Maureen J. Olson was born and raised in California and attended BYU as a Kimball Scholar. After receiving her M.A. in English, she taught Honors Intensive Writing at BYU for several years. She has served two missions, presently works as an RN, and enjoys writing, hiking and playing with her dogs. In her recent book entitled One Small Step: Giant Blessings Maureen shows that the Atonement of Jesus Christ is designed to spur growth. See her previous article with LeadingSaints and visit her at www.theoneneedfulthing.org and www.facebook.com/mjolsonsimplethings.
There is a cycle I have watched leaders follow throughout my life of activity in the Church. When a leader is first called, that person feels overwhelmed but also “special.”
Others in the ward feel that person is “special,” too since he or she has been singled out. This results in tremendous motivation for the leader, who steps out and lives the gospel in extraordinary ways.
The leader, perhaps a Relief Society president, soon gains each sister’s trust but also quickly becomes exhausted because, now, they all come to her for help. She’s their hero.
But wait. That wasn’t supposed to happen.
Wasn’t the leader’s wonderful example supposed to inspire others to serve and be Christlike? Weren’t the members supposed to follow suit?
Motivation can work that way, but there is a more effective way. That way is to give each member irresistible opportunities to be the hero.
What makes an opportunity irresistible? Here are some guidelines that worked for us.
First, Keep the Opportunity Small
This goes against the grain for those who have been taught that everything worthwhile, everything character-building, must be hard. It must require blood, sweat and tears. “No pain, no gain.”
We often forget that everything worthwhile began with a spark. That spark was the reason we choose blood, sweat, and tears in the first place. More likely than not, there were lots of sparks along the way or we would not have stayed with our goals.
We create sparks. We need sparks. We need them often. Blood, sweat, and tears get old very fast.
The Savior understood this principle, too. At least, I find evidence for it in the gospel accounts of His miracles (One Small Step: Giant Blessings). So why not try it?
People are more likely to embrace a small opportunity than a large one, making it much more likely that your small request will jump-start a positive cascade of faith-building experiences.
Second, Draw on Passions, Interests, and Skills That Members Already Have
Who can resist sharing something they love or do well? And while it’s true that some members enjoy sharing in large groups, most, I have found, feel less intimidated and are more likely to talk in small groups.
An unwanted byproduct of constant large group meetings is the feeling of not fitting in. What’s needed in our wards is a strong network of relationships, not just a few people feeling like heroes, and the rest feeling hungry to contribute.
Small requests and small groups give many opportunities for each person to feel a part of our common mission for the Lord.
Third, Give Members Opportunities to Share Success Stories
Motivation is a fire that must continually be fed. As a leader, I knew this was my primary responsibility. But it was not hard to do because my members were excited, even dying to share their experiences with the small “opportunity” I gave them. They felt guided by the Spirit.
When I was ward singles representative, my requests were so small that they never tripped a person’s “courage to say ‘no’ button.” People were not worried that helping me would interfere with other cherished relationships and responsibilities, so they began receiving revelation immediately.
I also checked in regularly with each person. This was crucial, but how I checked in with someone and how often was different for each person. My flexibility, rather than pushing or trying to make someone feel guilty, was the key to keeping their motivation alive.
I was also dying to hear their experiences and would ask permission to share them with others. Eventually, I organized committee meetings, not mandatory but announced often and well in advance. My members were anxious for opportunities to share the miracles they were seeing (a newsletter can help, too). It created a bond among us. We basked in the spiritual feast of a shared mission.
The Power of Us
I once heard a prominent historian wonder what could make a leader as charismatic and successful as Joseph Smith. Today, I feel I understand that better.
From the very beginning, Joseph made every member of his family a hero. He talked to them often about their common mission for the Lord. His mother describes his attitude. I never see him putting his gift or calling above anyone else’s (Proctor and Proctor, 111).
In Joseph’s eyes, the obtaining and translating of the plates were never his project. Every member of his family and all who eventually joined them were invested. It was their work, together, in the Lord. Each gave blood, sweat, and tears. Each contributed his or her gifts and had many opportunities to do so.
As we also multiply opportunities for each member to be the hero, we fulfill the Savior’s desire to empower and motivate all of us to do His work, together.
Proctor, Scott Facer and Maurine Jensen Proctor, Editors. The Revised and Enhanced History of Joseph Smith By His Mother. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, 1996.