort into my work. My Dad said, “Work hard and do your work with excellence. You will have to work 10 times harder than others, and get half of the praise and recognition they receive.” Despite the fact that I have a strong work ethic and do my work with excellence, I have unfortunately learned that some people withhold their approval and recognition and I know not to depend on others to recognize my accomplishments and my worth. That is not fair, but that is life!

I firmly believe that as you master and transform yourself, while practicing, behaving, and working, according to the values of integrity, respect, service, and excellence, then you will become a great leader. Anyone can lead but few will earn the title of great leader. Will you be a great leader? Will you leave a legacy of great Servant Leadership?