Handbook 2, Chapter 3: Leadership

0-a-handbook-2-120x155_000_CoverThe LDS Church emphasizes leadership like no other. Because of the requirement that the Church be run by lay leaders who are frequently changed, leadership is a regular part of the curriculum, especially in priesthood classes. And, despite these efforts, the quality of leadership often varies. Inspiration, it seems, can only make up for  a portion of a lack of leadership skill and talent.

Still, I think many Church members, and a lot of Church culture is tied up in expectations of leadership and the connection of leadership to spirituality. I don’t know about other active priesthood holders, but I’ve had an interview with a priesthood leader solely to discuss why I hadn’t yet been called into a significant leadership position (as if there were something I could do about it).

Given all this, it is no surprise that the Handbook has a chapter on leadership. In fact, I found so much to comment on that this may be a very long post. Here are my comments on this chapter:

  1. (section 3.1) The first of the four sections of the chapter is titled “The Savior’s Way of Leading.” (which begs the question, are other ways of leading inadequate? Is the Savior’s way the only righteous way?) It also talks about “the pattern” of leadership, which is “being a faithful disciple in order to help others become faithful disciples.” This pattern is “the purpose behind every calling in the Church.” While I have no quibble with this pattern, I think that too often our ideas about what leaders should do are rigid, and we don’t recognize that sometimes one leader doesn’t do what others have done. In my view leadership is an art, not a science.
  2. (section 3.2.1 and 3.2.2)  The second section discusses principles of leadership, and in the process provides a lot of food for thought. While I like the emphasis on preparation in 3.2.1., I’m most fascinated by the emphasis on councils, which IIRC is fairly recent (dating, I believe from Elder Ballard’s April 1994 conference address “Counseling with Our Councils” and his 1997 book of the same name). From what I can tell, there has been a trend in the business world in this same direction — toward more collaborative decision making and away from autocratic models. But I wonder what influences led to the Church’s move in this direction.
  3. (section 3.2.3) I think this section is among the most difficult to follow of the handbook. The idea that leaders must “care about each person, not just about managing and organization” is, IMO, very difficult, because caring about individuals leads to conflicts with caring about other individuals and with caring about the organization as a whole. To be blunt, it is simply easier to implement a program and require individuals to accomplish tasks than it is to actually care about those individuals and work with them. I’ve seen as much in my own ward, and I’m sure it happens elsewhere also.
  4. (section 3.2.3) This section also brings up the idea that we must be friends with those in the Church. Leaders, in particular, are told to establish “sincere friendship with [those they minister to].” Is this even possible? What does the handbook mean by “friendship” here? I’ve always thought that friendship was a two-way street. While it can often be started by one person (someone has to take the first step), it requires effort on both sides. The handbook here seems to suggest at least that leaders must take the first step. But I have a hard time believing that anyone can do more than take the first few steps without reciprocation.
  5. (section 3.3.2) I find the idea that councils lead to unity useful and a great explanation for the recent emphasis on councils. But the handbook goes beyond this, suggesting that unity is necessary for guidance from the Holy Ghost. What isn’t addressed, and is probably difficult for many Church members is how to have unity while accommodating diversity.
  6. (section 3.3.3) The handbook also addresses developing leaders but cautions against “overburdening the faithful few.” While the burden has regularly been mentioned in conference, I’m not sure that many solutions have reached the local level. One of the solutions is contained in the handbook’s counsel that “members do not need to be highly experienced before serving,” but doesn’t really address how to balance calling the less competent with the burden on the “faithful few.” [The result of this section is the advice that presiding officers “look for ways to give service opportunities to new members, [returning inactive members], and young single adults.” I’m a little surprised at the YSA part, to be honest. Are YSAs overlooked for callings in many wards?]
  7. The rest of section 3.3 includes leadership guidance; very sound advice. But I have to wonder if many parts of the Church actually follow this guidance. How often do leaders keep written records of assignments and check on progress periodically (3.3.4)? When was the last time you went to a ward or stake meeting with a written agenda distributed before the meeting (3.3.7)? Do new leaders receive orientations for their callings ever (3.3.9)? I’m sure there are some units that do these things, but I suspect that they are unusual.
  8. This chapter ends (section 3.4) with an overview of “Leadership Purposes”–really not very different from the mission of the Church itself. What stands out when I read this is the focus on the progression of each individual member. Local leaders’ focus then is on helping individuals and families progress in the gospel. That, I think, is a difficult task, given our cultural emphasis on programs. But that is where the emphasis should be.

