Barry Rassin’s speech to the International Assembly was about Inspiration. And it worked, at least for me! I frankly had despaired of ever hearing such a speech again from a RI President. He said what to me is obvious: that leadership’s first duty is to inspire and motivate Rotarians, to touch their hearts and minds with the zeal of the Rotary Movement. He reminded all of Rotary of who we are as Rotarians, and why we join together under the banner of Service Above Self.
It was 2013, I think, when RIP Ron Burton came to my town. I was very excited, and promoted the event as forcefully as I could to my Clubmates and any other local Rotarian who would listen. I had read up on Ron, and, more importantly, read some of his speeches, so I was confident it would be an inspirational night, one that would motivate more Members to become excited Rotarians.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. His speech was devoted to the promotion of and solicitation for The Rotary Foundation. Perhaps it was my District’s leadership who failed to understand what we needed that night and refrained from advising Ron. Perhaps Ron was unused to speaking to a backwater group of Rotarians who didn’t value TRF as highly as he obviously did. Whatever the cause, that night was a disappointment that started me on the path I follow today. When given one of the few opportunities we get in southern West Virginia to hear from one of leadership’s big guns, the same fixation with TRF and the lack of addressing the Rotarian soul was the rule. I came to be a ContraRotarian who didn’t trust leadership or where they were taking us.
Prior to this, I had been noticing the decline in what I believed to be the primary responsibility of leadership in any organization, but particularly one made up of volunteers dedicated to service: inspiration and motivation. Part of this was due to the leadership in my small and poor District, but it was something I also felt as I traveled the internet in my weekly quest to fill my Club’s little newsletter with copy that would encourage our Members. It was becoming harder to find these pieces, though there were some bright spots that kept me excited: Innovate Rotary! by Greg Krauska; Ken Solow’s Ready, Aim, Fire Rotary Blog; John Borst’s 5550opinions; Jim Henry’s Retention Central; The Rotarian Economist by Quentin Wodon; Brent Rosenthal’s writings; and anything by Cliff Dochterman.
So, when I saw Barry Rassin’s speech to the assembled incoming Governors where he announced his theme, Be The Inspiration, I was totally thrilled! I have waited for someone in leadership to recognize the need and so clearly put it on the front burner. There was the vision and understanding a President of Rotary should have. Here is finally someone at the top who gets what is most important to Rotary: “awakening the souls of Rotarians with the longing for a better world — and the knowledge, deep and true, that they can create it.” Everything else follows from this direction. If we fail at this, our beloved Movement is doomed.
There is much in his speech that bears repeating. “… if you want to build a better world, you have to awaken the souls of your Rotarians — to their own ability, and their own potential, and to the longing inside each and every one of us.” While nearly all the people who join Rotary have some degree of commitment to service, this is something that needs constant development and reinforcement. Implicit in this statement is the true purpose of Rotary, a better world, and the true value of a Rotarian, an enlightened and empowered person. If every District Governor-Elect took this one sentence to heart and practiced it daily during their year, the world of Rotary would be transformed.
“I will ask you to be inspired by our motto of Service Above Self, and to inspire others to action through Rotary. I will ask you to inspire with your words and with your deeds, doing what we need to do today to build a Rotary that will be stronger tomorrow — stronger when we leave it than it was when we came.” I have never heard a better admonishment to a class of Governors. Of course, it is something that anyone who aspires to any leadership role in Rotary should practice as well, from Club Board Members to RI Board Members. Every Club President should use this as the guide to define their role at every meeting.
“We are a membership organization. And if we want to be able to serve, if we want to succeed in our goals, we have to take care of our members.” Seems obvious, but when has this been recently stressed? Barry also stated the importance of “… ensuring that Rotary continues to provide the best possible experience to its members.” We are so conditioned to focus on service to the outside community that we have often neglected our own community. Does Club leadership actively worry about how each of their Members are best served? Particularly in larger Clubs, this is a difficult task, and the lack of retention is directly connected to this failure.
The word “change” figures notably in his speech, though not so much in the manner we normally hear it in the current Rotary World. Today, we are told that we must change our Clubs’ structure to accommodate a changing world. RIPE Barry does acknowledge that sort of change may be in order for some, but he talks about a much deeper form of change:
“Together, we see a world where people unite and take action to create lasting change — across the globe, in our communities, and in ourselves. In Rotary, we unite: because we know that we are far stronger together than we could ever be alone. … We work to create lasting change — change for the good, change that will endure long after our involvement has ended. Change across the globe, and in our communities — reaching out to those we will never meet, and those closest to our hearts. And change in ourselves — perhaps most important of all.”
His last sentence is for me the central point of the Rotary Movement. We work to change people by making them true Rotarians, then those enlightened humans work together to change the world they see. Some people may be born Rotarians, but for most of us, it is something that we have been fortunate enough to acquire. Some of us had Rotarian mentors who guided us, others grew into it through experiences encountered through Rotary events and projects.
As we look at our Clubs, we know which portion of Members have gotten it. In the end, isn’t the size of that portion that distinguishes the great Clubs? And as you participate at events above the Club level, you meet roomfuls of them. Isn’t that what we want our Clubs to be, a roomful of true Rotarians? Isn’t this important enough to not leave to chance? As leadership on any level, we have to work at changing our Members by inspiring and motivating them. As Rassin says “It’s your job to motivate them — and help them find their own way forward.”
“I want you to inspire in your clubs, your Rotarians, [with] that desire for something greater. The drive to do more, to be more, to create something that will live beyond each of us. … And if you want to build a better world, you have to awaken the souls of your Rotarians — to their own ability, and their own potential, and to the longing inside each and every one of us. … Begin by awakening the souls in your Rotarians the longing for a better world — and the knowledge, deep and true, that they can create it.”
Trying to inspire people is work. And it is a skill not all people possess equally. Yes, anyone can inspire another by something they do or say. But what Rassin is calling for is the conscious acceptance of this task and the deliberate effort to be inspirational. Many of us have experienced great inspirational and motivational speakers. Most of them may have had a talent for it but, have no doubt, that they worked at it with pronounced diligence. Barry was talking to a very large room full of the world’s incoming District Governors, people who are our closest leaders. They are being asked to see that inspiration is job one.
As these Governors do their Club visits, I pray that each one does so with a speech that is meant to inspire the Club’s Members with what it is to be a Rotarian, not just to be a donor to TRF. I hope that each one acts as an evangelist at a revival stirring the souls there, igniting the fire and passion that is at the core of Rotary. Explaining to each that “In Rotary, we unite: because we know that we are far stronger together than we could ever be alone.”
I hope that this speech is just the first that will be made throughout the coming year. It is a message that needs to be hammered home until every Rotarian leader embraces it.