The 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:
- (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.
- (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.
- (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.
- (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.
- (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.
- (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?]
- 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.
- 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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