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18 comments for “Handbook 2, Chapter 3: Leadership

  1. ” Do new leaders receive orientations for their callings ever (3.3.9)? I’m sure there are some units that do these things, but I suspect that they are unusual.”

    All of this happens regularly in the Wards of the Stake I live in. Our stake is very big on orienting new ward leaders, and teaching ward-level leaders to orient those under their direction.

  2. Kent, about your point 3: The ward council meetings I’ve attended have spent a great deal of time talking about specific people. When my wife was in a stake YW presidency, she was surprised by how much even the stake-level auxiliaries worried about specific people. I’m not sure where your skepticism on this point is coming from.

    About point 7: I went to a ward council meeting this morning with a printed agenda distributed before the meaning.

  3. “I’m a little surprised at the YSA part, to be honest. Are YSAs overlooked for callings in many wards?”

    In a word, yes. I’m 29, single, RM. I have lived in 3 wards in 3 different stakes (all in the SF Bay Area). Prior to my mission, I held a series of substantial callings at the ward and stake level. The only substantial calling I have held since my mission was a 6-month stint as nursery leader. For the first year after my mission I had no calling. I have lived in my ward now for almost 6 months and I have not yet received a calling. I do frequently substitute teach in Primary and Sunday School, so I’m doing something, but it’s on an informal level. My married friends, who are about the same age as me, serve in auxiliary presidencies or have teaching callings. My single peers are hymnal-passer-outers.

  4. I know some leaders who don’t like that there’s a YSA ward, because it pulls talented searving YSA’s from their ward into the YSA ward. Still given that, I bet that leaders would be more familiar with the more active YSA’s and not think about the others when thinking about callings. I suspect a major motivation for calling out YSA’s is to prevent ward hopping. Ward hoppers fall between the cracks, and it’s a little more difficult to kind of go to a bunch of wards, if your fullfilling responsibilities in your ward.

  5. “When was the last time you went to a ward or stake meeting with a written agenda distributed before the meeting (3.3.7)? Do new leaders receive orientations for their callings ever (3.3.9)?”

    I was Primary president for over 4 years. Every ward council mtg had a written agenda, sometimes emailed the day before so you could think about the issues ahead of time and sometimes with an email follow-up on specific assignments. Our presidency mtgs always had a written agenda.

    About orientation, when I was released, my first instinct was to teach the new president how to be a Primary president, but got the strong impression that it wasn’t my job. My job was to inform her about the current state of the Primary – teachers, children, how I chose to do things, etc. It was VERY hard watching her make a ton of changes, very quickly, after I was released, but she has a different personality and different ideas on the purpose of Primary, so it’s to be expected that she wouldn’t run Primary as I did. I suppose if it’s anyone’s job to teach “how” to be a Primary president, it would be the stake Primary presidency, don’t you think?

    Sometimes it seems that an apprentice system would work better, but then it doesn’t allow for individuals to play to their strengths and make changes if they see a problem.

  6. I had the same question as you Kent about the Lord’s style of leadership and whether or not that is the ONLY righteous style of leadership. My questioning comes from the fact that his ‘style’ in mortality seems vastly different from his ‘style’ both before and after it; and makes me think that the role he was fulfilling as Redeemer mandated a different pattern than maybe we should emulate.

    For instance, take the example of extending callings. One of my bishop’s styles was to take the names given him by the auxiliary presidents and think and pray over each one, usually getting back to the person the next week with an answer. For his successor bishop, it was rare that he didn’t give approval on the spot for callings when names were given by the aux. presidencies, almost as if no thought were required. Which one is the ‘righteous’ approach? To trust your aux presidency’s inspiration and the fact no negative inspiration came with the name? or to diligently implore the Lord on your own and occasionally reject the inspiration of the other ward leaders? I can’t say for certain that one is better than the other, or that one is the ‘more righteous’ way.

  7. Jonathan (2) wrote: “The ward council meetings I’ve attended have spent a great deal of time talking about specific people.”

    Oh, I’m sure they do. That isn’t exactly what I mean. I’m more worried about situations where there is a conflict between the individual and the tasks needed to accomplish some program. For example, is the Teacher’s Quorum advisor more worried about the participation of the teachers in the scout camp fund-raiser or in the trouble the teachers are having at school?

    Unfortunately, not all leaders recognize the difference between making Church programs run and helping Church members progress.

