Your High Performance Leadership Project in a Pandemic

Your High Performance Leadership Project Pandemic versions Toastmasters 101

Today’s podcast is about your High Performance Leadership Project in a Pandemic – what to do when you are stuck.

TI Extends the Deadlines

Toastmasters International made a huge announcement last week right in the middle of my recording last week’s podcast. The big news? An extension has been made for those who are currently stuck due to the pandemic – the Advanced Leadership Silver award and the Distinguished Toastmaster Award in the classic education program have had their deadlines moved to 2021. Inside this extension is the Club Coach project – also extended into 2021.

What wasn’t extended was the deadline for the High Performance Leadership – which is part of the Advanced Leadership Silver award.

What’s a Toastmaster to do?

My suggestion? Pivot.


If you’re looking to improve your leadership skills, you start with public speaking skills. Where can you do both? At Toastmasters. Welcome to Toastmasters 101 podcast where we’ll show you how Toastmasters can help you achieve your goals. I’m your host, Kim Krajci.

The Value of the High Performance Leadership Project

The High Performance Leadership Project may be the best classic program product from TI. I’ve reused my book several times for projects – for credit or not. Maybe there are other sources for that material, but I’ve never bothered to look. This book handled it for me in a concise, clear manner.

I never thought of myself as a leader, so taking on an HPL was intimidating. However, my first HPL was a logical next step for me. My husband and I had been coordinating the schedule of coffee hour snacks that we have every week after our Sunday services. Ok – my husband was doing the majority of the coordinating – I was on boots on the floor every week making sure that the coffee was made and that the peanut butter and jam and cream cheese supply was provided. So moving to coordinate 8 meals wasn’t a big step for me – but it was in my head.

The High Performance Leadership Project gave me the steps to take in broad strokes: how to define the task. How to recruit. How to finish up.

It’s a brilliant piece of project management instruction. Simple and elegant. That’s why I have always tried to say yes when asked to be on someone’s guidance committee when they’re working on their HPL. I have no idea how many I’ve served on – I never kept track – but every one has been unique and challenging.

Talking about Classic High Performance Leadership

So why am I talking about the classic HPL today? Because there are some people who are in the middle of one and the pandemic just crushed their plans.

Are they stuck?

Because TI is currently working with very few employees who are working at home, it’s not simple to get someone on the phone to ask questions. But it’s pretty clear from the posted information that while the Advanced Leadership Silver award deadline is delayed, the High Performance Leadership project that’s part of the ALS deadline has not been extended.

You can send your emails to if you think this isn’t the right answer to this problem. I might even agree with you.

However, as of March 31, 2020, that’s how it stands. And maybe you’re one of those Toastmasters who feels like your work is all for nothing now. Or you know a Toastmaster who’s despairing because of the deadlines and a pandemic. Make sure you share this podcast with them – we’ve got some hope for you and for them.

You Aren’t Lost

First, let me assure you – all the work you’ve done is NOT for nothing. You’ve learned a lot in the process and while you might not think you’re going to get credit from Toastmasters for it – the world isn’t so limited. Those skills, those techniques, those don’t get lost if you don’t have a shiny piece of paper acknowledging them.

I have a piece of paper that says I finished high school. The piece of paper doesn’t prove anything. It doesn’t mention that I learned extensive tailoring – to the point that I have made winter coats and wedding dresses.

The piece of paper is nice. Recognition is nice. But when you can’t get them, you haven’t lost the skills you learned.

So don’t abandon your projects and don’t give up hope. I have a suggestion for you and a few case studies to explain what I mean.

Pivot Your High Performance Leadership Project

The concept of a pivot in the business world is pretty common. It simply means to change the focus and plan to go in a new direction. Probably every company in the world is looking at the pandemic and wondering what the future has in store for us – and thinking about how to adjust for that new world.

We can do the same with our High Performance Leadership projects.

Ella’s Story: Quitting your HPL

Let’s look at Ella’s HPL. Two years ago, she undertook a management project with a hard end. It would be finished on a specific date. It was between that date and the day she took it that this project went so badly. Ella’s managers started to micro-manage. Agreements that had been made were ignored. Ella’s input was denigrated and ridiculed. Two months into the 4 month project, Ella resigned from the project.

That doesn’t look good for her HPL, does it?

Fortunately, Ella was still in the organization. She still had options – one of which was a major part of the problem with the project. There was no written plan from previous years that laid out the structure of the project – no lines of authority, communication, responsibility – you name it – no documentation. Every time this project was initiated, the team was starting from scratch.

