I have been to several GETS programmes but never been to a great party such as the one we had last night. We never throw parties like that, so you must be a very special group. And I am grateful to RI Director C Basker for inviting me… any opportunity to talk to incoming Governors is special,” said RI Director John Matthews, addressing a GETS session at the Kuala Lumpur Zone Institute.
At the outset, he thanked the DGEs “for stepping up and accepting the responsibilities associated with serving DGs. Without your commitment and passion, there will be no energy to drive the Rotary machine forward.” The RID made it a point to thank the spouses of the incoming governors, saying, “The service you do is very important, as you are encouraging and supporting your partners, and standing by their side as they do various projects.”
Their training was going to get even better at the International Assembly in San Diego, “where we will be working with you on Rotary’s vision statement, which we are trying to roll out in a new format — People of Action — and you are going to create a lasting change in the globe, our communities and ourselves.”
We never realise that the person who changes the most in a Rotary leadership role is you. We come to serve and help others but that is a byproduct… what really happens is an improved and better you.
Matthews said the most amazing aspect of leadership in Rotary at any level was that while being so busy working for the community “we never realise that the person who changes the most is you. We come to serve and help others but that is a byproduct… what really happens is an improved you, a better you.”
He said while training for their roles, they would gradually recognise that there are things “we can do to change the way we interact in our districts. IA training is going to be great, every Rotarian who has attended the IA says that was the best meeting I went to. It was more meaningful, impactful, powerful than any meeting I went to in my whole life and very special!”
In San Diego they would meet people with skills very different from what they themselves had, and they might see some of those and think “I want to be like him. But that’s a trap, because you have to keep being you.” The experience could certainly help them hone their own skills, “but if you stay true to you, trust me, you’re on the right track.”
Matthews then shared with the DGEs a valuable tip that any leader, either in Rotary, business or elsewhere, could use. “Close your eyes and think about someone in your life who was special, whom you admired… the way they communicated, their sense of humour, how they responded to bad news, didn’t yell, and handled it admirably.”
Similarly, each one of them should also do the opposite, and think of one who “took on a job and didn’t do it so well, and struggled to communicate, yelled when they got bad news, and lost their sense of humour. They weren’t bad people. They were just struggling in their jobs.”
After identifying these two extremes; the DGEs should use them as their “reference points, and anything that you do from this point on, when you face a challenging situation, step back and ask yourself how would this person have handled this situation. Draw from the experience of these two leaders; and you’ll know what to do and what to avoid.”
Another valuable insight Matthews shared with the DGEs pertained to the time when he was being promoted from a lieutenant to a lieutenant commander in the US Navy, which he has served with distinction for 20 years. “The admiral, who promoted me, put his hand on my shoulder and said: ‘John, up to this point I have been evaluating you on the work you can do. From this point onward, I will evaluate you on what you can accomplish from others.” The incoming DGs were in a similar position; having accomplished a lot; “but now as you step into the role of a Governor, you have the opportunity to deal with things in a different way and through others and not necessary by what you can do yourselves.”
The clubs that say we are fine with our membership don’t even realise that the moment they say I’m fine at 20, they are dying. Because 20 years from now, they won’t be around.
Other things they needed to do as district leaders were giving a direction to the club leaders, growing membership and TRF contributions, and the direction to do community projects well. All these were fine. “But the single most important thing you will do as a governor/Rotary leader is to develop the people behind you. Our business model in Rotary is based on developing the people behind us. If we ever stop doing that, the entire machine comes to a grinding halt. Does anyone know of a club that put an ad in the newspaper for the next club president? The very idea is absurd. We develop them from within as we do all our leaders.” Successful businesses did just that.
Matthews said that when Basker had urged them to ask the clubs to print newsletters, “do you think he wants you to just print some information or did he mean that through the newsletter you can teach Rotarians the magic and wonder of Rotary? You have to tell them stories. If you simply print that newsletter you lose the opportunity. But if you use that newsletter to help people see the magic and wonder of Rotary, you are developing the people behind you.”
The admiral, who promoted me, put his hand on my shoulder and said: ‘John, up to this point I have been evaluating you on the work you can do. From this point onward, I will evaluate you on what you can accomplish from others.
For eg, said the RI Director, if the Governors simply told Rotarians that TRF had a four-star rating with Charity Navigator, they would be proud of it. “But isn’t it better if while you tell them how great the Foundation is, you also explain to them what we did to get the four-star rating? Can you see the difference?”
Matthews added that as the DGEs developed leadership in others in their team, “at the end of the year you’ll be a whole lot smarter than you are today.”
The second important message was on continuity. One of the things Rotary had struggled with over the years was continuity of leadership. “So what you see evidence of is 112 one-year plans; this has some charm because each one is unique and different but not linked to one another.” In the last few years a strategic plan had developed; “for the first time you see Ravi (PRIP K R Ravindran) start something and John Germ continues that and they model that continuity through President Ian Riseley and RIPE Barry Rassin. And we need to model that in our districts.”
In many parts of the world there was continuity between the IPDG, DG, DGE and DGN. “So when questions come on the district, you are not alone, your team answers. In doing that you are allowing the DGE, as also the DGN, to learn what the answer might be. You are developing the people behind you. The same needed to be done at the club level, he said, adding, “by doing so you will be creating a better and more effective direction in the clubs and the district.”
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat
When asked by one of the incoming governors why membership was falling or static in the US, RI Director John Matthews said that the conversation around membership had to be overhauled. While asking Rotarians to give for TRF, there were always some expectation and goals being set. “But in membership, there is no expectation anywhere in Rotary that we not only grow but sustain that growth. We have to put that expectation before people while speaking at PETS or GETS and tell our presidents and governors that it is completely unacceptable not to grow or charter new clubs. But today that doesn’t happen.”
He suspected that many club presidents thought “somebody else will grow membership. I am comfortable here. We have to make everyone play their part. Unless we bring that upfront it will not happen.”
For the last 23 years Rotary’s global membership was at 1.2 million, but the average club size had come down in the last 10 years from 42 to 34. “What’s broken is that the existing clubs are neither chartering new clubs nor growing themselves. We have too many clubs that are locked into the belief that I have 20 people. I like these 20 people, am comfortable with them and I don’t want to grow and have any more.”
That was the main problem and defied the business adage that you’re either growing or dying. “And these clubs don’t even realise that the moment they say I’m fine at 20, they are dying. Because 20 years from now, they won’t be around. The only way is to grow their club and keep growing,” added Matthews.
Another question was if the role of the DG was of leadership or administrative in nature.
“It is everything,” said Matthews, adding, “but it is how you do it. If you look at the organisation of a company, the CEO is on top, and below him/her comes the Board and then the employees, customers, etc. ” So it was a triangle.
In Rotary clubs it was the opposite. The most important person was the member, the board and the president supported the members and the DG’s role as a leader was at the bottom.