Category Archives: Toastmasters

Leading in the Midst of Change

I got this verbatim from my pastor last night in a church meeting.

Four Different Levels of Change

  1. Mind: Information is the key to change a mind. Make sure they have the data. Facts are more persuasive than opinions, but do not necessarily generate consensus.
  2. Heart: Relationships are the key to spur a change of heart. The focus is on empathetic understanding instead of compelling arguments. An especially difficult hurdle is that emotional reactions are directed at the leader.
  3. Lifestyle: Experiences are the keys to changing lifestyle. Leaders need to give others the opportunity to have the same kind of experiences that they had, which helped bring about their own change.
  4. Culture: Commitment is the key to change in culture. A common mistake is to believe that one has won a commitment when one as one a vote. Cultures change slowly.

The Secret of Jeremy Lin’s Fame

You have to avoid all news outlets to miss the story about Jeremy Lin. I doubt that because a) you are reading the internet right now, and b) you opened this article. The interesting thing about this story is why he is a phenomena. I have heard many reasons for it.

He’s the first American born NBA player of asian descent. Aside from ESPN’s headline and SNL’s parody, does that matter? We’ve had (and have) NBA players from China. I didn’t see that level of excitement for the first Israeli player, the first Iranian player, or the first French point guard for that matter. That’s a small factor.

He’s a Harvard graduate and the NBA typically chooses talent over smart. There have been players from the Ivy League before, in the NFL, NHL, MLB, and even the NBA. Stanford, known for it’s excellent academics, has several graduates in the NBA. That’s not significant.

He’s lifted the NBA Knicks, a storied franchise, from a downward spiral. Anytime the Knicks improve, it’s a story. That’s mostly because the Knicks have been such as bad team over the past 10 or 12 years. However, Carmelo being traded to the Knicks was not that big of a story.

The truth is that he is such an interesting story to most of the people in my world because he is just like you. Here are the ways that he is the same as you.

1. You are Exceptional

Jeremy Lin has shown the world he is exceptional by setting new records points and assists in his first few games in the NBA – more than Magic Johnson. He has helped (at least up until now) turned around the Knicks season. Who knew – apparently not the 30 general managers that didn’t draft him.

You have things that you are better at than most people around you. What are you good at? You know those things you do that make you proud of yourself. There are probably things that you haven’t given yourself credit for being good at doing.

2. Nobody Believed (or Believes) in You

Lin’s high school coach was quoted as saying he thought Jeremy would be a good NCAA Division 3 player. Mike D’Antoni, the Knicks coach, didn’t even know his player’s name for a couple of weeks. He played because D’Antoni did not have a choice. His aging start point guard, Chauncey Billups, was traded to clear cap space. His newly signed point guard, Baron Davis, has been injured the entire season. And the first backup point guard was doing a poor job at running the starting team. Lin getting to start was a desperation move.

You have heard those things too. Maybe your parents said “We just don’t want you to get your hopes up too high.” Maybe a guidance counselor said “I think you should be realistic.” Maybe your co-worker said “but you are just a _[fill in the blank here]_.” Maybe you had times when you didn’t even believe in yourself.

3. You are not Perfect

Jeremy Lin isn’t either. And you don’t mind that he turns the ball over a lot. He can’t rebound like Carmelo Anthony, his Knicks teammate. He is part of a team. He fulfills roles of that team, some better than others. He facilitates the offense of the team. He initiates things. He doesn’t have to be good at all things.

 You are not perfect either. I may not know you specifically – I can guarantee that you aren’t perfect. You do, however, have skills. Practice those skills. Shore up your weaknesses. Develop yourself.

4. You Need an Opportunity

Jeremy Lin wasn’t drafted into the NBA. He looked for opportunities. He went to the eventual NBA Champs Dallas Maverick’s mini-camp. He was cut. He played a 10 day contract for the Golden State Warriors as a backup. He played overseas. He played in the NBA’s Developmental League. He did not step back and accept defeat.

You were not hired into the executive fast track of a Fortune 500 company when you graduated college (or maybe you didn’t graduate college). You started at a company that paid you poorly. Maybe that was the only offer you received. You have had to ask for more responsibilities. You have asked for promotions. You have been disappointed too.

My Story

I figured out that Jeremy Lin is like you when I discovered that he is like me. I learned to believe in myself.

I am exceptional. I have a critical mind – that’s part of how I ended up in software testing. I like teaching other people. I like to move to the next level. For most of my career, I have read the latest strategies and techniques in the software testing & quality magazines to see they are recommending what I am already doing.

I had to suffer through doubters to the point that my boss told me that my confidence should by much higher than I projected. I was promoted to be the QA manager for Service Manager (hundreds of millions of US dollars in sales and maintenance per year) because the project manager had a QA manager quit when hiring requisitions were frozen. They believed in me enough to call me “interim manager” until I proved myself in the position.

