Meet The Division Director Of The Year – Olga Turek-Woźniak

What does it take to become the Division Director of the Year in Toastmasters? Leading a division to success involves a lot of communication at all levels, knowing how to build and support teams and of course leading by example. 

District 108 is proud and grateful to have amazing Olga Turek-Wozniak as its Division Director of 2018-2019 Toastmasters Year!

Valeria, D108 PRM, spoke with Olga asking to tell her story of Toastmastering, revealing her secrets of effective leadership in Division D and sharing the best practices.

Q1. Olga, let’s start from the very beginning. Who or what brought you to Toastmasters?  When did that happen?

In fact, Valeria, it was Brian Tracy, I was reading  one of his books on leadership where he mentioned Toastmasters International. I thought: “Wow, let’s try it”! But then I said to myself: “Forget it, it’s only in the States”. 

That was 7 years ago, by that time I did not know that Jerzy Gzula had already started Toastmasters in Poland. A year later again I read about Toastmasters in another personal development book – the same story: a strong recommendation to become a member, and another voice in my head saying: “How I wish I could be a Toastmaster”. Next year I read an article about Toastmasters in Europe, and then – 5 years ago I started searching on the Internet.  Well, maybe there is a club in Warsaw? Click, hurray, many clubs, so maybe closer – in Katowice? -Yes, Silesia Toastmasters. And then I had this moment of enlightenment and I asked myself the question: Can it also be found in Częstochowa? It’s hard to imagine the expression on my face when I realized the meetings had been held just round the corner. I thought: “No, this is not a coincidence, Toastmasters has come to me”. 

Q2. Brian Tracy was the one who introduced you to Toastmasters. And what made you stay in the community?

When I arrived at the meeting of Toastmasters Częstochowa, they were renting the second floor of a pub – now the club meets at the beautiful Palace of Weddings. I saw the sparks in the eyes of club members when they were speaking of their projects,  I overheard the discussions on their communication and how they could improve it, their vice president membership talked to me. I wanted to take the seat closest to the stage and to the Toastmaster of the evening, it was only later on that I learned  I had made a faux pas taking his seat, but I just wanted to enjoy it more, and suddenly I was not only the spectator but also the actor. So I joined. 

There were 12 people in the club with only one woman then.  Every Tuesday late in the evening I was enthusiastically describing our meetings to my husband and speaking of my male colleagues, and he only said mhm, But when I got the diploma for the best toast of the evening, the red light started shining in Piter’s head,  and he decided to check it, and then he got the bug as well. Now my husband has been in the club for nearly 5 years as well. 🙂

Q3. Amazing! 😉 Tell us more HOW and especially WHY you grew to the Division Director position? What was your journey and what kept you on track?

My leadership story started with becoming a club secretary,  I had imagined I would only take notes but my club president Paweł Górniak announced to everybody: “Dear members, Olga is going to be my right and left hand simultaneously”. 

I felt proud and awaited challenges, you know this feeling, don’t you? Very soon my club members  motivated me to take the president’s role. Before my decision I asked them: Are you going to support me? Are we going to be one team?

We were all clear about what we wanted to achieve: growth, joy and better communication. It was like going  on a space mission with highly motivated cool people around you, after one year I felt I could start my own business because I had learned so much in the safety of my club. You know you learn to listen to people, you learn to ask questions, you learn to set goals. Soon you also learn to decide and take up new tasks with courage, next you learn to face difficulty and to bounce back, you become better organized, and you gain experience for life. To sum up the time, if you really want to grow as a leader, become the club president.

My Area Director Katarzyna Halama encouraged me to take the next step – Area Director. That was a challenge, our Area clubs were 80 kilometers away, visiting them was a time and space adventure. But you can do anything if you have your team, so together with my club members we would set off to visit other clubs once every month, a car full of dreamers speaking out their goals, needs and hopes. I never imagined doing club visits could be so much fun. They were doing club ambassador program, I was learning to be the strategic help for my Area, my Division Director Anna Mazur always had a good word for my initiatives, never on my entire journey as a leader in Toastmasters would I feel lonely and without any support. The moment you realise something is too much for you and you say it out loud, there will be people willing to take over.

It’s like with geese flying together, the leading one gives the responsibility to another goose, and noone gets exhausted or burned out. We learn it on every meeting, when the toastmaster hands over the stage to other members, leaders need to learn the lesson.  

To feel fulfilled, you need not only to split your time between work and family but also do something for the community. During the European Toastmasters conference Rebirth  in Athens, Andrei Popescu honoured me the title Area Director of the Year. 

It was the moment of fame not for me but for the whole team of highly motivated, supportive and charismatic Toastmasters beside me. Beata Wita gave me a warm hug and we all shared tears of joy. A natural next step was to become a Division Director.

Q4. Being recognized as the Division Director of the Year – what are your best initiatives or your best practices?

My best practice #1 is listen to your people, really hear them and let it sink in you, think about it, understand and respect their needs, their worries and ambitions. And be with them when they need you.  That’s the key point, without it we would never achieve much.

#2. I was blessed to work with amazing people, each of them taught me something. My Area Directors are true stars.  Monika Szlachta – taking up the impossible tasks and doing them as if it was making breakfast for family – a moment and she invites you: “Come and enjoy”!  Zain Ul Abidin – taught me that success means massive action, he opened 4 new clubs in Wrocław over that year. Paulina Szot showed me how to listen to people and ask even more questions to get to the root of any problem. Tomasz Gambuś changed my idea of the world of corporate clubs, and he broke the spell: “Nothing can be done about corpo clubs.” He has a vision and a plan that follows. Roman Stekla – he taught me that we should serve first, and then shine, if needed. And Ryszard Kosowicz gave us all the energy and showed we can improve our communication between clubs, areas and around the whole Division. Due to his initiative, news and ideas spread quickly around the South of Poland. Piotr Woźniak took care of our money, and Sławomir Hartman showed me how to fly on the wings of your ambition.

