Gates of Fire

I think almost everyone comes to Toastmasters thinking they’re going to learn how to speak in public with more confidence. And certainly that’s true but those of us who hang around for more than a season or two discover that Toastmasters is about two other important things.

The first is Toastmasters trains us to listen much more intently to others when they speak. This is a huge advantage in both our personal and professional lives.

Think about it yourself: Don’t you love it when you get the sense that someone is actually listening to what you have to say? It’s a thrilling experience and increasingly rare in this social media world of ours.

The second thing seasoned Toastmasters discover after attending meetings for a year or two is the leadership track in Toastmasters is what keeps people coming back year after year. This is true even for those of us who have completed their speaking program.

Leadership in this day of autonomous, deregulated groups and social media is a real challenge. The old top-down, centralized bureaucratic ways of leading are fading fast. We’re in a time of massive deregulation and everything from governments (think Greece) to companies (Reddit a social media with a huge online membership self-emploded over the weekend when a beloved manager was unceremoniously and mysteriously let go by a very unpopular young CEO who it is predicted won’t last out the year) to Toastmaster clubs where engagement of the members is key to a successful club experience.

So how do we engage the membership?

Four-star US General Stanley McChrystal was confronted with this issue when he took over the Afghanistan theatre of war. Confronting a decentralized enemy capable of waging war on an individual basis without the top-down structure that was limiting the American response, McChrystal implemented some startling changes to how he communicated with his 8,000 troops in the field.800px-Leonidas_evlahos

Here’s a link to the two-hour interview of McChrystal conducted by the Four-Hour Week guy Tim Ferriss. I highly recommend you listen to at least the first 15 minutes or so and all two hours if you can. Engagement is the solution to creating a leadership model that people will follow.

How far will people go?

Read Gates of Fire (referenced in the interview). It tells the story of the 300 Spartans who took on an army estimated at one million (but more likely around 100,000) at the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC.

Defending their homeland, the Spartan response from King Xerxes to the Persian demand that “they hand over your arms” was the famous reply” “Come and take them.”

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