I am not perfect. I am more excited about what’s next than finishing what is now. I was a lousy public speaker – think Albert Brooks’ character in Broadcast news (sweating and falling apart). I learned to carry myself through Toastmasters. I learned my craft through courses, books, magazines, and reading articles on the internet (like you are doing now).

I found opportunities. I started at HP as a contract hardware tester making $9/hour – pushing paper through the fax machine’s sheet feeder. Years later when I was promoted to be the QA manager,  because I asked for that job – and requested a lot of responsibilities in between.

Your Story

The corollary to Jeremy Lin to being like you is that you are like him. His story will be your story if you want it to be. You like Jeremy Lin because you want his story. So make it happen. Start by telling me your story here in the comments below.

Leadership (part 6) – Your Story

As a result of this series, I was able to lead a 1 hour seminar session about leadership at Toastmasters Leadership Institute in San Diego on Saturday where I shared an interactive discussion. I want to keep building on the topic of leadership because it is so interesting. I found the interaction of the comments on this blog to be helpful to me, and even more so with the questions and comments that I received in during the interactive session.

I want your story. I am requesting for you to answer these questions, preferable by video recording, so that I can include them in collage of answers. Please contact me by email using mcnulla at gmail dot com so we can arrange to transfer a copy of your video. Also, see the release form to make sure you agree with it.  Thank You!


For good and valuable consideration, the receipt of which is hereby acknowledged, I hereby consent to the photographing of myself and the recording of my voice and the use of these photographs and/or recordings singularly or in conjunction with other photographs and/or recordings for advertising, publicity, commercial or other business purposes. I understand that the term “photograph” as used herein encompasses both still photographs and motion picture footage.

I further consent to the reproduction and/or authorization by David McNulla to reproduce and use said photographs and recordings of my voice, for use in all domestic and foreign markets. I hereby release David McNulla and organizations that he works with including Toastmasters International, and any of its associated or affiliated organizations, their directors, officers, agents, employees and customers, and appointed advertising agencies, their directors, officers, agents and employees from all claims of every kind on account of such use. I am at least the age of 18 years.

Leadership (part 5) – Getting Others to Participate

Leadership is not an individual sport – others have to play or it won’t happen. I will discuss how you can convince others to join you and participate. I am tailoring this section to Toastmasters because I have been asked to speak on this subject in a couple of weeks, but this kind of leadership applies to so much more than Toastmasters. My great friend Ed, a leader in his church, said to me “You nailed it with leaders being servants. That is the way Jesus modeled true leadership.” This stuff applies all the way around non-profit organizations, families, and sports teams.  Your assignment, if you choose to accept it, is to create more leaders. It’s for you, so you have less dead weight to carry. It’s for them, to have purpose and a better life to live.

“Whoa, Dave,” you might say, “Why does it matter to me if somebody is a poor leader of a Toastmasters club I don’t attend?” It matters because you believe in the organization, otherwise you wouldn’t be part of it. It’s a good organization because of the people – the ones that came before and the ones that come later. It matters because a leader doesn’t want a failure like that on his watch. And I am glad it didn’t take much to convince you, I knew that it wouldn’t.

Let’s get on with the leadership building.

Now the foolish salesman will treat everybody the same. One size fits all. That is a shame because many will miss the point of their leadership opportunity. They need to know how this helps them. The things they need to know depend on where they are at in their journey. Some of the leaders are experienced. Others are just starting. I believe the key is how much or how little they have benefited so far. Somethings must apply to all. Here are some things you can tell them:


  1. Praise their good qualities. Of course, you have to recognize their good qualities first. And tell them. This should start and end every time you give advice.
  2. Remind them about teamwork. If you don’t have time to do it right, you definitely don’t have time to do it alone.
  3. Work the Toastmaster leadership program. You will read about the basic skills to be successful, practice to learn those skills, and fill larger roles to apply those skills at a higher level.

Experienced Toastmasters:

  1. People make the organization happen. A well run organization doesn’t happen automatically like the seasons, flowers, and fruit. You have received that benefit, so pay it forward.
  2. Now you have a chance to create your legacy and greater reputation. You are building your brand. How do people think of that brand?


  1. Others are there to help you. Nearly every situation you encounter, somebody else encountered that or close to that circumstance. Ask for their help, then honor that help by seeing it through.
  2. Leadership is rewarding. Whether you decide to conquer the world, or return to being the servant leader, you will always appreciate your own capability and accomplishments.
  3. You will develop a greater understanding of the organization, and of the skills you need to master your own definition of success.

