In our lives, we have opportunities to make a difference in the world.  It may be as small as planning a family reunion.  It may be a multi-million dollar work project.

Sometimes we don’t think we’ve got what it takes to make an impact – whether it’s the choice of bbq sauce or selecting the vendor of a major component at work.  It’s easy to be intimidated by these opportunities because there’s risk.  (And if you don’t think the choice of bbq sauce isn’t risky, you might not want to come to my family reunion.)

Leadership is recognizing risk – and stepping up to face it.

Today’s topic on the table is the HPL – High Performance Leadership Project.

Fear and risk.

How many of us have joined Toastmasters because we’re afraid?  Public speaking anxiety may be the number one driver to bring people into our clubs.  I spoke with a gentleman recently at a kick-off meeting about his fear of public speaking.  He recognizes it’s the fear of being judged and risk of being thought foolish that makes him so anxious.

That same set of fears might stop us from taking on leadership opportunities as well.

In your life, you know what you’ve turned down doing because you didn’t think you could do it.  The task seemed too big, too important… too risky.

“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go.”

Said T.S. Eliot.

Since Toastmasters is the place where leaders are made, what does Toastmasters have to help you to find out how far it is possible for you to go?  It has the High Performance Leadership project. 

The HPL might be considered the master’s thesis – it’s listed as our final project in the Leadership track.  Like the Competent Communicator manual, each project builds on the skills of the previous speeches.  This leadership task is to pull all those skills we learned in club roles and in district leadership and find out what we can do.

Toastmasters High Performance Leadership (HPL) Manual - a tool you can use again and again.

Toastmasters High Performance Leadership Manual – a took you can use again and again.

Many people seem to be intimidated by the HPL. By its very nature, the HPL pushes us out of the comfort zone.  It should push us out – it’s called High Performance because it’s supposed to be a tool to help us step up to a new, tougher, bigger challenge.

Let’s emphasize that the HPL is a tool.  It’s a handbook to help you examine your personal philosophy of leadership and how you want to apply it.

According to the HPL handbook, we “are to select a worthwhile project which you intend to complete by working with other people in a leadership capacity, either formal or informal.”

When I talk to Toastmasters, there’s a mindset that the HPL must be a Toastmasters project, but how many opportunities in Toastmasters are there that fits the HPL requirements?

More than you think.  A completely unscientific survey of District 10 Facebook page members showed most of the HPL projects were related to Toastmasters – often chairing a conference.  People have used their time as officers as their projects, or the Youth Leadership Program, or creating new programs in our district to serve our members.

My friend Dan picked a project to organize a membership meeting for the full 10 clubs in the county.  He selected the team to do the promotions, provide the food, put the meeting together… It was a neat little package for the HPL.

However, it’s very appropriate to take the HPL outside of Toastmasters.  One person used the HPL for a project for work – a hotel renovation over one million dollars.  Church projects, charity campaigns – the HPL travels outside the Toastmaster world very well.  I speak from experience here – my first HPL was not a Toastmaster project.

I’ll admit, the first time I used the HPL manual, I thought it was… cheesy.  The questions, the points to be plotted on the charts… really.  I had a huge task to do and they want me to add up numbers?  I did not take it very seriously.  I did, however, take the task very seriously I’d committed to do.  If I wasn’t impressed with the first section of the book, I changed my mind with the second.  Recruitment!  Yes!  I needed help with that.

It didn’t take me long to realize that the HPL manual helped me tackle parts of that project.  I had little lead time, was under-funded, required rotating volunteers and… paperwork.  My nemesis.

Risky?  For me, terrifying.

There are a couple of things to consider for an HPL project outside the TM world.

Plenty of people in this world don’t know anything about Toastmasters.  Their interests aren’t in your HPL assignments, they’re in the project.  You’ll have to recruit a fellow toastmaster to be in your oversight committee – but I’ve found some people who were willing to work through the HPL requirements with me. The HPL manual kit includes the committee members’ manuals so they’ll be working along with you.  People may be curious, or even pleased to hear there’s a plan behind the work you’re asking them to do for you.

The other consideration is the first of the two speeches you’ll have to give.  This speech is a “vision” speech, meant to recruit people to join you.  If the Toastmaster can’t come to your meeting, you’ll have to present the speech to get it evaluated.  That’s not so bad – you can practice it at a toastmasters club first to refine your presentation.

Getting an HPL mentor is very helpful.  This doesn’t have to be a very formal arrangement.  Asking someone in your club who has completed an HPL is simple and convenient.  Their experiences can help you!  Your chances of success go up with a mentor.

Like all projects, things can go wrong – let’s admit it – things WILL go wrong during your project. This is what I see is the greatest strength of the HLP.

My HPL project suddenly went from an 8 week project to 4 months.  But because I had worked through the HPL tasks, I had already set up systems and organized my volunteers so when I had to go back to my paying job, the project continued to function without me.  It ended successfully, under budget and… unfortunately, without all the paperwork that should have been done.

I learned a lot about myself from the HPL.  In particular, to delegate the paperwork.

Seriously – the HPL did teach me a lot about how I look at tasks, how I need to treat my volunteers, and yes, the paperwork is important and I have to do it.  Is that why people sometimes end their HPL with a bad taste in their mouth?  What I learned about myself was not my strengths but my weaknesses.

Toastmasters is a program that you work at your own pace.  I did say it’s the master’s thesis but the HPL can be done at any time and submitted to a vice president of education in your club when you complete it.  Even if you haven’t finished your Competent Leadership manual or your Competent Communicator, you can complete the High Performance Leadership project.  You can work on your HPL project at the same time as any other Toastmasters project – working concurrently can help you reduce the amount of time to get to the DTM.

Toastmasters International will keep it on record, regardless of when you complete it.

So when that risky opportunity arises, regardless of where you stand in your Toastmasters experience, don’t default to “no.”  Consider taking up that challenge and use the HPL manual to guide you to success!

One more thing.  While it’s not recorded as a part of the Distinguished Club Program, your HPL may be recognized at the District conferences.  Consider taking the certificate that Toastmasters International will send you and ask your club president to present it to you during the meeting – you’ll inspire others to take a look at their own leadership opportunities and get the applause your hard work deserves.

Now go try something big and show yourself and the world that you are ready for the big risks.  Me?  I’m going to take a new bbq sauce at this year’s family reunion.

If you have any more questions about the HPL, be sure to sign up for the District 10 Fall Conference! One of the Educational sessions will be covering the HPL outside of toastmasters.  You can find out more about the conference at district10.org.

Thanks today to my friends in the Stark Community Toastmasters Club, for inspiring this topic.  You got me through my High Performance Leadership Projects – I’m very willing to return the favor.

Our music is by Kevin MacLeod at incompetech.com

Find the link to the On The Table podcasts episode 1 on our website Onthetablepodcasts.com to leave a comment or give us an evaluation.  Our podcast notes can be found at on the table podcasts.com slash 01.

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