An Interview with Whitney Johnson

“Every man and every woman have to learn how to be a ship and every man and woman has to learn how to be a harbor. So, the harbor is the nurturing peace…it teaches you how to love. It teaches you how to serve when you go out and do your work. You learn how to be a ship when you go out and you figure out how to fend for yourself and so the better you are at being a ship the better you can be a harbor because you know what it’s like to be out being a ship.”

Those are the words of Whitney Johnson, a bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Build an “A” Team,  and Disrupt Yourself, and hosts the weekly podcast, Disrupt YourselfHer interview with Kurt Francom on Leading Saints focuses on the power of discovering your strengths and using them to be a “disruption” to the old way you had been doing things.

Being A Disruptor

Consider the impact that occurred when telephones replaced telegraphs; light bulbs replaced gas lamps; or the impact of the car replacing horse and buggies. Recently, Netflix replaced Blockbuster, Air BNB and their impact on traditional hotels.

With that said, what can happen when you disrupt yourself, you consciously make the choice to make a change and “take over your world” in your home, workplace, or even your calling. It is a framework for managing change and the change begins with the individual. We need to realize that we all have a world we live in and we can be a force in that world.

Johnson brilliantly explains her insights regarding the seven levers of change. These levers help us embrace the power within us that God has created and is always inviting us to act upon and expand.

Lever of Change #1 – Take the Right Kinds of Risks

We need to recognize that we bring unique talents to our calling so we need to do our calling the way that we would do it (not our predecessor). It should look slightly, or possibly significantly, different than the way it was done by the person who held that calling be for us. We need to ask ourselves; how do we need to uniquely lead at THIS particular time in the Ward.

We need to strive to discern both what we and the Lord want to accomplish in this calling rather than be reactive to all that is thrown at us. It may, and should be, only one thing that we seek to accomplish while we are in that role. Then we can use that goal as a guiding force in all we do in our calling.

Lever of Change #2 – Play to Your Distinctive Strengths

Bring everything you have learned in life, all your strengths, to your calling. The challenge here may be figuring out what your unique strengths may be and being okay with having others involved with you in your calling lean into their strengths. It makes for a huge success for all who are involved.

Johnson gave a very comprehensive “check list” of how to better understand and discover what strengths you bring to the table. She suggested:

  • Think about what makes you feel strong and what you feel good about. Do I feel energized, or do I feel depleted performing that activity? If you feel energized, that is one of your strengths.
  • What exacerbates you. If it is simple for you to do and you wonder why others can’t get it right, that’s a strength for you.
  • What compliments do you consistently receive from others? That is your superpower!
  • Of course, read and study your patriarchal blessing looking for your spiritual gifts and some of your other strengths may be in there as well.
  • Look at what your favorite callings have been. It will give you great insights into what your strengths are.

The big question is, are you currently using your strengths in your calling? We are probably already using our strengths and “superpowers” in our calling because it’s natural to default to them. However, sometimes we talk ourselves out of using some of our strengths because we may think it is not part of our assignment or responsibility in our calling. Or, we haven’t taken the time to discover our strengths and the one thing we want to accomplish in our calling. Now is the time to step up and use them because they are gifts that we have been given to use in all aspects of our life.

Lever of Change #3 – Embrace Constraints

We have constraints of time, money, skills, and resources from our flock. Now we have an opportunity to turn those strengths into a tool of creation. For example, when we started to help clean the chapel, just by doing that, many of us felt differently towards how we treated our buildings and what it means for us to worship in them now. Johnson reminded the listeners of an example of the power having a constraint, or challenge, that teaches us to step up, use our strengths, and grow. It was found in Elder Bednar’s 2017 talk, “Bear Up Their Burdens with Ease”.

The load of wood in the back of the truck was necessary to get the traction to get unstuck. The same is true with constraints or challenges, they are the load that is needed to give us the spiritual traction to step up and use our strengths and spiritual muscles.

We can embrace our constraints when we are open with our Bishop about what our challenges may be and he, or others who we lead with, can help us discover how to best use these constraints for the good of our flock.

