Clayton Fulton is an Assistant City Manager in a suburb of Fort Worth Texas. He holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the Romney Institute of Public Service and Ethics at Brigham Young University with an emphasis in local government and financial analysis. He considers his calling to spend every day “serving others and providing value in their daily lives” and is born from his background of manual labor. His current calling is Assistant Director of Communications where he works to develop relationships with his local Stake and other leaders in the community. He has also served in Elders Quorum, Young Men, and Sunday School presidencies as president, counselor, and secretary. Most days Clayton is busy with the business of raising 5 children with his wife Kristi. Clayton and Kristi have both dedicated their lives to Public Service as she works in the local school district as a Speech Language Pathologist. Originally from South Jordan Utah, Clayton has lived in Texas since 2011 and is a lifelong member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. (To learn more about what a City Manager does, click here.)
Let me start by pointing out that I am a modern-day publican. I work for the City of Hurst, located just a few minutes outside Fort Worth Texas. My official position is Assistant City Manager where my primary duties are to annually draft a budget and establish a tax rate to support that budget. In a very real sense, I am the person responsible for recommending how much taxes to levy upon the citizens of Hurst. While this decision ultimately rests with the City Council, I understand how much influence I have upon this process and the end result. Just as in New Testament times I am very unpopular and with the current public sentiment towards the government some may believe that I have little to offer as it relates to leadership. I would offer that the perception of government lacking in leadership and ability is the exact reason why I believe it is important to offer my experiences with how I lead in the gospel the lessons learned from my professional experiences.
In the April 1984 General Conference, President Howard W. Hunter (then Elder) gave a talk on “The Pharisee and the Publican”.
In his talk, President Hunter discusses the parable of the Pharisee and the publican found in Luke 18. President Hunter states:
“Even though the subject matter was a Pharisee and a publican, it was not intended for Pharisees or publicans expressly, but for the benefit of the self-righteous who lack the virtues of humility and who use self-righteousness as a claim to exaltation. In this parable the Savior spoke few words, yet the lesson taught is clear”.
President Hunter goes on to contrast the difference between the self-righteousness of the Pharisee and the disdain for the publican. However, the publican has much to offer through his example of humility and his appeals to God for mercy and forgiveness of his sins. This is where the lesson becomes clear, in the New Testament the Pharisees rejected Christ yet there are many examples of the publicans readily accepting the Savior. Perhaps the greatest example is that of Matthew. If the Savior accepted a publican to His ministry and taught about the justification of a publican in His parables, perhaps this modern day publican can share some insights from his life regarding leadership in the Gospel.
Gospel of Leadership
Years ago, I was attending a single’s ward where the Bishop was personal friends with David Neeleman, the founder of Jet Blue. One Sabbath day the Bishop was giving a talked and referenced a story where David Neeleman was speaking at a business conference and one of the attendees approached him after his presentation and asked if he was a student of Stephen R. Covey. The response was simple yet profound, the attendee was told that both David and Stephen get their leadership principles from the same source. I still remember this story even though I heard it nearly twenty years ago. As I have grown in my personal and professional life I have gained a more profound appreciation of what was meant. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the Gospel of Leadership. From a young age we are given opportunities to lead and we are taught about leadership in the gospel. Then we go to school and learn about “real leadership” where we think we can motivate a person to a desired outcome. Trying to control the outcome was Satan’s plan. Christ’s plan was to show, lead, and teach how to live and allow us our agency to choose to follow.
John Maxwell, widely considered a leadership guru, has defined leadership as influence. I have yet to find a better definition. The gospel is pretty clear about how to exercise influence. The Doctrine & Covenants provides two of the most impactful lessons on leadership and influence I’ve had. Section 121 talks about how the problem of exercising control, dominion, or compulsion upon the souls of the children of men in any degree of unrighteousness results in the powers of heaven being withdrawn and leads to loss of the spirit and ultimately a loss of influence. Furthermore, section 107 verse 99 goes into the importance of letting every man learn his duty. When thinking of this section on a personal level we understand how important it is to learn our responsibilities in a given calling or office; however, when considered through the lens of leadership we realize that we cannot force another person to learn their duty, we have to allow them to learn their duty.
As a young missionary I was assigned to train a new missionary who had some mental and physical limitations. I took it upon myself as the trainer and senior companion to help this Elder become a “good missionary”. As I went about trying to “help” accomplish this goal I quickly grew impatient and miserable. Adding to my frustrations, I had an interview with my mission president where he commended me on the progress this Elder had made and how he hoped he could fulfill a full 2-year mission. I spent 4 months with this missionary and loathed nearly every moment. I thought for sure the president would see he needed to be sent home but that day never came. One morning in my personal study Section 107 verse 99 became clear in my mind. I had to let this Elder learn his duty, I couldn’t make him. I was transferred within the week of coming to that realization. A lesson on leadership I would never forget.
Leadership Lessons from the Public Sector
In my experience working in local government, I have seen first-hand how important it is to see leadership as influence and how to apply the lessons from the Doctrine & Covenants are reinforced as leadership principles.
There are many parallels to leading in the Church and leading in the Public Sector.
