Monday, November 19, 2012

Life Lessons Learnt - 13 November

I was sitting at Capellini Coffee Shop on Cape Road last Tuesday just before our Toastmasters meeting. This pre-meeting meeting has become something of a habit over the last while: it is perfectly situated to ensure that we are not late for our meeting and it also means we can have a light supper at a reasonable hour of the day. Eating once we get home afterwards is disastrous because I am usually so hungry by then I will eat anything that is nailed down.
But, I digress.
I was there with Alison and two other English teacher colleagues. Almost in unison, Alison and I said, “If I were not on the programme to perform a duty tonight, I would not attend. I am so very tired.” In mitigation of this sinful confession, I must remind you that we are in the middle of final exam marking.
However, being the troopers that we are, we did attend. I was not disappointed. I never am. In the process, I also learned so much:

• Perfect Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
This has long been a motto that I like to apply to every aspect of my life, but I certainly saw its truth in action. Thorough preparation on the part of those who had duties to perform ensured us of a smoothly run meeting that served both to edify and entertain us. My particular thanks in this regard go to our Toastmaster for the evening, Trevor Wells, who showed us that being new at the game does not mean you cannot deliver the goods. Well done, Trevor.
Recognise your fear, and then do it anyway

Yes, Table Topics is a whole lot of fun and it certainly is a valuable skill to master being able to speak off the cuff. But I know that it was also the aspect of our bi-monthly meetings that would have me quivering in my boots. So, to the new members and visitors who bravely took on Plaxedes Ndlovu’s thought-provoking topics, I say ‘Well done!’ What was more, one of the visitors was named among the best Table Topics of the evening.

Allow yourself to be surprised and you will never be disappointed

Three very different speeches were on the menu. Firstly, Mike Brosnahan did his CC2 (Organise your speech) on a topic very close to his heart, entitled We are all Chinese. He warned us to check out the labels on the items that we buy and, if we have a choice, to buy South African products. Then Jessamy Kromhout completed a CC5 (Your body speaks) in which she most effectively reproduced some of the items she had performed on stage to qualify for her Drama Teacher’s certification. The last prepared speech was from Dxy Madikizela. Her CC6 speech (Vocal variety) had us question the value of spending enormous amounts of money to reward people for the charitable or community work they do. Surely the reward is intrinsic to the work itself?
The cherry on the top, however, was Marlene Vosloo’s educational speech on Value-Based Leadership, which she did as part of the requirements for the Distinguished Toastmaster award. I just want to highlight some of the most salient points of her speech:
In essence, we are driven both as people and as leaders, by our values. This is the same, whether we are looking at values based leadership in the workplace or at Toastmasters.

If we are at Toastmasters, the following descriptions of leadership could apply:
L – Listen - To be effective as leaders we must learn to listen to the words and the body message behind it. The situation is often as important as the words being spoken.

E – Expectation – Effective leaders will learn to manage the expectations of all the members, including their own.

A – Attitude – Having the right, positive attitude is a vital requirement for effective leadership.

D – Determination – Leaders, who show that they are prepared to stick to their guns, model that same kind of behaviour for their members.

E – Energy – Much the same as a positive attitude, energy on the part of the leaders, is something that allows the members to feed off it; and to reciprocate with energy of their own.

R – Relax – Leaders have learned that they cannot save the world or achieve the impossible. While some failure is inevitable, having the right value system will usually be enough to carry one through these failures.

Marlene ended her speech off with two lessons that she had learned from great leaders:
• From Dr Ali Bacher: Resist the urge to react to verbal abuse via email with the same kind of verbal abuse. Instead, respond with: “Your comments have been noted”

• From Raymond Ackerman: always treat EVERYONE with courtesy and respect – that is what they deserve, regardless of their standing in life in relation to your own.
Those are indeed wise words from some really effective leaders in our society.

So, a meeting that I had approached with ‘lang tande’ (as they say in Afrikaans) taught me so much. I am really glad that I had not given in to my compulsion to stay away.

Until next time
Ricky Woods

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