District Leader Training: A Day in a Life


Chicago, Marriott Marquis | Room 2234

I open my eyes. My phone says: 4:28 am. The name of Jocko Willink comes to my mind. Jocko Willink is an American Navy Seal who preaches early rising. Every day he tweets a photo of his watch, showing time a few minutes after 4:30 am.

I admit I am cheating a bit. My flight from Frankfurt landed in Chicago 4 days ago. Waking up at 4:30 is simply the result of my experiment of not going “fully through” in adjusting my schedule to the changed time zone. But so what? As Tim Ferriss says: “What would it look like if it were easy?”

In the darkness of the hotel room, I pick up my phone and look at the messages. My ex-colleague from MSD Alex is texting me that CA technologies want to start a new Toastmasters club in Prague. Excellent. The person responsible for supporting new clubs in the Wild East of Europe (official position: Club Growth Director) is just a few meters away from me at this moment. Yet – he is sharing with me the room, not the enthusiasm for early rising. Before five, he is still sound asleep. I decide to step over my responsibilities and connect Alex directly with a few people in Prague who can help get the club started.

Morning Routine

Enough Facebook, time to hit the gym. I am no gym boy, but here in the hotel 1) it’s free 2) what else should I do at 5am? A nice nudge. What would the streets of Chicago look like if gym was free for everyone and there would be nothing else to do with your time?

“Where are you from?”, I hear in the middle of my series of back extensions. A lady in her late 40’s asks, clearly just for the sake of conversation. I tell her where I’m from and ask the same. Her masterful attempt at small talk at half past five gives me a hint that it’s not Eastern Europe. “Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh side.” I weave in my icebreaker: My knowledge of North American cities is based on the locations of teams in National Hockey League. I mention Pittsburgh Penguins. She is not impressed. That’s okay. If someone would try to impress me by dropping names of Czech baseball teams, I would probably react in the same way.

At 6am I sneak back into room 2234, take a shower and – still in the darkness not to wake Daniel – sit down on the sofa, put on my headphones and start my regular 15-minute meditation session.

“Are you comfortable with uncertainty?”, I hear Andy Puddicombe, the co-founder and voice of Headspace. “Yes,” I answer in my mind. “The only certainty is death; any other certainty is just an illusion.” I pause for a moment and wonder whether all the popular books on stoicism have not taken my rational view of the world too far.

Maybe is the new no

Just before seven my roommate (Daniel, a pleasure for him to meet you) wakes up. I put my Black Book into the pocket of my jacket and we head downstairs for the breakfast with other Toastmasters District Trios. This group comprises of people who are with the organization somewhere between five and twenty (or more) years, investing 10 to 30 hours weekly of their time. A concentration of experience.

The moment I sit down at one of the tables, someone taps on my shoulder. “Lukas! I’m reading your blog! You have great energy! Keep writing!” It’s Andre from Brazil whom I met at the convention in Vancouver last year. Toastmasters family all across the planet.

Gina Salcedo of Somerville Toastmasters reflects on yesterday’s workshop about sales. The trainer shared with us that it is better if a company says right away: “We’re not interested in starting a Toastmasters club now” rather than saying: “We have not decided”. Gina sums it by a tweetable: “Maybe is the new no.” I nod. This could have saved me so much effort! Not just in building Toastmasters clubs.

Everybody has problems

In one of our morning sessions we (me, Daniel and Bea, our District Director) are sitting at a table with trios from Tchaj-wan and Southern India. We are sharing experiences, difficulties and best practice. “Our Area Directors sometimes need to drive for four hours when making a club visit”, we say. Our colleagues from India counter: “Most of our club visits are easy. But some of our clubs are rather remote. We are usually able to make it there in between 24 and 48 hours. Time to time however we get landslides. Then we need to postpone the visit by a few weeks.” Everybody has their problems I guess.

