Iwas a few months into my new job before I started feeling comfortable. I’d begun to understand my role and what was expected of me to perform it. For the most part, I thought I was going to be working for my clients behind the scenes, while someone else was the face of the client relationship.
That changed one day when I was asked to lead a client meeting as a one-time substitute. I said yes, but I felt woefully unprepared. Like most small businesses, ours had no formal, professional training program for its employees. I took my best guess at what I should do to get ready for that meeting, and I forged ahead. Afterward, I almost felt like I’d hoodwinked my client. “Fake it till you make it,” right?
Not anymore. Around the same time, Toastmasters International unveiled its new educational program, known as Pathways.
Cultivating Leadership Skills
If you’re not familiar with Toastmasters International, it is a nonprofit organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. Toastmasters relies on the Pathways program to build communication and leadership skills, which are in consistently high demand. The program includes 11 different paths, and after taking an assessment, I decided to head down the path of Leadership Development. I quickly reaped the benefits as I worked through the projects within the safety net of my club. Using their feedback, I translated what I learned in Toastmasters into my professional role so I could better serve my clients.
The Leadership Development path offers a number of projects to cultivate leadership skills. The first project helps you identify and understand your primary leadership style and how it impacts those you lead. For instance, I learned that I am classified as an innovative leader. People who lean toward the innovative leadership style pursue excellence, encourage innovative ideas, and invite collaborative conversation. In the next project, you learn how to manage your time—a critical skill for leaders who are sandwiched in between meetings much of the day—so you can actually accomplish your tasks.
Once the basics are covered, Toastmasters moves you into developing and implementing a plan. This project could be relatively small—a family party, a short trip or a meeting, for example—to simply get used to planning. As I navigated this path, I noticed that my work shifted from executing someone else’s plans to creating my own plans for clients. After learning how to build a plan, I learned how to form and lead a team to complete it. Leading even a small group to accomplish a common goal helps you develop leadership skills.
Next, Toastmasters gives you the flexibility to complete a variety of elective projects to polish the skills that are most relevant to you. The first skill I chose was creating effective visual aids, as an important component of my work is creating slide decks to communicate my vision or reporting to my clients. The other skill I chose was the one that had initially flustered me and ultimately set me down this path: managing online meetings. Now, instead of occasionally substituting as the lead for a meeting, I’m leading several meetings a week to help our clients drive results. This skill has become especially important over the past year as many in-person meetings were moved to a virtual format.
Leveling Up Your Career
My career has accelerated as I worked through the Toastmasters Leadership Development path. The projects I’ve completed over the last year and a half have helped me guide our strategic client partnerships, build solid relationships with my coworkers and our flexible resources, and set our organization up for its most successful year ever. I even received a pay raise that covered my Toastmasters investment many times over. If you are considering leveling up your career this year, I would highly encourage visiting one of our many local Toastmasters clubs. Find them online at toastmasters.org. PM
Adam Bockler is a content strategist at ONEFIRE and has been a Toastmaster since 2016.