Toastmasters: My Leadership Style

Note: This speech was for the “Team Collaboration: Understanding Your Leadership Style” Pathways project. The speech length was 5:00 - 7:00, and ended up at 6:21.

I am not a football coach. I will not use the proverbial stick to motivate you. I will not yell. I will not scream. I won’t even give you the redeeming parts of the prototypical football coach, the halftime motivational speech.

I am not all-knowing. I will not be unyielding or steadfast in a vision that others may not be able to see. I won’t insist that it’s my way or the highway. I won’t lead with unwavering focus on what I think is right, even when everything seems to be going wrong.

My leadership style is not the only way, or the best way, or the right way. It fits for me, and it will fit only in certain situations. Certain situations call for certain types of leaders. But, I can only be true to myself, and the leadership style I feel comfortable with and best represents my values and my perspective on life.

The task for this Toastmasters project is to understand your leadership style, to discuss some aspects of that style, and to speak to how that leadership style might affect a particular group. Leadership is this concept that we are taught starting from our earliest days. It is ingrained in us through various organizations like Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts with leadership activities and defined group hierarchies, or through extracurricular activities such as sports or clubs. Even our parents and teachers can encourage us to be leaders amongst our siblings or classmates.

With that in mind, it struck me as a bit funny that in doing this project, I might have been critically and introspectively examining my leadership style for the first time. I don’t believe I’ve explicitly and intentionally sat down and thought of how I operate as a leader, what that might mean for my strengths and weaknesses as a leader, and in what situations I might excel and in others I may encounter difficulty. At the end of completing the leadership style assessment provided by Toastmasters, my result matched with what I implicitly thought of as my own leadership style, but it was good to finally see a label adhered to it, and amongst the backdrop of the other leadership style possibilities. Helpfully, Toastmasters does not just stick one with a single leadership style, but provides your weighting amongst all the styles available. I scored highest in the “Democratic” leadership style category with 22 points, while I scored lowest in the “Innovative” style, with 13 points. Next highest were “Bureaucratic”, “Affiliative”, “Altruistic”, and “Pacesetting”, all with 18 or 19 points each.

What does a “Deomcratic” leadership style mean? Toastmasters describes this as “relying on consensus decision-making” and being “comfortable allowing others to occasionally take the lead.” As for the situations in which this style is effective, it is when “the knowledge of the entire team is needed to solve a problem or find direction.” However, this style is ineffective “when time is limited or if team members do not have the knowledge or expertise to make quality contributions.”

Most of the other styles I received high points in are similar, with leadership descriptions such as: “emphasizing teamwork and harmony,” “collaborative and focuses on emotional needs”, “active listening, empathy, and commitment to building community”. The situations these leadership styles are effective in are quite similar as well: when there is time to develop community, when team members are self-motivated, or when the leader can actively participate and lead by example.

Overall, I think this leadership style is based upon building equity within the team in the project or task at hand, and trust amongst teammates and the leaders. This takes time, and is not always an easy path: sometimes the project itself is arduous or uninteresting, or sometimes team members just simply don’t get along due to personality clashes. I believe, and the leadership style seems to imply, that these circumstances can be overcome by building a constructive environment where the team can feel like their voices and concerns are heard, but that sometimes it takes hard work and time to achieve that environment.

While I felt that the “Democratic” leadership style fit my prior understanding of my own leadership style, I was a little disheartened with my results for two reasons.

The first was that my second-highest leadership style was “Bureaucratic”, which describes a top-down, authoritarian regime full of micromanagement and compliance, with descriptions like “This leader stringently establishes and enforces rules” - “The leader’s decisions are absolute” - “This leader motivates by discipline and demands immediate compliance.” The only thing I can say is that “This leader” sounds terrible! This runs counter to the “Democratic” style ideals of leadership, where the leader is more of a facilitator and community builder. I do like having processes and rules, and believe that all should play by the rules, but I believe that having a ruleset for all to follow does not mean one has to rule with an iron fist.

The other reason I was disheartened was that I scored high on the “Affiliative” leadership style, which is partially described as being ineffective when “the leader has difficulty giving negative feedback.” In thinking about my leadership style and interactions as part of this task, I realized that I often shy away from being direct when discussing personal performance with teammates or my own managers at work. I believe this is because of three things: ) I understand my perspective, thoughts, and feelings are subjective and based in my own truth, not the objective truth 2) I I know that I myself am imperfect, so I cannot expect perfection from those around me 3) that I am an obliger, and I don’t like to upset people, and that by being direct it can feel more like a stick than a carrot. But, it seems that part of being a leader is being able to deliver bad news or negative feedback. Of course this isn’t a license to be mean or condemning, but to deliver constructive criticism free of sugar-coating.

It was very helpful, surprising even, to go through the Toastmasters leadership questionnaire and spend time critically thinking and evaluating my own leadership style, my ideal leader, and both the good and bad leaders I’ve observed in the past. It is much harder to do than to say, of course, but at least going forward I’m equipped with a better understanding of my own strengths and weaknesses, my own advantages and limits, and the situations in which I can comfortably lead in my preferred style.