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The Natural Leader is an Enemy to God



It is hard to imagine Jesus nagging the apostles: “You guys need to get out there and spread the word. My ministry is half over and we haven’t reached our goals. I don’t know what I’m going to do with you!”

Yet when we want to “inspire” better performance in any church or family endeavor, we commonly scold, chide, admonish, chasten, and lecture. It is only natural. “Natural.” It is good to remember that our instinctive or natural actions make us enemies to God (Mosiah 3:19).

Maybe we chide and scold because such methods seem to work, at least in the short run. But the Lord suggests that they are not effective. And they are not right. He instructs us to use persuasion, gentleness, kindness, and love (D&C 121:34–42).

I have a dear friend named Myke. Some years ago he was a district scout leader. Part of his responsibilities included periodic meetings with troop leaders. Because of his determination to do his duty with honor, he did several things to be effective. He would send reminders to those who should attend. He was always well prepared to provide good material at the meetings. When someone did not come to the meetings, Myke would organize sets of materials from the meeting and visit the home of each of those people and share the materials.

One of Myke’s fellow scouters in district leadership chided him: “You’re only teaching them to be irresponsible when you take the materials to their homes. They’ll never come to your meetings if you keep taking things to them.” Myke rose to the challenge. He invited his colleague to make a test: “You use every means you know to get leaders to your meetings. I will continue to use the method I use. Let’s see who has better attendance.” Over a period of months each used his method. Would it surprise you to know that Myke’s attendance improved over time while his co-worker’s meeting attendance declined?

There is a “natural” interpretation to Myke’s delivery to non-attenders: “Well, if you don’t come, I’ll run everything over to your house. Don’t worry if you don’t want to come.” But the non-attenders seemed to get a different message: “When you don’t come, you are missed. Your work is important enough and the materials I prepared are important enough that I will bring them to you.” I think Myke was also saying, “I will do everything I can to support you in your vital work.” Such messages translate into better performance.

Sunset in Amorgos

Jesus taught the same kind of leadership when he counseled us to “leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray” (Matthew 18:12). Was Jesus worried that the ninety and nine would wander off, hoping for the extra attention that was given strays? Apparently not. Maybe Jesus hoped the ninety and nine would follow His example and become rescuers of lost sheep. Maybe scoutmasters who have been supported reach out to scouts who are lost.

Rather than scold the straying sheep, Jesus carried it upon his shoulders. Yet think of the many times that we scold one another. “Brethren, the month is half over; you need to do your home teaching.” “We now have a temple in our area and we aren’t using it as we should.” “SHHH! Be reverent!” We do a lot of scolding.

I know a bishop who had a monthly interview with the ward elder’s quorum president. One of the regular items of business in their meetings was to review home teaching. If there were any brethren who had not regularly contacted all their families, the quorum president would make a note and arrange to visit with them. If they did not improve their home teaching within the next month or two, the bishop would make individual appointments with the home teachers. The bishop and home teacher would begin their meeting with prayer and then the bishop would say: “As a priesthood home teacher, you are the vital link between God’s church and some of His precious children. Some of those children are not getting visited; what can we do to support your home teaching?” If changes needed to be made in companionships or assigned families, they were made. But that was rare. Usually the erring home teacher simply needed to be reminded how important his work was. He needed to be invited to be a partner with God.

Inviting is better than scolding. Inviting is what God does. “His hand is stretched out still” is the repeated message of scripture. Our bad deeds may bring on calamity that can humble us. Yet He always invites us to return to His Way of Life:

“Every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God” (Moroni 7:13).

Scolding, especially in groups, poisons the spirit of the gathering. It does not motivate spiritual behavior and it may engender resentment. For example, a high councilman assigned to talk about home teaching might use his sacrament meeting time to review the ward’s dreary statistics, threaten eternal consequences for slackers, and urge reformation.

There is a better way. Recently I heard a man tell about his home teaching. He said that he was teaching a brother who used to be a bishop but has not been to church for years and does not live the Word of Wisdom. The man reported about his home teaching: “I don’t know how it happens. We visit the man. We talk about his projects. We share our message. We have not gotten him to come to church. I don’t know if we’ve done him a bit of good. But we sure do love him! God has given us a love for that man that I cannot comprehend. I look forward to every visit.” Such a message could make a great talk on home teaching. It is more effective than the customary scolding.

The first principle of leadership is love. “We love him, because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). During His mortal ministry, many people responded to Jesus because He reached out to the blind, He touched the leper, He wiped away tears from the sorrowing, and He saw beyond sin in the confused. If we want to motivate better performance, we must first love. Love for God, His work and His children, is both contagious and energizing.

Recently our stake president made an appointment with Nancy and me. He invited me into the office first and asked if I would support Nancy as the new stake relief society president. I didn’t know whether to groan or to laugh. Nancy does not like to be on stage. She does not like to boss people around. She does not like to make lots of decisions. She simply wants to help people in need. That is why she is such a great leader! She does not care for any of the trappings of leadership. She only wants to love and serve.

Effective leadership is motivated by love for those served and for the work. Meaningful home and visiting teaching is energized by the same love. Inspiring classroom teaching is animated by love for students, for God, and for His sacred messages.

Of course our most significant leadership roles are within the family. An acquaintance at work once asked me how to deal with her 4-year-old having scratched a neighbor child. I asked what she had already done. She said she had scratched her daughter and isolated her to her room for three days. I still remember the mother’s words: “She must learn that it is not acceptable to scratch.” I am confident that the 4-year-old learned many things in that encounter. I doubt that she learned not to scratch.

My personal reaction to such behavior has been mellowed by my grandparental stage of life. I recommend that the mom comfort the injured neighbor child and then take the offending child to a quiet place. The mother could hold the child close as they rock together. She could soothe the child with gentle strokes. She could hum a favorite tune. She might even call on her deepest feelings to express love to the child. Would kindness after misbehavior convey to the child, “I just love it when you are a terrorist!” I don’t think so. I think they would convey, “I love you, Dear. I’m sure you’re very confused right now. I’m sure you feel bad about hurting your friend. You must not hurt people. I want to help you get to that place in your soul where the holiest impulses can be found. From that place will come all the right actions.”

That seems to be Jesus’ message to us in the story of the prodigal son. Though the son had been ungrateful, wasteful, and immoral, his model father responded to the son’s return with love: “when [the son] was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

The second principle of leadership is love. So are the third and fourth. That is not to say that there is nothing else that matters. Somewhere around number 73, other principles show up: wisdom, stewardship, delegation, etc. But if we have not charity, the pure love that comes from Christ, we are nothing (see 1 Cor. 13:2, 2 Nephi 26:30, and Moroni 7:46.).

As Myke says, “Sheep herders scold and drive. Shepherds lead and love.”

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2 Comments

  • Reply Candleman January 31, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I’d like to get better acquainted with this Myke fellow. 😉

  • Reply Mark Matheson January 31, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    Dr Wally,

    Keep inspiring us ! I got a doctorate in Org. Leadership and your essay was worth more than most of my classes.

    Dr Wally sort of reminds me of Dr. Phil, but with the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost and not just the sporadic influence of the Holy Ghost that he has.

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