Motivational Tools – Casting a Vision
In the Church we don’t have the typical motivational tools you find in business. We don’t have bonuses, stock options, or other incentive programs for a job well done. Hard work generally pays off in the business world as greater compensation, expanded earnings, or other recognition and awards. In the church we can often become the “victim of our own success”. We do a good job and the reward is more work. The same is often true in the public sector. There are laws against bonuses paid to public employees, there are no stock options or revenue sharing programs so it is not uncommon to find a dedicated and motivated employee being rewarded with more work.
So how do we motivate the unmotivated. I have seen too often that occurs with a release and changing the person in the calling. This can be difficult in the public sector; some employees find just the right amount of motivation to avoid being fired. I believe this same attitude is seen in church service where we do just enough to get by. In my leadership I have worked hard to cultivate a sense of purpose related to a specific vision or mission. The more effectively you cast a vision and establish purpose for those you lead the more motivated they will be. This takes hard work but the rewards will pay off when you find your leadership resulting in self-motivation among those you lead. If you do it right you’ll see leaders emerging from the group through their personal examples and influence they have among other in our class, quorum, council, or presidency.
Direction from a Council
I have participated in Ward Council meetings where I had a strong disagreement with the direction the council wanted to go. Often times this happened within my own stewardship as the president of an auxiliary. Unfortunately, I don’t think I handled my response well early in my life. Professionally I have seen examples of City Managers who advise a Council on the best course of action to handle a problem and the City Council choose to go a different direction. How to handle that disagreement is crucial for future success. The same is true of any council in the church. Good councils (church or public) should be able to disagree and then make a collective decision that is supported by the council as a body. A fractured council is felt by those you lead. Maintaining effective relationships and partnerships within the council is critical to successful leadership. The most successful cities I have known have stable councils that can work through disagreement and come though unified in their voice and actions. Alternatively, the most challenged cities I know have unstable councils with high turn over, public criticism from within the council, and hyper political elections. How many wards and stakes have you seen follow a similar dynamic? Leadership in the gospel requires the ability to disagree with a council yet reconcile your personal opinions with the will of the Lord and follow the example of the publican with his humility and reliance upon the Lord for His mercy and grace.
Need for Patience
Leadership in the Church requires patience. There are many examples of the family member that took 10 years to accept the gospel. Without the patience of leaders and loved ones those stories may not have the happy ending we enjoy hearing about. Change takes time and ultimately leadership requires asking people to change. To improve performance, to follow the mission, or to be more effective all require change of some sort. Change in government takes time just like change in the church can take time. Perhaps we personally disagree with our Bishop or Stake President, perhaps we have those in our class or quorum that just “doesn’t get it”. I have seen far too many times where someone thinks the correct answer it so resort to lashing out when things aren’t done on our timeline.
In 1979 Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a BYU devotional on patience where he stated,
“when we are impatient, we are neither reverential nor reflective because we are too self-centered. Whereas faith and patience are companions, so are selfishness and impatience. It is so easy to be confrontive without being informative; so easy to be indignant without being intelligent; so easy to be impulsive without being insightful. It is so easy to command others when we are not in control of ourselves.”
I have seen good community projects ruined through the lack of patience. In my church service I remember a time where I confronted a young man at combined youth activity because I lost my patience and felt his behavior was inappropriate. Rather than engage in a loving discussion, I confronted this young man being impulsive and indignant. I did not see him at future activities for some time and learned about some dynamics at home that I complicated. My lack of patience led to problems helping this young man want to come to youth activities and created an increased challenge in the home. Just like I have seen community projects ruined through the lack of patience I have seen good gospel work set back through a lack of patience.
I have many examples of how leading in the public sector is similar to leading in the church; however, I would like to leave with one final example of how these ideas will help you be a more effective leader. In the church we have constraints on our leadership. That is not a bad thing in itself; however, I believe we sometimes limit our effectiveness because of the constraints. There are policy constraints found in the handbook, cultural constraints based upon the culture or history in our ward, and finally we have personal constraints of time, resources, and mindset. Seeing the constraints limits our effectiveness and results in close minded thinking. As a leader I have worked to cultivate an open mindset. It’s far too easy to become cynical when things don’t work out like we planned. Every day I have the challenge of limited motivational tools, conflicting direction from the public and elected officials, frustration with the slow pace of progress, and near constant criticism. It’s tempting to see all these constraints and resign myself to cynicism and apathy. However, I have learned that when I start with the “why” behind what I want to accomplish or what others are trying to accomplish the cynicism fades and the motivation increases.
In my leadership as an adviser to the young men I had my moment like the publican where I realized my own inabilities and need to rely upon the Lord. In facing my failed leadership with the young man I sent home from the combined activity. I had to take direction from my Bishop even though I disagreed, I had to exercise some patience with the young man and realize I couldn’t motivate him to behave in the manner I thought best. He eventually came back to activities and we were able to salvage the relationship. This young man ended up serving a full-time mission and was married in the temple. Leading through love and compassion helped me see this young man as the Lord saw him and ultimately changed what way I led. The lessons I have learned professionally have only served to reinforce this approach to leadership in the gospel.