The Toughest Role Play in PETS Training – Engagement Part III





Back when dinosaurs walked the earth I used to serve the District by training club President- Elects.  My thinking for the decade that I volunteered to do it was that Rotary Club Presidents have all of the juice, so if you could get one or two of them “turned on” in PETS training you had a shot of really making a difference in the world.  Consequently we developed a lot of great training materials.  The funniest part of our training each year was to do a variety of role plays where we intentionally put our club presidents in hypothetical uncomfortable situations they might encounter during their year.  They all involved interpersonal conflicts that required a clear head, some wisdom, and great management skills, to navigate successfully.

We would either ask for volunteers or randomly pick our victims …er….PEs, who would act out parts in a variety of scenarios.  Each one had a carefully chosen teachable moment. For example, we asked one PE to play the role of club president and another to be a member who is bothered by another club member who tends to shout out wisecracks during the meeting “which isn’t appropriate for Rotary.”  The club president, mindful that the laughter is great for the meeting, must meet the aggrieved member’s objection.  Teachable moment:  It’s one thing to say “is it fun?” is the fifth part of our 4-Way Test, but club presidents have to know where to draw the line.  On other occasions we asked a PE to play the part of a speaker who refuses to stop speaking at the end of the meeting while the club president is trying to ring the bell on time.  We asked a Club President who needed to get a task accomplished to confront the Rotarian who didn’t complete the task, only to find the slacker was in danger of losing his or her job, or worse, had a sick child or parent to deal with.

The trainers would “coach” our role players by whispering suggestions that were either funny, or made the role play more meaningful.  Usually these unrehearsed skits ended up with the class in total pandemonium.  We could always count on the PEs coming up with some truly funny lines, and combining the laughter with teachable moments was a worthy endeavor for all concerned.  (Note:  The role players all got to choose a bottle of wine as their reward for humiliating themselves to benefit the class.)

I always thought the toughest role play was one where the Club President needed to get an important task done during his or her Presidential year, and appointed a very capable club committee chair to get the task done.  The club president tasked the Chair with engaging a committee of club members to accomplish the task.  The role play takes place when the Club President finds out that the task was accomplished perfectly, on time, and in line with all expectations, but the Committee Chair did all the work by his or her self.  The Committee Chair who did the work is congratulated by everyone in the club, but the Club President knows that Rotarians in the club were not engaged in the work.  In the role play the Club President is asked to review with the Committee Chair that getting the work done was not the only goal they were trying to accomplish.


I can tell you that the PE’s who played the part of the Type A’s had a ball with this one.  They acted shocked and surprised that the Club President wasn’t thrilled with their work.  After all, it was great work!  But our poor PE’s that had to play the Club Presidents were always stuck.  And why not?  What DO you say to the Type A who does all the work by his or herself, and does high quality work to boot?  In fact, the context for the conversation was that every other time the Club President delegated work in the club it resulted in disappointment that the work didn’t get done.  In this situation, the work finally DOES get done, but in a way that doesn’t accomplish the President’s goal of engaging all of the members.

Hmmm.  Since we’ve been tackling the issue of engagement and participation versus attendance, I thought I would throw this thought experiment your way.  What would you say to the Committee Chair who is accomplishing the goals, but is doing it “the wrong way?”  Is there even such a thing as “a wrong way” to get our tasks accomplished in Rotary considering that we are a volunteer organization that is always challenged to get anything done at all?   In a world of Rotarians who are volunteers is the Club President simply expecting too much in this scenario?  Should they count a completed task as a victory, no matter who does the work?  In the context of being smart enough to “fight the battles worth fighting,” is risking a disagreement over something that was essentially a victory worth it?

Just my opinion (it is my blog after all) but my answer is yes, no, no, and yes.  Engagement is everything if you want to build a vibrant Rotary club.  Type A’s doing all of the work don’t allow anyone else to participate.  The more club members who actually do the work, the healthier the Rotary club.  It IS worth risking that a task isn’t completed if the “cost” is Rotarians who were not asked to participate.  This discussion means that a Club President believes that engagement is MORE important than a completed task when it comes to a vibrant Rotary club.  And THAT my friends, is asking a heck of a lot of any Club President. NOTE:  There are ways of managing around this so it isn’t a win-lose situation.  All of you personal coaches and management consultant types…please take a deep breath.  I’m trying to make a point here!

Before finishing up,  I have to share one of my favorite clips about management style.  Tom Hanks is brilliant in this scene from “A League of their Own.”  Warning…there is some adult language in this PG rated clip.

One other note worth mentioning here.  Accomplished Type A’s who get things done by doing the work themselves are not used to delegating work, and often don’t know how to do it effectively.  For these overachievers, who are used to earning accolades for “making things happen,” learning to be an effective delegator might be the next big step in their personal and professional growth.  Delegating is a learned skill that needs to be practiced and Rotary is the perfect place to do it.  The irony here is that in this situation the Type A doesn’t see the need to change.  They resent being told that their good work isn’t good enough.  And they will often accuse anyone who interferes with their “do it yourself” behavior as being a “micro-manager.”   In short, while personal and professional growth might be important, they might not agree that it applies to someone who is “the only one getting anything done around here.”  YIKES!

Do you disagree?  Is completing the task more important than engaging the club?  Give it some thought and let me know your thoughts.