I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 1999. The organization’s stated mission for member clubs has been “to provide a mutually supportive and positive learning environment in which every member has the opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills…”
In the last few years the focus of Toastmasters International has shifted more towards the leadership side: the mission statement has changed from “(being)…devoted to making effective oral communication a worldwide reality” to empowering “individuals to become more effective communicators and leaders”. Indeed, surprisingly to many of us involved with the organization for a while, the slogan appearing with the recently revised logo is ‘Where Leaders Are Made’.
Given that the primary stated reasons for new members joining a club involve developing and improving communication skills, with the historically important accent on enhancing public speaking capabilities, this change in emphasis has been questioned. The official explanation, as noted in the September 2011 issue of the Toastmaster magazine, was that this ‘rebranding’ incorporated research indicating “…the synergy between confidence and leadership, and the importance of this to members around the world”. The organization’s belief has been this would create more energy and vibrancy with the updated sense of purpose.
One of the biggest challenges we have in our Toastmasters club, as is the case with many, is in attracting newer members into our version of the leadership opportunity, namely taking on a position on the club executive. The new branding of Toastmasters organizationally actually has helped in this respect, in that the focus in discussion with newer members more naturally involves the significance of developing leadership skills.
In addition, let’s face reality in the modern world: given the interconnectedness and immediacy of modes of communications in recent years, a trend which only seems to keep expanding, possessing an ability to not only speak well but also take charge of the message and context as much as possible, increases in value. Leadership expertise builds one’s scale of confidence in coping, and credibility to self and others in doing so as challenges arise. After all, being a leader implies that others are dependent to some degree on what you say and do.
Whether the experience in leadership training comes from life experience, such as by being a parent or becoming a manager, or from a more collective practice from encouraging organizations such as Toastmasters, the impact is seen in a more effective human journey.