Let’s go back to the first image that we had in this series – the one about the new leader. The new leader is ready to take on new responsibilities because of learning leadership skills. He is going to be a successful leader. But you are not that leader. You are not the Grasshopper, Kwai Chang Caine. You are the blind master Po. You have taught and encouraged the next generation of leaders. Because the greatest act of a leader is to create a leader that he himself would follow.

Leadership (part 4) – How do I become a leader?

In my last post, I said that I would talk about how to become a leader. I conjoin that subject with my experiences here.

Most of my experience in leadership was in leading the peanut gallery. People actually recognized me as the leader of the cut-ups in high school, enough that a guy in my calculus class told me the substitute teacher wouldn’t let go to the bathroom because he knew that I’d make a scene about it. That’s a horrible way to develop leadership skills because it develops the wrong kinds.

Eventually I stopped that kind of leadership (or reduced it enough that it stopped holding me back in my career). I tried to excel in my “individual contributor” position and was eventually rewarded with being in charge of others. I felt inadequate about “leading” so I read books like the ones from Hyrum Smith (Franklin Quest) and Steven Covey (7 Habits) – they eventually merged their companies.

The problem with reading books is that you don’t get any intentional practice in many of the aspects. They will focus on an area or two. I can remember creating a mission statement, listing my roles in life, and objectives to fulfill those roles. I cannot remember reaching any of those goals, but I definitely had a better attitude. Unfortunately, attitude is only a part of being a leader. I needed more skills (the culmination of education and experience).

I learned a lot  from unintentional experience. Given responsibility, you will eventually be put into situations. The problem with unintentional experience is that it rarely tells you if you made good choices or the best choices – that is something even intentional experience falls short in many situations.  In many cases, nobody was mentoring me to suggest key options from which to choose. There was no plan for what to do next.

I also signed up for any day-long courses offered at my company (big companies have lots of courses on-site to choose from). The problem with short courses is the practice is very limited. After it’s over, I could review the booklet but that eventually was packed in a box or drawer.

I had seen people take longer courses and participate in programs, like University of California at San Diego’s Passport to Leadership program.  That seemed to have a big affect on them with self-assessment, practice, and goals. I never joined it because of the financial commitments that it required. But it looked like something I believed would help me.

Then in 2006, in a reason having nothing to do with leadership (except for the self-improvement part), I joined Toastmasters International to help my speaking skills. There was a club starting at my work place. They were willing to pay the small bill. I didn’t have to go anywhere to do it because the meetings were at my office. All I had to do was show up and try to get better at speaking.

Then I got roped into the leadership track. Somebody asked me to be Sergeant at Arms for the coming period. “No big deal,” he said, “just bring stuff to the meeting and set it up.” He was right, it wasn’t hard. Then I was President, started giving some trainings to the club, and found myself on the Leadership Track.  Why was that significant? Because it is the substance behind the style that I was learning from the Communication Track. The significance is that it is one of the best-value educations for becoming a leader that we could ever get. I put that in bold because it is a significant statement that they back up.

How does Toastmasters prepare us to be leaders? The Leadership Track teaches us the skills through training, projects, and plenty of practice situations.

“The Competent Leadership manual features 10 projects, which you complete while serving in various meeting roles and participating in other club activities such as helping with a newsletter or getting involved with a membership building campaign. An evaluator will give you feedback on each project, helping you to improve.”

Toastmasters gives us an opportunity to practice the skills we learn for leadership. When I go to a job interview, I can talk about leading a team of executives. I can discuss the problems we faced and how it helped us. Without that experience, who is going to trust me to lead? What came first, the chicken or the egg? In this case, it’s both.

Toastmasters gives us guidelines on how to be successful. They know what it takes, which is why they have guidelines and predetermined goals (such as how to become a distinguished club). Their system works if you work the system. Is there room for variation? Yes, of course. Clubs are all different and have variations of needs. However, as long as problems are being addressed, you will achieve success.

Everybody in Toastmasters is a volunteer and has to be treated that way. How is that different from real-life leadership? It is not different at all. As a Software QA Manager, I had as many as 24 people reporting to me. All of them volunteered their best effort. As their manager, I couldn’t make them do anything. In addition, most of the people who I needed things from to be successful did not report to me. I needed support from my boss. I needed cooperation from managers of other departments. I needed cooperation from individuals in other departments. Toastmasters prepares people to ask for things, ask again, and communicate what needs to be done very well.

Toastmasters provides lots of help. They have a formal system for training officers, as well as training the district supporting officers. They have a book to explain every necessary job in Toastmasters from the club on up to the highest position, International President. They have a website that can tell what you do not know or forgot. They have a system of sponsors, mentors, and coaches available for whoever wants one. And they have, at least in District 5 that I am in, over 1000 people to talk to about a problem for free advice. Anybody who fails inside Toastmasters probably refused that help. I do not believe that should ever happen.

