Jeff Borders joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the age of 19, and since then has had many opportunities to serve in leadership roles including: Ward Mission Leader, Elders Quorum Counselor, Elder’s Quorum President, and Young Men’s Counselor. When not serving at Church, Jeff works as the Respiratory Therapy Manager and Clinical Informatics Specialist at a rural hospital, and the Safety Lieutenant for his local volunteer fire station. Jeff writes regularly for This Week in Mormons and Spokane Faith and Values. He has also published with the Spokesman Review, and has two articles scheduled to be released with LDS Living and the Ensign Magazine in the coming months. You can follow him at www.jeffbordersbooks.com, at facebook.com/jbordersauthor.
I never intended to be a firefighter. It was more a happy accident that led me to that volunteer fire station. Since that happy accident, I’ve been able to learn leadership principles that have not only benefited me in my personal life but in my church callings as well.
Being a Lieutenant
In what little spare time I have between family, church, and work, I act as one of three lieutenants at my fire station. We are assigned different areas of focus, but we all have the responsibility to be leaders, along with, or in the absence of the station captain.
Anyone who has served in the military, or a para-military organization like the fire service, knows that it often comes with some strong personalities. Okay, maybe strong is an understatement.
Generally, these traits are not a bad thing. These are driven people who want to see tasks completed thoroughly and quickly, and generally, have high expectations for themselves and others around them. However, in the midst of that driven nature is a type-A personality that is often times highly opinionated, which can sometimes lead to confrontation and conflict.
Sometimes this conflict can lead to doing things incorrectly because the subordinate didn’t take time to listen to direction. Sometimes they just disregard the direction of superiors completely, as if they feel they know more than the person leading them. They may even know what to do in the situation, but it can come through as confrontational instead of collaborative.
On the other hand, there are times when it’s the leader that is the problem. They may have a feeling of superiority because they have been put in a position of leadership. They may disregard ideas from their subordinates, believing they have all the answers. The leader may be lazy and unwilling to work and force his subordinates to do all the work so he can take it easy.
These personalities on both ends can make leading difficult. If we are looking close enough, I’m sure we can see some of these same characteristics and personalities in our auxiliaries, branches, wards, stakes and more importantly ourselves.
Here are a few principles I’ve tried to incorporate into my leadership in the fire service, as well as my leadership in the Church.
You Can’t Have Obedience Without First Having Trust
I need to know that my crew will follow my orders in dangerous situations because they trust me and my decision making. Yet how do you make someone trust you? Short answer, you can’t make them. However, there are things you can do to build trust.
I start with never asking them to do something I would be unwilling to do myself. I get in the trenches with them and we get our hands dirty together. If I don’t know something I don’t lie and fake it, I say, “let’s figure it out together”. I take an interest in them and their development as firefighters and more importantly as people.
It’s also important to learn about your crew and what motivates them. Before you know it, you will have built a relationship on trust and your people will literally be willing to walk into a fire with you.
In our church spheres of influence, we aren’t necessarily looking for obedience from those whom we have stewardship over. We are, however, looking to influence them for good and the only way we can use that influence effectively is to couple it with trust. This means we need to invest in those we lead, learn about them, work beside them, learn with them, and pray for them.
Collaboration Builds Stronger Teams
If you are a parent or have had any leadership position with youth, you know that in the short term you can get your children to behave with the “Because I said so,” mentality. But how long does it last before the child starts to resent you? In the fire service there will be times when I give an order that needs to be followed with exact obedience for safety reasons, but by and large, we do have opportunities for collaboration.
As leaders, we can’t be expected to see and know everything, so when we stop and ask if there might be something we are missing or allow someone to offer a different perspective, it is beneficial for building stronger teams. In a church context, do you dictate to the auxiliary leaders and their organizations?
If you are in a Bishopric, do you pick all their counselors, teachers and other callings for them, or do you allow them to receive revelation? Youth Leaders, do you allow your quorum and class presidents to make decisions in their organizations, or do you make all the decisions for them? Do you plan all the activities, or do you work as a group to plan and execute activities?
Leaders, are your councils and meetings a dictatorship or do you seek collaboration and cooperation from those in attendance? This goes back to building trust, as we open ourselves up to the opinions, concerns, and ideas of others; we show that we are invested in growing together.
Never Underestimate Someone’s Ability to Complete a Task
There will always be that one person that you get frustrated with because they don’t fulfill the tasks assigned to them the way you would have liked it done. Or sometimes they don’t do it at all. You know the person, they always have some excuse or another. It would be so easy to write this person off and just complete the task yourself but what is that teaching the person? You find yourself busier, and the person doesn’t change.
There will be times that something has to get done and you will have to step in, but a lot of time you can use it as an opportunity to teach the other person. Maybe they don’t understand the task. Or maybe they don’t understand the significance or importance of the task. This leads to my next point.
Correct in Private, and Offer Correction Sandwiched with Praise
This is probably one of these least favorite things to do as a leader. Correction for both the person being corrected and the one doing the correcting is generally never a comfortable experience. However, sometimes in leadership, correction is necessary. It is important that when we are correcting someone, it is not just because we are frustrated with them. Correction must be because of something tangible that can be corrected, and specific examples should be provided.
Keep in mind, before you offer any correction, it is always best to sandwich it with praise. Start with something like, “I’ve really been impressed with your desire to serve, you really have a great spirit. I’ve noticed that these things are not happening. Is there something I can do to help you with your assignment and tasks?” This gives the person an opening to ask questions if they don’t understand, or an opportunity to explain themselves. Then end it with a “Thank you for their willingness to serve.”
You get the point. D&C 121:43 really drives home the point,
“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.”
By approaching it this way, you show you are interested in seeing them succeed, rather than just trying to tear them down.
Build Leaders While You Lead
Probably the most important point is to build the future leaders while you lead. This is another part of the trust building relationship. Training others to do our jobs means that when we move on, which we all will at some point, someone will be able to take over the responsibilities with minimal training.
In any job I’ve ever worked, I’ve had the fortune to have superiors that lived by the mentality of training their team to take over their job someday. As we invest in others and build them, we are doing exactly what Heavenly Father intended us to do. We are ministering to each other.
I’m sure there will be difficult situations where some of these approaches may not work, but in general, the adopting of these principles has helped me in multiple leadership positions both in the Church and my professional career.