Lever of Change #4 – Battle Entitlement

This is an easy one to keep in perspective in the Church. Because we are called only for a season, the Church is uniquely set up that we don’t get an inflated ego or prideful about what leadership calling we may be in at the time. Thus, when our season is over for this calling, we move to where God now needs us. However, this is a good opportunity to assess where we are when we are released from a calling. If we have feelings of entitlement for what degree of responsibility or visibility our new calling should have, then it’s time to take a step back and remember that God needs our strengthens in all parts of His vineyard, even if we serve quietly in the background.

Lever of Change #5 – Step Back in Order to Grow

Picture how you get ready to throw something. Often stepping back gives us the momentum to get the new ball going further than if we were stationary.

The same is true with our life experiences. We would be wise to step back to think about the big picture, what we’ve learned and grown into, then it helps propel us forward in some fashion. For example, often a release from a calling naturally gives us the opportunity to step back, look at what we’ve learned, where we’ve grown and improved and then it is like a sling shot propelling us forward into our new calling or opportunity.

Lever of Change #6 – Give Failure its Due

Every experience can be refrained as a failure or a success. We say we believe we can change, but we don’t always behave like we believe that. We need to be okay with the fact that we’ve made mistakes and be vulnerable. We may actually assist in the de-stigmatizing some of the cultural aspects of our community as we share our weakness or failure. These failures can have a purpose for in our life and our progress. We truly can make meaning of something that didn’t go well. Shame limits disruptions, failure does not limit disruption. When someone makes any type of mistake, we should not shame them. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about what happened, we should talk about the lesson we could learn and how to apply that in the future.

Lever of Change #7 – Be Driven by Discovery

We are always like an explorer striving to learn with each new discovery and learning to alter our plan. Johnson advised that 70% of all successful new businesses end up with a different strategy than they started with.

As a leader, we need to be discovery driven. We prayerfully develop a plan for our new calling or activity, as we receive new information, we can regroup and reassess. Walk into the unknown, gather information, and adapt. It is okay to alter our plan, because we want it to be Father’s plan and we may not be receiving clear understanding at the beginning and we need to trust that we will be guided down the path, sometimes just a half of a step at a time. We don’t want to be intellectually comfortable; we need to always dig and discover.

Kurt reminded us that there is a “sin of certainty”. We get smug and get comfortable intellectually. Sometimes the fact that we are in the restored Church and have the fullness of the Gospel, we may struggle with thinking that…we feel anointed, so it limits us to deeper discover. Francom opined that:

“We have all answers to the questions, so therefore we have no questions, but the questions are what guide us.”

Moving Along the Learning Curve

These seven levers move us along the learning curve, and each ward has a collection of learning curves. We best strengthen our ward by having folks in their sweet spot and using their strengths at varying levels. Each year that we receive a new calling or challenge, we are staying engaged in innovating our life and callings. In Johnson’s opinion, if we could have 70% of our members in callings that know what they are doing and have been in the calling 2 to 3 years. Then 15% of the members in new callings and 15% at the high end of their time in the calling and really know what they’re doing so they can mentor others.

Here’s a great insight, Heavenly Father knows where our brain is in regard to being engaged and the need to jump to a new learning curve. Thus, releases, callings, challenges all help us grow.

Bottom line, these opportunities give us permission to “disrupt” ourselves and discover where we could be moving along on the curve. So, what strengths and talents does God wants us to take the time to discover and bring to our current or new calling. Have we taken the time to find out what purpose or focus Heavenly Father may have for us in our calling? Consider this your invitation to disrupt your calling.

Beth Young is the written content manager at Leading Saints. She is a convert of 43 years; served a mission in North Carolina; has been married for 34 years to her sweetheart, Bob; has five children and two grandchildren. She raised her family in Texas for 25 years where she served in various capacities in church and in her community. She now lives in Utah and loves writing, teaching and inspiring others to make changes to their physical, mental and spiritual health.

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