The Enemy

At 10am there is a coffee break. I never fully appreciated the meaning of the word “mouth-watering” – until the moment I see the donuts offered with the coffee. For the second time today I think of Jocko Willink. Besides early rising, Jocko advocates something close to no-sugar-eating policy. I remember one of his tweets – a picture of a donut labeled: “The Enemy”. In an attempt to resist, I take a picture of the donuts too, planning to add the “Enemy” tag later. Unfortunately, Matthew from Tchaj-wan gets in to the picture. He has a disarming smile, so tagging the photo “The Enemy” is no longer an option. On the bright side, I manage to resist the temptation I leave the donuts untouched. Lukas:American Food 1:0.

At lunch I resist the food temptation again. “All you can eat” bacon with “all you can eat” salad. With some concentration I manage to get the mix right. Lukas:American Food 2:0.

Nobody is perfect

The training session in the afternoon exceeds my expectations. We sit at tables in groups of 7-8 and discuss various leadership behaviors, one at a time. First, we take turns and each of us shares their brief definition of the discussed behavior. Then we share our personal strengths and gaps in that behavior and get feedback from others. Everyone at my table seems to be a successful business professional, age ranging from 30 to 60, arrived from the UK, Carribean, New York – and Czechia. Surprisingly – even though we are strangers, everyone speaks openly about what they think they are weak at.

“I don’t usually trust people.”

“I judge quickly and sometimes I don’t give people the chance they need to prove themselves.”

“When I make a mistake, I tend to over-explain instead of taking ownership.”

Everyone who shares gets a couple of follow-up questions and a few sincere tips from others. I am moved. When it comes to the topic “Relationships & Team-building”, it is my turn.

“I can be very social, but time to time my introverted side gets me. In those moments it shows that I’m not in the mood and any attempt at interaction with me annoys me.” Florian, my peer from the South of the UK whom I befriended one year ago in Vancouver is sitting across the table and takes the word. I expect a supporting comment. He says: “Yeah. I noticed that.” Well, honest feedback is priceless. We close that the key is for me to make sure I always recharge to be ready to interact. In case I fail to do that, I’ll just go with the “Let’s talk a bit later” as a ticket out. Maybe the most useful session of the two days with a lot of inspiration for further introspection.

Translations? Keep on doing that!

The training ends at five. The day is not over yet. We’ve got ahead 5 interviews with the International Board and Executive Committee candidates. There is a (variation of) one question I am asking everyone: “Our countries are too small to have translations done based on the official process. What can we do?”

The answers ranged from “Well, I can’t help you with that one” to “Guys, Toastmasters is ripping you off by not having the program translated into your languages yet!” Most actionable of them is an answer that I get independently from two candidates for the 2nd Vice President: “You have unofficial translations? You are creating more? Good. Keep on doing that! Build clubs! Show your potential! The official translations will follow.” A positive message for the translation teams in our countries – it looks like we can get you out from hiding.

Small world & steak wins

At 9pm we’re done with the work for the day. The informal meeting (read: pub) with our colleagues from Europe, Middle East and Africa is taking place in a nearby restaurant. Having successfully resisted the donut temptation all day, I find myself starved. Tactical mistake. Upon arrival I am so hungry that I order “steak dinner”. Then I realize that it will take too long for the steak to be cooked, so I order a portion of fries as an appetizer.

Meeting some old friends. Elena from Warsaw; Svetlana from Aarhus; Siegfried from Nice. “I’m from Prague”, I say to a guy from Kent whom I see for the first time. “Wow, cool” he says, “my girlfriend is Czech!” The world is a small place, if you choose to see it this way.

While finishing my fries, a huge steak with mashed potatoes on the side lands in front of me. The clock says 9:30 and it’s almost bedtime. I am out of strength and determination. I lose my final today’s battle and give in to the temptation.

Thirty minutes after ten I’m back in room 2234. Out of my pocket I take my journal with 18 pages filled just today. The agenda of the convention says there will be four more days packed like this one.

Lucky my alarm clock is set to 4:30.

Photo by Lance Anderson on Unsplash

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