By developing a member’s skills you improve your own.
BY JULIE BAWDEN-DAVIS
It might be depicted as made of metal, but the ladder of success is actually a network of interlocking hands. Those on an upward climb make it to the next “rung” thanks to an outstretched hand, and many of those hands belong to mentors.
Mentoring is the hallmark of success in the Toastmasters program. Members excel when helped by a more advanced member—and new and established members alike accomplish goals they might not otherwise reach on their own. Mentees benefit greatly when mentors pass on their own unique brand of knowledge, insight, perspective and wisdom. In turn, mentors get a chance to give back to their club by helping mentees improve their skills and grooming them for leadership roles.
A prime example of this dynamic is the Management Development Program for Women (MDPW) Toastmasters club in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. In 2011 the club formalized its mentoring program by creating a mentoring committee. “There is no better place to inspire, nurture and support positive growth in yourself and in others than in the Toastmasters pay-it-forward culture,” says Shirley McKey, DTM, a founding member of the club and a mentor.
When the club was getting ready to charter 10 years ago, McKey and others received help from a dozen or more members from District 61. “As founding members with little Toastmasters experience, we learned from our main mentors, Richard Inomata and Mark Ashmore, who had gained experience in other clubs,” she says. “We quickly learned from them how to mentor each other and succeed as a club.”
The club came out of the MDPW program at the Centre for Research & Education on Women and Work, based at Carleton University’s Eric Sprott School of Business in Ottawa. The program stemmed from research that showed women were not advancing in their careers at the same pace as men, says Aemilia Jarvis, the center’s associate director and a club member. The MDPW program, which focuses on the soft skills women need to lead effectively in the workplace, pairs nicely with Toastmasters. “Having a mentor is very important to any woman who would like to advance in her career,” Jarvis says.
Anatomy of a Mentoring Committee In the club’s early years, charter members learned from each other as they moved through the Toastmasters program. “We didn’t think about openly sharing what we had learned with new members because we didn’t want to seem pushy,” says McKey. “Unwittingly, we had expected that new members would learn through osmosis, much as we had. We didn’t recognize that new members were seeing us as cliquish and unwelcoming.”
Through a member survey, the founding members analyzed why guests were not joining and new members weren’t staying. It was then that they put a formal mentoring program into place. In 2011, one of the club’s founding members, Margaret Walton, was named chair of the group’s first official mentoring committee. Walton, ACS, ALB, gathered all the information she could find on Toastmasters mentoring and developed customized tools for the club. Walton sent an email to the club’s most experienced members, asking for mentor volunteers. The original mentoring committee, which started with five active members, now has 13.
To ensure the success of the mentoring program, and to help mentors and mentees connect, Walton gathers information on all members and matches
mentors to mentees based on what she knows about their personalities. She asks all mentees to complete a questionnaire regarding their background, interests and objectives, including areas in which they want to improve.
Each mentee also gets a development worksheet with the name and contact information of his or her mentor, a place for goals and objectives, suggested actions and target dates, and a checklist to help mentees know what to expect after the first week, first month, second month and so on.
“When you’re dealing with someone’s
future and they’re relying on you,
relevancy is really important.”
— Toastmasters mentor Jack Nichols
Mentors are also given direction regarding what is expected of them, including specific tasks such as explaining club roles to new members, discussing the communication and leadership tracks and providing assistance with speech topics.
The committee meets twice a year, or more as needed. Walton keeps communication flowing via email. Although she remains hands-off when it comes to the mentee/mentor relationship, she follows up with all participants every six months. As chair, she handles any problems or concerns that may arise in these relationships, and encourages members to give her feedback.