LEADERS - Learners or Teachers?

By Ian Faria:
Recently I was fortunate to take part in a Public Speaking Contest. It was an amazing experience. I thought I had the stuff to reach the International level and possible I thought I had a chance to win there too. However... I managed only to make it to the 3rd Level in that contest... and hence was not able to compete in the next few levels. Now the easiest options open to me were:
  1. To criticize the contest.... I could talk about the sad level of other speakers, or
  2. I could scoff at the judges... or ...
  3. I could be philosophical and follow the advice of some who told me... “Ian the judges are not in your league... and hence they are unable to judge your eloquence or your power.”
  4. I could sit back and analyse what had happened... so that I could be a better speaker... a better judge... or a better leader.

I chose the last option (4). Permit me to share how I analyzed this so that I could be better.

Lets see how we can learn... and grow:

1. Everything is a learning lesson.

I realized that just participating got me to hone my speaking skills to a level that I would not have done... in the normal course of events. The thrill I got out of preparing 12 speeches... was a joy unto itself. I had committed myself to delivering a different speech for every level of the contest. This was surely a huge high for me... preparing so many speeches... keeping in mind what had to go into it to make it worthy of winning. I expanded my learning horizon through the books I read... the points I made... and the speeches I had painstakingly crafted.

2. You will not win until....

You may be the winner in the audience’s eyes... but you will not win until the judges give you the points. If judges are incompetent... or have their own hidden agendas then things will not happen fairly. However, on the other hand... Is everyone competent to judge? I think not ... and this is something that every contestant should understand. However, being on the side of the “judged”.... it is a huge learning to see things from the other side of the coin. So... should judges be competitors first? ABSOLUTELY!!! One can never figure out the complexity of a speech if we become a judge without being a competitor first. It is like a junior doctor playing the role of the examiner of other doctors... specially when he has never performed an operation, whereas the doctors being examined have performed many operations!!! Just the theory alone will never suffice... one has to go through the mill to understand how the grinding is done... and how it feels to be ground.

3. Two wrongs make a right?

Should unfairness breed unfairness? Many speakers who did not get through took the loss in their stride and looked for learning lessons. This is a fabulous way to look at things. Learn from the loss... and you will change the loss to a gain. However, the worrying point was when a few speakers said that they would wait for their revenge. This is not just worrying... it is disastrous. An eye for an eye will only leave the whole world blind. When we compete, lets take whatever results are announced... as a learning experience. Did we pitch the speech properly? Did we analyze the audience profile? Unfortunately, we are not able to analyze judges profile, because the judges are not to be known or recognized.

4. Indian Crab Syndrome

Would pulling down the other competitors help me look better? After one of the recent contests... a few of the participants and some of the spectators went about analyzing what was required in a speech contest... the intention was purely to learn... but what was sad, was that they even described what specific contestants did differently, and they addressed this in a very disparaging way. Even if we think something could be done differently... we could surely find better ways to describe this. Could we focus on what is the right way to do something... rather than make fun of what someone else did... ? A good tenet of evaluation is to evaluate the speech and not the speaker, the act and not the actor. So, I thought.... a key requirement for being a speaker is the ability to LOSE gracefully. If we are not ready to lose... lets not use the Indian Crab Mentality... and pull others down just because we cannot (could not/did not) go up. Trying to climb is laudable... climbing by stepping on other people’s toes... (or their heads) is really not the right thing to do.

5. Why compete? To win? To learn?

Would changing one’s style to win the contest be the right way forward? The answer to this question would depend on one basic question...

  1. Why are you in the contest? Or... WHAT IS your PURPOSE for competing?

    If you are there to win... then change your style... your approach... or your script... to ensure that you are able to win each round and progress to the next level. If winning is the only thing, then do what it takes (keeping ethics in place).
  2. If you are there to learn, and reach a new level... then the results do not matter. Participating again and again will help you learn more and more about yourself, and the impact your communication has on the audience. In this case... do learn from your experience and the feedback you think is appropriate... and incorporate the learning so that you are better... every time.

6. The most important point of the competition.

The most important learning I got from the contest was the decision I took when a very senior leader asked me to conduct a workshop so that we could have more accurate results. I then thought about it... When members of the audience are going to decide whether the organization is good or bad... ethical or un-ethical... then it is time for the leaders and the judges to ask themselves some questions... Judges could ask...
  1. Why am I a judge? To show my power... or to gain from the position... or is it to learn... and hone my own skills as a speaker.... which would then lead me to another question...
  2. Am I competent to judge? Have I competed... and do I understand the nuances and the power behind a good or a great speech? Am I speaking regularly? Are my results more or less aligned with the other judges... or are they skewed so badly that my scores will mess up things for the deserving speakers?
  3. Am I able to avoid the TABOOS of Judging.... the HALO EFFECT... the UNDERDOG effect.... or the REVERSE HALO EFFECT... can I really hold my position as a judge and NOT COMMENT on ANY OF THE SPEAKERS... ? Have I been guilty of trying to influence the other judges just because I strongly feel that a particular speaker is better? Am I there to see that the other results match mine... and is this the purpose of why I am a judge? Should I not avoid judging when my mentee is in the contest?

7. Leaders could ask themselves...
  1. Is the organization gaining or loosing credibility because of the events/activities we propagate? If it is in my power... do I choose the best judges... or should I be politically correct and choose people because it will seem to be fair... or because it will be politically expedient for me to do so?
  2. Should we air our views... if these will cause polarization? Are we there to force an issue? Are we just there to be learners... and peace makers who water down the heat caused by loss... or frustration of not getting a desired result?

I strongly believe that every activity we undertake should have an intent or a purpose.

As Speakers, lets not get disheartened by results, because, the real result is not what happens, but what you take out of what happened.

As Judges, the results we generate has a bearing on the speaker/s, the audience, and the other judges. What is the impact of our decisions and our judgments? What is the impact on our authenticity and our credibility? How will what we do impact the way we see ourselves?

As leaders, we should lead by example, and ensure that things go as smoothly as possible. There will never be a time when EVERY ONE is HAPPY with any decision, but we owe it to ourselves to do what our conscience permits... and not to have double standards. While we may not be responsible for the results... we are responsible for how others perceive those results.As Leaders we should also have the guts to own up when they err... and correct things that go wrong. In the ultimate analysis... we are all learners... and not teachers. We can do what best we can... and when others exercise their birthright to learn... we can use this as a learning touch point as we ask ourselves... HAVE THEY LEARNT WELL FROM US... and will this HELP THEM GROW?

As good people, we should walk the talk, before we can talk the walk.

Lets Know and Grow before we can Glow and Show!

Ian Faria.

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