  8. Jax (6), that’s my point exactly. I can’t see any reason to think that one style is better than another — although I suspect that one might work better with me (and perhaps some others) than another, but not work well with others who aren’t like me.

    I think the art in leadership is partially in figuring out how to lead different types of people with different motivations and different personalities.

  9. “I think the art in leadership is partially in figuring out how to lead different types of people with different motivations and different personalities.”

    Bingo. And it is a big part IMO.

  10. 1979 – New Emphasis on Church Councils

    I think you could go back to the council in heaven and see councils have always played a role. Even Nephi and his brothers counseled together how to get the plates. We even have a town being named after one! (Council Bluffs)

    I think they’ve always been there. Maybe the degree to which we try to get more people to involve themselves in them has changed.

  11. Brilliant Post. Two people mentioned talking about people in meetings. I have seen councils with a lot of talking with no plan of action following.

  12. “members do not need to be highly experienced before serving,” but doesn’t really address how to balance calling the less competent with the burden on the “faithful few.”

    In my opinion, this is actually one of the hardest things. And it’s not just a matter of making the ward run well for the long-time members. At least where we are, new converts get significant value out of the Gospel Principles class, so ideally we don’t want them in a calling that pulls them out of the class. But that cuts down significantly on the number of callings (especially leadership/otherwise-burdensome callings) that burden the “faithful few.” Sadly, I don’t have any solution to proffer.

  13. Chris (10), yes, I also think that councils have always been a part of how things were supposed to work. However, I don’t think Mormon culture always recognized how they were supposed to work, nor did they get the emphasis they have had since the mid 1990s (despite the General Conference talk you reference).

    An example of what I mean can be seen by searching for the term “ward council” in General Conference talks (I used the General Conference Corpus). The term wasn’t used before the 1960s, and was only used 8 times total in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s it was used 19 times and 21 times since 2000.

    Yes, councils were always part of what was supposed to happen. But they got an increased emphasis in the 1990s.

  14. I wanted to comment on the friendships between leaders and members.

    The last few bishops we have had in my ward have been young and in my age group (late twenties, early thirties). I have found once they were called as bishop there was a marked shift in their attitude towards socializing. I know that it takes alot of time and effort to be bishop but it has felt alienating. From talking to one of the bishop’s wives I was told that they were instructed to do this by the SP.

    It is a delicate balance but it has seemed elitest and that they are too “good” to hang around with the common folk. I’m glad that developing real friendship is being emphasized.

  15. Michelle, that situation is odd — something I haven’t seen among the bishops I’ve known since reaching adulthood.

    Perhaps its from some idea that to be a leader you can’t be friends with those you lead because they won’t respect you. IMO that is an outdated and militaristic view. (In military situations there may well be reasons why that view is good. I don’t think it applies to civilian leadership, however.)

    Good luck working through that.

  16. I’m glad that my situation is not the norm. I was surprised when the bishop’s wife told me that they were instructed by SP to not be involved in too much socializing.

    I wasn’t close to him before he was bishop but now that he is, there is no hope of ever being close. Other factors are involved in a friendship, of course. But you know when you get a certain vibe.

    I do think he is a good bishop, he has helped me alot in that capacity. I would call him a friend. But he would rather play golf with the SP’s son than hang out with members of his own ward. Its subtle but when you’ve been around long enough you begin to see these things.

  17. When I was a bishop in my 30s, I admit I became a little more reluctant to socialize as friends with most ward members, but tried to be as friendly as I could. I never got any direction from other leaders to do that, however. It was just more important to me that ward members could feel comfortable to discuss the sensitive issues that they wanted to discuss with me as their bishop. For example, if I was regularly doing things or was chummy with a guy in the ward, I was concerned that the relationship could distract from what he needed specifically from a bishop (as in the need for confession), or that if his wife had an issue with him or the relationship, that she might be reluctant to discuss it with me.

    Although every situation and ward is different, I think that was the right call for me and the situations I later dealt with. Perhaps that particular stake president has had to deal with some of those issues and provided that counsel. For some, of course, the social relationship might make the bishop more approachable.

  18. Dub that is a fascinating viewpoint, and one I hadn’t though of before. It clearly explains the motivation behind the actions of the SP Michelle is talking about, although I’m not quite sure it should be universal counsel as that SP made it.

    The last thing any Bishop or SP would want to do is have something get in the way of members seeking counsel from priesthood leaders. I would hope that friendships wouldn’t get in the way, but I do realize that it is possible.

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