Jerrod Guddat is a convert of 20 years. Early in his conversion, he served a full-time mission in Mexico and for a time was a member longer in Mexico than in his home town. Having a penchant for administrative support roles in the Church, Jerrod has served as elders quorum secretary, bishop’s executive secretary, ward clerk, counselor to three bishops, stake high councilor, and has served for the last five years as an executive secretary to two different stake presidents. The following are seven lessons learned from that service to church leaders.
1. Remembering this is a lay-ministry.
We come from all walks of life with different skills, talents, abilities, understandings, and preferences. There is no one right way to administer in the Church, but there are “good, better, and best” ways to administer. We first need to be understanding of our different approaches to leadership, build relationships with those with whom we serve, and then work towards improving leadership qualities (or at least tolerating leadership idiosyncrasies). Elder Oaks’ article on Sins and Mistakes is informative in this context. In our effort to be patient with preferences, or even inadequacies, we need to remember that when things go wrong we shouldn’t attribute to sin that which can adequately be attributed to a simple mistake.
2. Character and competence matter.
Character, or our integrity and motives, are only part of our ability to lead effectively. Competence, or our capabilities and ability to deliver results, also matter. An honest leader, who never follows through breeds mistrust. It isn’t enough to be honest or have good intentions. An effective leader needs to recognize that they need to improve their skills and follow through on commitments in addition to demonstrating integrity. Leading Saints’s article on the evils of unnecessary sacrifice by well-intentioned leaders is informative regarding this point.
3. When the presider speaks the conversation ends.
When a bishop, stake president, or auxiliary leader speaks definitively on a subject in a meeting in which they preside the conversation typically ends. Church leaders need to understand the impact their calling and presence has on a conversation and they need to learn to use effective skills of collaboration to foster and not stifle the council process.
4. Going to the handbook doesn’t need to feel like an insecurity.
Too often we rely on personal experience to guide our thoughts on church policy, procedures, and practices. We should not fear to ask “what does the handbook say on that?” We shouldn’t hide behind our own “unwritten order of things” as President Packer once said.
5. More than just putting people together.
Counseling is often confused with “counseling.” Getting a group of people together is not good enough. Leaders actually need to counsel with church auxiliary leaders and members. In the recently released Council of Fifty Minutes we learn what Joseph Smith taught about the council process:
“The reason why men always failed to establish important measures was because in their organization they never could agree to disagree long enough to select the pure gold from the dross by the process of investigation.”
Boom! Arguably the best quote of all time on the council process. With the Prophet’s quote in mind, consider the following statements and the degree to which you agree with them:
- I invite input from and sincerely listen to others.
- I focus on asking the right questions.
- I put the interests of the council above my personal interests.
- I involve others across the ward/stake in my stewardship.
Remember that just because you got the council together doesn’t automatically mean counseling will occur. It takes effort and practice.
6. Letting a counselor conduct meetings.
While I have rarely seen it done, allowing a counselor to conduct a leadership meeting allows the presider to be fully engaged in the conversation and revelatory counsel process without the worry or overhead of moving a meeting along. If a leader chooses to do this on occasion, they need to establish clear expectations for the role and span of authority their counselor has to run the meeting, but when done effectively, it can be a great method of conducting a meeting.
7. Anticipating a leader’s needs.
Those serving in support roles can best serve church leaders by anticipating their needs. A bottle of water for a meeting, scheduling an interview before a leader remembers to ask for it, preparing an agenda and reviewing that agenda before the scheduled meeting, etc. are often the best things to help a leader focus on ministering rather than being weighed down with administering.
By focusing on these 7 ideas, we can learn to counsel with our fellow members successfully, even when we are not the one presiding. With Moroni we can say, “ I seek not for the honor of the world, but for the glory of my God.”