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Mastering leadership through Toastmasters

29 June 2020
Quote by JUMOnaut, Jeremy Quainoo saying

Jeremy Quainoo is JUMO’s Strategic Capital Partnerships Manager in Ghana. As a leader in the field of banking and project management, he’s had to master the art of speaking confidently in front of an audience. His journey to mastery led him to Toastmasters, but it did not start there. It started early in childhood with a classic case of glossophobia (fear of public speaking).

“It was shortly after my nomination as prefect that I discovered just how bad my fear of public speaking really was. I was shaking so badly that reading my speech was impossible and my teachers, I recall now with some amusement, had to hold it for me so I could follow the words.

This fear stayed with me into my career. Even when I was privately confident that I knew the material and had the answers, I would panic before interviews, presentations or even speaking up in meetings. It was as if my body wouldn’t cooperate; my voice would crack, my hands shake, or I’d simply forget to breathe. I would become distracted from what I wanted to say by the way in which I was saying it and stumble. It was crippling.

As time went on I noticed with increasing exasperation that those skilled in articulating their ideas verbally, though not necessarily the smartest or most productive, were often the ones promoted to positions of leadership. As the first-born son in my family, leadership was expected. I was confident in most things, but not speaking in front of my peers. My fear of public speaking was holding me back and I needed to make a change.

I began looking to see what steps I could take to address this difficulty and discovered Toastmasters. I went to the nearest meeting I could find and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my career. Since then, I have delivered numerous speeches, won four speech contests, occupied leadership positions as a Toastmaster club president and am now the incoming area director for my division. I still get nervous before a speech but it is nothing like the stagefright I experienced before.

We are capable of much more than we believe. Consistency is key to achieving success.

Many people assume Toastmasters is simply a way to improve your public speaking abilities. While development of this sought-after skill is certainly one of the benefits to be gained from Toastmasters, there are other lessons in leadership to be learned too, like the ability to listen carefully and to provide succinct feedback. You also learn to think on your feet and to be resilient in difficult situations.

No one at Toastmasters is financially incentivised to follow your lead which forces you to find alternative ways of motivating people. This becomes even more powerful when applied in a typical work setting. There is an old saying that ‘you cannot give what you do not have, and in order to give light to others, you must first glow yourself’. It’s especially true of leadership skills.

Toastmasters presents a unique opportunity to embark on an unending journey of personal development and self-mastery in the company of supportive people who all want to be pushed out of their comfort zone and to grow as leaders. Continuously putting yourself in an uncomfortable position helps you to build resilience, personally and in your career. It has been crucial in my development.

Sometimes I’m asked what lessons I’ve learned through Toastmasters. There are of course many, but if I had to boil it down to one, I would say that it is the knowledge that we are capable of much more than we believe. Consistency is key to achieving success. As a colleague once put it, ‘we overestimate what we can accomplish in one day and underestimate what we can accomplish in several’. With effort, progress is inevitable. Toastmasters may be an ideal structure for it, but it is the individual commitment that counts.”

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