Let’s not forget the basics; it’s all the basics!

It’s my fifth year as a Toastmaster, and I can say this with a staunch sense of pride: this is the place where we build leaders; terms and conditions apply, of course. Although we strive to follow our core values of Respect, Integrity, Service, and Excellence (RISE), I believe that to emerge as a stronger and more influential social movement, we must not forget the basics!

We may have great leaders among us today, but what will happen when they are gone? Yes, new leaders will succeed them, but what about the legacy? How can we develop leaders who will continue the legacy? It does not mean that the leader has to carry out the same old practices; it means that he has to reinvent himself, while maintaining his individualism.

I believe there are three aspects that complement (comPLEment, as in building onto, not comPLIment—which at times is superficial) RISE and ensure that our fraternity creates a leadership pipeline that can last a lifetime!


Stewardship implies trust; don’t confuse it with “integrity”—the quality of having strong moral principles. Stewardship is to hold something in trust for another.

As a leader at Toastmasters, you are responsible for the people; the members at large. You are entrusted with the responsibility of building them into great leaders and communicators. You need to focus on developing a bond of trust among them.

Have we as leaders followed through on our commitments? Are we communicating or building a grapevine? How can we build trust among our members so that they continue their relationship with us?

Building stewardship into our culture isn’t rocket science—all it takes is the right kind of communication at the right time, followed by setting the proper expectations, and regular follow-ups. The operational level—club, area, division, district, or international—doesn’t matter; it all begins with communication.

Commitment to the growth of people

How committed are you to contribute towards the growth of each member of your club? How about your area, division or district? It’s a tall order just to think of it; that’s why I think leading at the club level is more difficult than lower down the order (the hierarchy at Toastmasters, as you know, resembles the inverted pyramid—the members are at the top, while the District Leaders are right at the bottom!) Beyond the club level, we have no choice but to be selective of the talent that we tap into, and then focus on building them into competent leaders.

But truly, do you want to groom them into leaders who can continue our legacy or simply “walk our talk?” There is a difference. I wouldn’t go into that, but I must say that our purpose is to build leaders, not followers! If you are committed to the growth of people, you will help them become independent free thinkers who are as committed to the organization as you are.

Therefore, building commitment is a simple fix—you guide and mentor the members to set them free; not to set them to your way of thinking. That’s being selfish!

Building community

It takes a few committed people to build a community that lasts! I often meet club leaders who like to share their club’s success stories with me. I genuinely admire their hard work and earnestness that has brought their clubs to an elite level, but my question is this: what did they do to build one of the other clubs in their area or vicinity? A community isn’t just your club; but your all your fellow Toastmasters who are as committed as you are but part of other clubs. It’s about a fraternity!

Building a community is perhaps one of the best experiences of high-performing leaders. It teaches them to be selfless and think about a cause that is larger than themselves. And all you need to do is, ask. Ask people if they need help. Ask if you can come over to some club and play a role. Ask other clubs about their challenges and how you can offer assistance. And don’t just listen, act. That’s how you build a community.

Essence of Service Leadership

These three aspects—stewardship, commitment to the growth of your people, and building community—form the essence of Service Leadership. There’s a reason for its existence. It can be applied to any type of organization—big or small; for profit or non-profit. It works because it focuses on the most basic form of transaction that’s known to humans—communication!

Communication is easy; particularly for Toastmasters, and it’s about time that we start making the best use of it. Reach out—build trust, leaders, and a community that lasts our lifetime!

(This short post was originally written and published for Orations 2015, a semi-annual District Conference for one of Toastmasters International’s district in India. Republished because I still so deeply believe in the message.)

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