Getting to Distinguished

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

― James Clear, Author, Atomic Habits

In his book Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones, James Clear explains how the only way to make progress is with small step habits. Yet, we often dismiss small changes because they don’t seem to matter too much at the time.

As we get to the end of each Toastmasters year, leaders look back and ask: “What could we have done better?” It can be heart-breaking to fall short of goals and it is especially difficult this year, with the impact of the pandemic layered on top of the usual challenges of district leadership.

Success is the product of daily habits and not once-a-year heroic efforts. Clear writes that “goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. Your goal is your desired outcome. Your system is the collection of daily habits that will get you there… spend less time focusing on outcomes and more time focusing on the habits that precede the results”. (Quoted with James Clear’s permission from blog).

What can we do, what can we control? What systems can we put in place in our districts as infrastructure for success?

The Toastmasters year has a definite rhythm, where different parts of the year district leaders (and club leaders too) need to focus their efforts to achieve the bigger goal.

If you figure out ways to create small habits within your clubs and district, give positive feedback and recognition to those controllable actions – your systems will lead to achievement. When the infrastructure is solid and the day-to-day operational basics are there – it becomes part of the Toastmasters culture of service and excellence.

Leading and lagging indicators are two types of measurements used when assessing performance. Leading indicators are predictive measurements; while lagging indicators measure output. The difference between the two is a leading indicator can influence change and a lagging indicator can only record what has happened. In other words, you should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.

When you focus on leading indicators, these habits will move your district to distinguished (or better).

For example, here are some leading indicators for Districts to turn into habits of excellence:

  • Train all 7 club officers twice a year.
  • Get all Area Director visits done in mid-August and mid-February.
  • Strive to get all clubs to have an annual Club Success Plan – and have Area Directors, coaches, and mentors follow-up on their action plans.
  • Insist that all Areas and Divisions also have success plans completed in the summer, that align with the district success plan (and budgets and other project management documents).
  • Submit membership renewals a month early – getting club members to pay for full year in advance instead of twice a year “scrambling”.
  • Open houses in the summer and consistently every quarter.
  • Achieving 5 DCP points by end of December.
  • Striving to achieve the membership retention programs (Smedley, Talk up Toastmasters and Beat the Clock) every year – as part of the club’s rhythms.
  • Holding regular Area Council meetings.

Finally, the secret to sustaining Distinguished (or higher) district status every year is to never stop making improvements – it is an infinite game (another good book). James Clear explains it, “the purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress”. (Quoted with author’s permission from blog).

In other words, continue to groom leaders, keep having quality leadership training, move forward on the basics every day, believe in the process… and you will get there.

Photo by Lukas on

Let’s talk about what is possible. Reach out for an interview – what are your thoughts about getting your clubs and districts back on track with membership and club quality?