You’re Too Strict!

Discussing unpleasant issues is totally uncomfortable for most of us.  So much so that we will avoid it and fill our conversations with trivial and superficial fluff instead.  The problem with this is that we defeat the purpose of being part of an organization that prides itself on teaching communication and leadership skills when we push touchy topics aside rather than bringing them to the fore front to stimulate thought, encourage conversation and reshape perspectives for the better.

Do you have a reputation within your Toastmasters Club?  How about beyond the club?  What do people think about you?  How are you perceived?

It has come to my attention that in the opinion of some, “I’m too strict!”  What exactly does that mean?  I don’t know for certain however, I could take an educated guess and I’m certain that I wouldn’t be too far off the mark.  Am I surprised by the comment?  As a matter of fact I’m not.  Do I think that the label fits?  That is a matter of perspective.  You’d honestly have to ask the person or persons who feel this way.  Am I disturbed by the comment?  As a matter of fact I am.  Let me tell you why:

To begin with, in the world of Toastmasters we are called upon to uphold a higher standard in the way in which we treat and talk about others.  This is even more important when we hold leadership positions.  As club leaders we have the ability to impact and shape the way that our members feel about others.  When we cast negative opinions upon other Toastmaster members who look to us for leadership we slant and taint their view which can be detrimental to relationships and the foundation upon which our clubs are built, which is trust!  The person with the negative view can become a poison pill by pitting people against another member whom they have issues with.  Or, they may find that their expression of negativity may backfire on them in which case they have hurt their own reputation and effectiveness as a leader.

The second and even more critical concern that I have has to do with the educational learning environment that we create within our clubs.  If you’ve had an opportunity to visit enough clubs then you know that each club has its own distinct flavor and culture.  Some clubs are extremely laid back to the point that there is a total lack of structure.  Meetings can be so slack that it is hard to comprehend that the members are getting any educational value out of them.  Are they fun, sure they are!  Are they disorganized and chaotic, absolutely!  Does anyone care?  Those who did or do care don’t stick around very long because these kinds of meetings offer them no value.  They do not challenge or inspire them to grow!  They are not worthy of their time investment, they think they are a joke and unfortunately, if they form their opinion about Toastmasters based on this kind of experience then they will not share a favorable opinion with others.  Does the other extreme also exist?  Sure it does!  Are there clubs that are so tight and rigid that they are void of fun and enjoyment?  Will these kinds of clubs also drive people away?  Certainly!  These kinds of clubs will retain the hard core, overly ridged members but anyone who doesn’t feel a sense of warmth and high spirits won’t last long in this environment.  What is the answer then?  The answer in most cases is balance!

Finally, we live in a competitive world!  Toastmasters Clubs serve people of all ages.  If we don’t do our very best to help our youngest members, those who are experiencing the most critical years of their career by elevating their expectation of what is possible and raising their performance level then we should hang our heads in shame because we have failed them!  If you are retired, you are in the tail end of your career or you no longer care I don’t think you have the right to impede the desire and progress of others.  I believe you either need to get with the program or get out of the way so that those who care more about others can lead the way!

Ideally clubs need people who can keep it fun and light.  They also need people who can maintain structure and order.  If the people who are focused purely on the social aspects of the club and the fun (or just running their own personal agenda) put up enough resistance against the people who know how to create processes, implement systems and keep club operations running smoothly and efficiently then people will quit.  The people who will quit are those who feel that they are in the minority.  If that happens to be the people who actually bring real educational value to the club then (unless all you want is a social club) you have a problem!  The people who are referred to as “to strict” will decide that they have better things to do with their time rather then constantly having to battle to maintain higher standards and ensure that best practices are role modelled.

I’ve seen this happen!  I’ve seen it happen more frequently than I care to admit!  The sad part is that this is usually the precursor to a less brighter future for the club.  In my humble opinion all clubs should strive to attract and retain members who set a higher level of expectation.  Having a core of three to five people like this in your membership base will make the difference between being average or okay and being on red hot fire!

Why is that?  Let’s start with your meetings, these people will challenge you to raise your game and the standard expectation.  Even though they may not say it, it is understood that they expect more and in doing so people will stand and deliver!  Then, there is the impact that they have on attracting and growing your membership base.  When a visitor or guest observes a higher performer at a meeting they know they are in the presence of someone who can have a positive impact on their life.  This can have a huge bearing on whether or not they decide to join as a member.  For existing members these people may sometimes intimidate however, as long as they aren’t rude, overly critical or egotistical they appreciate their presence and involvement because these people stimulate, challenge and make them feel positive about attending meetings.

If you ask people what they want out of their membership fun will almost always be at the top of the list.  Assuming you really care about your members and the long term health of your club, it is important to understand what they mean by fun.  Laughing and having a positive experience is fun.  Fun for some also means being challenged, stretching, learning something new, being inspired to try something different and it even means being held to a higher standard because someone sees more in you than you see in yourself.

I know for a fact that my involvement in this organization has represented these forms of fun to many members.  I know so because they have told me so!  If I have to wear the label of being too strict in order to have this kind of impact then I can live with that.  What I have a much tougher time living with is the opposite.  My fear for those who won’t look at the bigger picture beyond themselves is that this will be their reputation and the legacy that they leave behind.

Mignon McLaughlin said, “Society honors its living conformists and its dead troublemakers.”  I find it ironic that so many people in this educational organization are considered troublemakers for wanting to adhere to proven success patterns, best practices and approaches that actually educate others by raising the level of expectation.

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