PRLS History

In 1993, successive District 5240 Governors noticed an increasing unwillingness to step into club and District leadership positions. An informal survey revealed there was a large decrease in numbers of those who had received basic leadership instruction as members of the U.S. Armed Forces. An increasing percentage of Rotarians, therefore, lacked even the basic leadership skills formerly learned by all adult males over the age of 18 in basic training, boot camp or OCS.
Our Rotarians were becoming unwilling to accept positions of responsibility because those leadership skills were nowhere in their past experience. Neither was instruction in such skills generally available in the communities in which the majority of our Rotarians lived and worked. First conceived by District Governor Jim Johannsen in 1992, the project was started under the director of then DGND James V. Hawkins and was introduced at the April 1993 District 5240 Assembly in Bakersfield. Three of the then-nine modules were taught that first day with 163 Rotarians in attendance.
PRLS' goal was and is to provide a set of training sessions wherein current and future Rotary leaders could learn to become more effective in their leadership roles. The program is designed to encourage those whose goals include a basic comfort with a leadership position. Every subject but one is intended to be of benefit either inside or outside Rotary. We know, of course, that we don't get instant leaders out of these hours of classroom instruction. But we know also that something is better than nothing, and that we can at least introduce leadership skills to incoming Rotary leaders before they pick up the gavel every July 1st.
PRLS doesn't teach incoming leaders everything there is to know about their new role. But it does lead them on to investigate other sources of information which might, in turn, prepare them even more to carry off their leadership jobs with more efficiency, charisma and aplomb.
Since that beginning, over six hundred Rotarians have attended at least one four-hour session, with 1072 (as of 1/16/05) having completed the entire basic course. Graduates of the basic PRLS sessions receive a diploma and a Rotary pin with a pearl center. Their names are published in the newsletter for PRLS graduates, "The Strand" and on the PRLS website.
The basic PRLS program now includes seven hours of classroom instruction spread among:
  • Introduction to PRLS
  • Public Speaking
  • Leadership Tools For Success
  • Leading a Meeting
  • Communications
In addition to the basic subjects, there are five units in a Master PRLS program:
  • A full day of extemporaneous public speaking exercises. (MPRLS 1)
  • A full day of preplanned public speaking exercises. (MPRLS 2)
  • A full day of committee facilitation skills and group goal setting exercises. (MPRLS 3)
  • A full day of Situational Leadership concept identification, understanding and skills development. (MPRLS 4)
  • A full day of business model planning and project management skills development and exercises. (MPRLS 5)
As of January, 2005, there are 258 Master PRLS graduates, each of whom has received a calligraphied diploma and a specially designed Rotary pin with a pearl center combined with a "Master" pendant.

The Bottom Line

Ten years of experience have resulted in the following:
  • The clubs with the most PRLS graduates are those who lead the district in nearly all categories of excellence: membership growth, foundation giving, initiation of new projects, growth in the availability of future leaders, attendance at the Assembly and Conference.
  • Attendance at the District Assembly has increased fifty percent.
  • Attendance at the District Conference has increased fifty percent.
  • There are more, better candidates for both club and district leadership positions.
  • The District Rotarians of the Year for the past seven years have all been Master PRLS graduates, BUT WITHOUT MAKING THAT A CRITERIA FOR SELECTION.
The program isn't perfect, and may never reach perfection. The instructors review their individual sessions after each presentation, making such changes and improvements as appear to be necessary. Considering, though, that most units have been given perhaps fifty times each, changes are now less drastic and much fewer in number.
Using the graduates for other Rotary purposes seems to energize each of them significantly. It means, among other things, that they step into immediate leadership roles before (in some cases) actually assuming club positions. And as PRLS instructors and members of the speaking teams they come to know quite a few other people around the District. This makes it easier to fund individual club international service projects, and to exchange information concerning programs and community projects.
It may be the fellowship of PRLS that causes it, but those who attend meet other people. We think that knowing more people from other clubs makes it easier to decide in favor of attending District events. Though we like to think that our Assembly and Conference attendance is way up because they're better prepared, publicized and presented, there is some reasonable supposition that it's the increased PRLS fellowship that causes the increases. We do not, of course, know that for sure.
Club leadership has improved drastically. Every sitting District Governor says that is apparent during the club visits just which presidents had been through PRLS.
We've noticed that goals and objectives are being identified earlier in the planning cycle for most of those incoming presidents who are PRLS graduates.
The Mid-Term Seminars, led by Master PRLS 3 graduates, receive rave reviews from everyone any of us have spoken to since we first held them in January, 1996. Without Master PRLS 3, these seminars could not have been held.
Apart from the general personal value of PRLS leadership instruction, we're able to identify potential leaders a lot sooner than ever before. I think it's safe to say that those who go to the effort of attending PRLS are those most interested in Rotary, and are therefore those who would probably rise to leadership positions without the PRLS instruction. The fact remains, though, that they appear to have gotten something out of the instruction, and the clubs appear to be better led. It might be too much of a jump to assume that PRLS is the proximate cause, but we've done nothing else new that would account for the changes we've seen.