Why is that? She asked.

Why hasn’t anyone complied this information? Why haven’t we harvested the experience of previous years to cut through the months of disorganization? Why don’t we have a timeline or an organizational chart?

So that’s what Ella did. She contacted the current team members and asked them what they wished they knew. Then she contacted the people who had managed the teams in the past and asked them to document their work. This was challenging – most people had done this work in years past and were hazy about specific details – but all of them remember the biggest problems they faced. With this data, Ella’s work shifted from the project itself to producing working documents to support future events. Her final project was an online document for every management role – their responsibilities, their resources, their options.

I watched Ella pivot. Her frustrations with her managers took her to a breaking point – but she didn’t stay there. She looked around and found a different track – a very useful one.

Katie’s High Performance Leadership v 2.0

Katie has found herself in a similar situation with one additional twist – the deadline.

Katie volunteers with a local fine arts organization. Every year, they have hosted a gala fundraiser. For her HPL, Katie volunteered to be the chair for the event.

Then, about a month later, the board of trustees decided against holding the fundraiser. In January, Katie was back at square one, looking for another project. She met with her guidance team and presented a couple of options.

Katie struggled with one she knew she could complete – in which she was doing all the work. That’s not the point of the HPL – it’s leadership, not doing the work by herself.

The other project focuses on next year’s events. It depends on several people finishing up in time – a factor that she’s now lost in the shutdown. Because she’s far ahead of the schedule – working on the project for January of 2021, she can still complete the project – but will it be done by June 30, 2020?

Katie has a couple of options

She can reach out to these volunteers and ask them to complete their tasks from home, or she can change again.

Or… and I say this very carefully… she can finish the HPL with an unfinished project. I hesitate to call it a failure because Katie hasn’t failed. Yes, circumstances are such that these projects cannot be done and will not be completed. But the HPL manual doesn’t say that a project must be successful.

I’m not offering a free get-out-of-jail card to those whose HPL projects are stuck. Neither of Katie’s projects can be completed as planned so the projects are finished. Just not the way she or anyone else would want. She learned a lot in these processes which make them successful for her.

As a member of her guidance committee, I’m going to support whatever Katie picks.

Kim’s Conundrum with the Pandemic

Yes, I have my own project. I’ve been a member of the Hall of Fame Advanced Club for many years and we’ve always struggled to get members at the end of the Toastmasters year. We get the awards but we’re always faced with the lack of membership for the Distinguished Club Awards. For the past few years, we’ve managed to get exactly what we needed – at the very last minute.

This year, I thought I’d try an experiment and put it to the club. We would have 6 months of workshop presentations – one per month – focusing on presentation skills. Then, in March, we would have a final open house to invite all Toastmasters to join us and we’d repeat the best workshop exercises.

Then, our home state ordered a state-wide shutdown the day of our meeting. Only essential businesses, no meetings of more than 10 people.

No open house. No new members – and it looks like a drop-off in the current membership as well.

What am I going to do?

Honestly, right now, I have no idea. I’m at a standstill – the club won’t have its next meeting until April and while we have the District 10 support to go online, I haven’t heard from many of our members except the resignations. Money is tight – double memberships are the first to go.

Advanced club membership is a hard sell right now. We have enough members to stay alive, but not enough for our Distinguished Club Program – which is just a piece of paper, in the end.

We called our special series “TMx” because we were focusing on presentation skills with an eye at the TED stage. But neither Toastmasters nor TED are amenable to mixing their branding.

Maybe I need to mix this up and reset the goal.

Pivot toward a virtual open house in May or June. Instead of just focusing on general presentation skills, to pivot toward online presentation skills. To work with my club to present a meeting that will prove the value of the advanced club with interactive training.

By each of us pivoting, we can still reach our HPL goals.

So – grab a towel, don’t panic, and reexamine your High Performance Leadership options. You may still have a chance to finish your work before the June 30, 2020 deadline.

Am I undermining the purpose of the High Performance Leadership Project?

I asked past district director Jenilee Taylor a question. Am I right? Is what I’m saying undermining the purpose of the HPL?

She said this:

I don’t think so at all- I think there are very useful skills and have said all along- I have learned very valuable leadership lessons in events and projects that did not end the way I envisioned them. As long as all other aspects happened… meetings/discussions/planning/the speeches/ AND you learned from it- The HPL WAS a success, even if the specifics of the project weren’t.

Don’t give up.  Don’t give up.  There’s a creative solution – you’ll find it!

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Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay home.

Talk to you next time on Toastmasters 101.