“Dave, what is the catch?” you ask. The catch is 2 things. First, it is not instantaneous. It takes time to build up the experience and the trust to get the higher levels of experience. I would say that the fastest that anybody could reasonable get through the entire leadership track is 2 years, maybe 3. The second is that it requires you to do it for no cash pay. Toastmasters can afford to let you be in charge because they need you to do it for free. But where else can you get those four key ingredients to become a leader.

I want to hear about your experiences with becoming a leader too. There are a million ways to do it. Please comment with your story and feedback.

In my next post, I will discuss how you can convince others to join you and participate. Leadership is not an individual sport – others have to play or it won’t happen.

Leadership (part 3) – Why do I need to be a leader?

I misread my outline in Part 2. I promised to cover how to become a leader without realizing my next topic was about why we need to be leaders. Obviously you believe in leadership or you wouldn’t be here. But let me tell you some reasons that you need to be a leader. They won’t all apply to you, but nobody gets out of all of them.

Ross Perot’s sucking sound of jobs going overseas has become part of the norm, hitting blue-collar and white-collar jobs alike. In our jobs, we are paid to think, solve problems, and usually work as a team. We have to bring value. We need to differentiate ourselves by being leaders and followers are the right times (only a leader would know which is appropriate at what time).

Leadership is part of our brand. A brand is something we trust, like the usability of Apple, the convenience of, or the on-time deliver of Fed-Ex. Rain Man wanted to fly Qantas Airlines because they were known for not have accidents. He trusted their brand, not because of an advertisement. Our rewards depend on the way people see our brand. We are drawn to good leaders, provided we trust them. There’s trusting people to keep a secret. There’s trusting people to do their job. There’s trusting people to make sure the team is successful.

Nobody wants to be a victim of changes. We want control over our lives and what happens. We have things we want to see happen in our lives, at our jobs, in our worlds. Take it from the most reluctant leader, I just wanted to go for the ride. The problem is that eventually I was unsatisfied with where the bus was taking me. How do we get the outcome if we do not contribute to the outcome? How do we contribute to the outcome without building trust from others? How does another trust us if we haven’t listened, assessed, or shared a vision?

The future will come. What the future will become is not determined yet. Will the world get hotter? Will governments bend too far to the left or the right? What happens when we run out of fossil fuels? Can our children become competent with declining relative investment in schooling them? Nobody is going to solve all these problems, or even one. Teams will work on them just to limit their effect, in fact teams of teams. You have an interest in these things. Will you join one cause to help solve one problem? And as your children watch you will they be inspired to lead in a cause, or will they be inspired by the TV schedule?

In my next post, I will discuss how to become a leader (I really promise, this time I mean it!).

Leadership (part 2) – What is a Leader?

There is no universally acceptable answer but please let me tell you what is a leader. I won’t separate a leader from a manager (what somebody does, as opposed to their title). A good leader must manage and a good manager must lead. I see no point to split them in definition.

Let me say what is not a leader. A person in power is a person in power. Being able to impact people’s lives does not make somebody a leader.

A leader is a servant. They will work for something or somebody. If you aren’t serving a greater good, then you are leading people to nowhere. To lead people, you need a worthy purpose first. Then you must serve that purpose. A leader delegates. If you doing all the work, those people are riding you, not following you. A leader uses a team to get the job done. She knows that her followers are volunteers, but she still convinces them to help.

A leader is an author of vision. They must have Vision. They must create the vision if needed, or borrow it. They will not have followers unless they can share the vision and use it as a direction to go towards. A leader a pursuer. They are in pursuit of something bigger than themselves. This is a driving force. They need to be motivated before they can motivate others. Ironically, a pursuer can be somebody who follows another. That’s not what I meant.

A leader is a planner. This is why I have no need to split a leader and a manager. The ends and the means are inseparable. The leader figures out the best way to get to the “destination” from here (where ever here is that day). The leader adjusts as needed but stays the course. A leader is an adjuster. My favorite example is the airplane flight, which is almost always off-course except for the take off and landing. The winds continuously blow the airplane off course. The leader either knows how to counter against the unseen forces, learns how to do that, or knows who to trust for that skill. A leader has recognition. She know the difference between urgent and important. She knows how to test for that difference.

A leader is a listener. She gets to know others. She can’t do that from talking), understands their needs, builds rapport with others. A leader is a speaker – one that uses purpose and skill to stimulate action, unify people under a cause, and guide others towards a common goal. Leadership gives her something to talk about!

In my next post, I will talk about ways to build the skills for leadership – of course Toastmasters will be part of that due to my own experience with them.