This book review, by Cory Shirts, is helpful if you find yourself stuck in your efforts to lead others, The book by Arbinger Institue, The Outward Mindset, explains how being stuck might look like fault finding, competition, feeling like you are working in a silo or getting no support from others, and finding yourself working to protect your own interests, even though what you are doing is working to serve at church the divine interests of your organization. This can also manifest itself as finding it impossible to sustain all the good initiatives, activities, and ministering efforts you are trying to establish. This book teaches a set of principles to help us avoid the drudgery of both an inward minded self and inward minded organizations. Not only speaking about leading church organizations, but on a personal level, the people I have met in the church who have inspired me the most, seem to see me in a way that is advocated by this book.

To make the book relevant to our church service, I will try to include several examples in my current church service as Elders Quorum President that point to the need for all of us to become more outward minded.

Why Mindset Changes are Important

The Arbinger Institute research has shown that if an organization focused on changing behaviors in order to change their culture (mindset), any positive results eventually proved to be unsustainable and short lived.

The principle is strangely familiar, like we have heard it in church before:

  • Joseph Smith “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves.”
  • Elder Packer ” The study of the doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior.”

Despite these teachings, we are still struggling to learn this lesson. Examples of this can be seen by leaders who come up with ideas to encourage unity in a ward where they promote the behaviors that lead to greater unity. However, the ideas turn into a checklist of things to follow-up on or sustain. The effort to promote unity then becomes exhausting and frustrating, and not just for the leader.

Individuals in our church who seem to have the right mindset need less direction in order to do the right thing, the mindset or principle is enough to guide them. And when they have that understanding and are striving to live it, they are more attuned to the inspiration of the Holy Ghost as they think about the people that they can impact. There was a ministering brother who surprised me one day when he stopped me in the hall at church and started a conversation about one of his ministering families. You could tell his mind was in the right place when it came to ministering, as he described a need for a member of one of his families. He even suggested a calling for this individual to get them more involved.

What is an Outward Mindset?

There is a simple process to becoming more outward minded (think SAM):

  1. See the needs, objectives, and challenges of others
  2. Adjust your efforts to be more helpful to others
  3. Measure your impact, hold yourself accountable for the impact of your work on others

1. See the Needs, Objectives, and Challenges of Others

Truly seeing a person is something that is taught in our church, especially within the context around our ministering efforts. The ability to see a person as a child of God allows us to look past their shortcomings and love them as the Savior would. When people fail to meet our expectations, however, it can be easy to see them as a problem that is blocking us from meeting our own objectives. The book describes it as seeing someone “like an object”.

When to a leader a person becomes an object, or a problem to be solved, the leader will invariably do things to treat them like an object. This can be seen in instances where individuals get a calling, but are complaining about one thing or another, are not as responsible as we would like, or seem to be ruffling some peoples’ feathers in the ward. Instead of considering the needs, objectives, and challenges of the individual by establishing a relationship, listening, and spending time with the individual, some leaders turn their focus on finding a solution that involves releasing a person from their calling, or getting them to “have a talk” with the bishop where some correction is given.

President Monson said it best, “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved”. When our focus is on seeing the individual, we figure out ways to understand them better and have more of a relationship of trust, thereby helping us better adapt to the needs of the individual and the needs of the calling. This requires us to not only ask questions to get to know them, but when a potential conflict surfaces, or even just a simple difference in preference, we approach it with a focus on putting ourselves in their situation. We begin to ask questions, repeating back our understanding, seeking to understand until we feel like we have come alongside them and are walking with them. It has been my experience that people are more willing to listen to your advice when you have spent some time trying to understand where they are coming from.

2. Adjust Your Efforts to Be More Helpful to Others

Besides helping the individual to feel seen and heard, seeing others’ needs opens our eyes to ways in which you, as a leader, can be an influence for the individual. There are three steps to becoming more outward minded, but the main point here is that as we have made significant progress with this first step, the next two naturally fall into place due to the understanding you have gained from seeing the needs of others.

A quote from the book summarizes this:

“To be outward does not mean that people should adopt this or that prescribed behavior. Rather, it means that when people see the needs, challenges, desires, and humanity of others, the most effective ways to adjust their efforts occur to them in the moment. … They naturally adjust what they do in response to the needs they see around them. With an outward mindset, adjusting one’s efforts naturally flows from seeing others in a new way.”

3. Measure your Impact

Hold yourself accountable for the impact of your work on others is all about making things meaningful. This step is about first recognizing that your work has an impact and then seeking ways to understand how your work has an impact on others, which gives your work a greater purpose. This increased sense of purpose increases the motivation of an individual and makes them want to give their best work to the effort. It is not about people pleasing or trying to be liked by everyone, it is about evaluating your efforts to see others and adjust your efforts to be more helpful. For me, this is the step that fuels the desire to keep going through repeated iterations of this. It is truly transformational.

The problem in church service is that it is hard to measure your impact on others, especially when many of the leaders you work with, seem to be focusing on the numbers on the reports that are requested. We sometimes mistake the reports we send in as the purpose behind our work, and if they look poor, we can get discouraged. Conversely, if our numbers are high, but our actual impact is low, we are lulled into a false sense of security, leading us to neglecting opportunities to create greater impact. The solution to this is prayerfully seeking out what values will have the greatest impact. From that, you form your vision and mission.