We often had this thought: If you can do it, I can do it too. In this way altogether we opened 7 new clubs in our Division in year 2018/2019. It was a dream team, so the title Division Director of the Year is equally theirs and mine.

If you admire your people, give them space to act even if it means somebody makes mistakes, and you build the spirit of trust and a common goal, the ball rolls with great impact. To illustrate: we had two fabulous Division Conferences: Krakmove in Cracow and On the Top in Szczyrk.  Division D is wide and long and when we get together, it is a real feast, we learn and enjoy each other’s company for 3 days. It is always a way to charge up your batteries, but it is also a big challenge for the organizers. Paulina, Tomasz and Roman created teams to organize the conferences and again gave them space to be creative, to be themselves and to grow.

Good practice #3trust over control. We can be our best selves when we feel free to act our way and we take the responsibility for what we do. Why would I control you, when I can trust you? The longer you lead the more you understand that the outburst of real creativity can only happen in the atmosphere of freedom, respect and trust. When you control too much, your vision gets narrow, and you think you know the only right way, when in reality you only know your piece truth. You may become cruel to people, lose flexibility, and lose the support of your team. On the other hand, when you rely on your team members, they develop self-control which serves them and is completely their own. So better trust than control.

Q5. What were the biggest challenges you had to cope with as the Division Director? Were there any initiatives undertaken by you and your team that didn’t work out? 

As a team my Division Council had to learn to cooperate. I was chosen the Division Director, went on summer holidays by the end of June and couldn’t sleep asking myself the question: How can you bring these cool leaders together and start our year with power? Then the idea crossed my head: organise a bootcamp for us, so we could get to know each other, build bonds and set common goals. Integrity means impact and we gained both.

Conflict is inevitable, and there were many situations when the fire of anger, misunderstanding or counter ambitions blasted. I learned to react quickly, and listen long and well before asking “What solution do you suggest?”, before applying any remedy.

Q6. You are now holding a position in the District Alignment Committee, right? What are your responsibilities and why did you accept this position? 

Our District Director Gabriela Roivainen has asked me to lead the District Alignment Committee this year. Technically it means checking whether there is a need for the creation of any new area,  whether we should change something in the existing geographical divisions around our district; practically it means listening to people, so again, I have a chance to practice the number one skill of a  leader – listening. I am organizing the alignment team right now and together we will play the big ear – listening to the needs of clubs, areas, divisions, checking the perspectives for new clubs arising in our 5 counties and making the final decisions to serve all members well.

If we introduce any changes, it will be for the benefit of the local Toastmaster communities, for more leadership roles e.g. area directors,  for the benefit of better communication between areas and clubs, more chances to take part in competitions,…the list is really long. My personal drive for being the chair of the committee is very simple: I love being part of a team and I can lead a team. My mantra is “be interested not interesting”. It will help this time as well” 🙂

Q7. Olga, did you have any mentors during your TM journey? Can you share the names and the value these relationships brought you? 

I have had a lot of mentors. My first mentor was Emil Barski, who was the President of Toastmasters Częstochowa in 2015. He made me believe I have leadership skills, without him I wouldn’t find the courage to become a president myself. 

My personal mentor is my husband Piotr Woźniak. He has evaluated me countless times, when I was preparing for any speech or contest or workshop. The moment you learn that your mentor is not judging you but assisting you on your journey of growth, you can really benefit from mentorship. 

My mentor-guard is Justyna Walenta-Mazurkiewicz, always ready to listen to me and build up my hope when the going gets tough.

Klaus Roth, a German Toastmaster, whom most people in Poland know from Efect Toastmasters conferences, always gave us new knowledge, new tools for speakers and new hope for future success; Klaus was an Area Director the same year as me, so we could share ideas, suggest solutions and just keep our fingers crossed for each other.

Sometimes you get inspired because of one sentence someone says to you. After my loss as a contestant at a Division Hot Topic Question Contest, Bea Bincze came to me and said: “Don’t give up – I see a leader in you”! These words still sound in my ears and they have helped me ever since.

Lukas Liebich broke my perspective on how you can build a new club since he has opened so many clubs. During the Unbox Yourself conference he shared with me the story of how he has become a different person enjoying his growth and serving the Czech Toastmasters’ community with all his mighty power.

Business likes action and making decisions, ambitious Toastmasters like it too – I learned it from Piotr Chimko. 

And our current District Director Gabriela Roivainen helped me discover my leadership style, supported me when I was a Division Director,  with her I could really set new goals for my communication and negotiation skills. 

There are many more fantastic leaders and speakers, whom I value for their influence on my life and for whom I am really grateful.  Look around, I’m sure you also have them, your personal influencers.

So as you see, even when you get higher on the leadership ladder in Toastmasters, there are always people who can support and inspire you. Ask for help and you will get it. We are all  emphatic, we want to support each other and being a mentor, inspiring people and observing their growth is for me the most precious value in our organisation.

Q8. Fantastic! And now the last (but not least) question, Olga. Will we see you in any other District leadership position soon? Any TM related plans for the next year?

Well, Valeria, when I was building the super power Division D Council Team, I asked everyone: “What do you want to learn and how can you serve our community well”?

Now I would like to work again for our District to serve clubs and to learn with the best leaders in District 108 🙂

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