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Leadership and the solopreneur

Posted by Ilise Benun on

When I joined Toastmasters last September, I’d been flirting with the idea of speaking professionally.

I had already signed on with my local chapter of the NSA, the National Speakers Association, to get a handle on on the nuts and bolts of the business; Toastmasters was my (cheap) route to getting practice actually speaking.

A year later, I’ve realized that for a variety of reasons, professional speaking isn’t for me. I’ve let my NSA membership expire without renewal. So why, oh why am I heading into my second term of volunteering as an officer of my Toastmasters club?

It’s not for the social or networking opportunities; while I do enjoy the company of my fellow club members, I keep pretty strict boundaries around my time, and Toastmasters—at least, our club—is definitely not a hotbed of business activity. Part of my motivation is a desire to give back, the way I sense Ilise is doing with her budding political career. I’ve got some hard-won communications and organizational skills; it seems only decent and logical to apply them where I can.

But I’m not completely altruistic in my intentions. The truth is, in my 10 months of Toastmaster-ing, I’ve realized there are some gaps in my communications skill-set. Chief among them is my surprising level of discomfort leading a meeting. "Surprising" because of all those years in advertising, when it seemed that 90% of my job was about presentations and meetings, from one-on-one deals where I sold my art director or boss, to gigantic dog-and-pony shows in front of a roomful of franchisees.

As it turns out, a great presenter does not a great meeting leader make. Sure, I can make a persuasive argument and put on a good show, but turn a boring meeting into an interesting one? Or get a chaotic one back on track? Not so much.

Granted, in my day-to-day workings as a solopreneur, I don’t have much call for using parliamentary procedure or even speaking to groups of more than two. But the more comfortable I get with all flavors of situations, even the arcane and remote, the more comfortable and secure I feel in my ability to handle any kind of contingency.

Or, to put it another way, leadership doesn’t have to be about bringing a group of people up the insides of a ship to batter their way through a 1-inch hull to freedom; sometimes, it’s about showing yourself the way.

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