Applying this to our church service, one struggle I observe in the church is the lack of effective communication and coordination. If people saw the needs and objectives of others in the ward council, they would be more willing to share information and coordinate with one another. I am just as guilty, along with others, of assuming that people already know, are already taking care of it, or just not thinking of them when I receive some information. This happens in ministering, when the Bishop and Relief Society President are working with a family or individual who is a member of my quorum, and their efforts to help them are not shared with me until the next stewardship interview or ministering review meeting.

The point behind this (the situation is actually getting better) is that as we see that regular communication is one of the needs of the people we work with, we need to be willing to be more available to sharing the appropriate information at the soonest available time. Any organization’s president will not be able to effectively serve if you do not share information with him.

How Do I Encourage This Mindset in My Quorum /Organization?

Other principles referenced in this book are there to help us in circumstances where we feel we are the only ones who are serving the right way, and the others around us are the ones who should change. The book outlines some principles to help us in our quest to make an impact.

Start with yourself

This one humbled me a bit. One might think that after applying this advice to their marriage, they might begin to apply it to other covenant relationships, especially with the ones who serve with you in your ward. This book claims that starting with yourself is contagious and invites others to change. I don’t know for sure how that works, but for me it is a burden lifted when we avoid worrying about people’s reactions to our trying to do the right thing. Us doing the right thing should not be conditional on others doing the right thing.

Start with Mindset

This relates back to the example of ward unity shared earlier. We need to avoid the tendency to jump into addressing the behavior through encouraging behavior changes. Instead, we start by asking questions to help ourselves see others as people, looking at their hearts. If we address behavior through the encouragement of behavior changes, we tend to treat people like objects, problems to be moved out of the way, corrected until they get it right.

Mobilize Around a Collective Goal

The book talks about the importance of leadership clearly communicating what the organization is trying to do. Sometimes, people are ready and willing to share their ideas and feedback. Sometimes, though, it takes time for the people you are leading to use their voice to express ideas and be a part of the work. The leadership sometimes has to build enough relationships of trust in order to open their mouths.

Everyone you lead needs to have a voice and feel empowered to make a contribution towards a broader goal. Once, my presidency communicated our desire for more unity to the quorum. Some brothers seemed eager to share their ideas to help with this, two brethren separately came to me and shared some things they had been thinking about for the quorum to do. They were ideas for activities, nothing earth shattering, but I was grateful they used their membership in the quorum to share ideas and work towards the goal.

Allow People to Be Fully Responsible

The book mentioned a model of leadership, the thinker/doer model, which unfortunately is employed by many leaders in the church today. The thinker is the one who is the leader and has authority to make decisions. The doer is tasked with carrying out the direction of the thinker. The problem with this approach is that it leads to distinctions that discourage feedback and collaboration. The doers get burnt out, discouraged, or disengaged working to the direction of a leader who either does not care about feedback or has a hard time receiving it. The doer has no say in the work, and therefore does not feel responsible for doing a good job.

Examples of this can be seen when leaders give more detailed direction than is necessary, and then expect it to be followed exactly as written. When the person effectively does the same thing that we asked, but in a different way, we need to be okay with this. The church handbook section 4.2.6 on delegation councils us to give general direction on how assignments are to be fulfilled.

A big part of this is allowing people not only to define how they would like to achieve their objectives, but also to define objectives. Yes, some things in the handbook for many callings are defined and we should avoid changing that direction. The point the authors found through their research is that people are more engaged in their roles if they are given as much liberty as possible in defining their role and how it fits into the rest of the organization. On a ward council level, this requires clear communication, collaboration, and compromise to make sure our individual pieces fit with the larger organization.

Shrink Distinctions

If leaders are not willing to shrink distinctions, meaning that they create distance between them and those whom they are called to serve by setting their hearts on the title (more perks, more prestige), they lose an ability to gain trust and truly see the people in their organizations. A good example of this leadership in the scriptures is Christ washing his disciples’ feet.

Turn Systems Outward

This is a broad topic, but essentially it means that how we set things up as leaders either promotes or discourages outward mindsets. One example in church. If our striving towards the goals we set in ward council is more about the numbers, the impact of meeting the goal is lost. It also leads us to forget our vision, our values, and tempts us to take shortcuts. Another example may be the types of questions that are asked in ministering or other stewardship interviews. Is what we are saying helping them to see others’ needs, objectives, struggles, etc. or are they putting up a wall as we give them well intentioned correction?

Read the Book

Being outward minded is a principle that is deeply rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This principle can be applied to many aspects of the work we do as leaders in the church, including missionary work, ministering, personal repentance, administering callings, handling conflict, counseling, leading meetings, etc. Learning how one can change one’s mindset is worth the read.

Cory Shirts works as a software engineer in the metro Detroit area. He served a mission to Frankfurt Germany, later studying at the University of Utah, graduating with a Bachelors degree in Computer Engineering and a Bachelors in German. A student of leadership, he loves to find and apply gospel truths to bless others, no matter where they are found. He and his wife have three children.

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