Users Manual: Handle with Care

Several years ago,  I was called to serve as the Relief Society President in our ward–a very green, inexperienced, quite overwhelmed and over-her-head Relief Society president, to be more specific.

The bishop of the ward was a wise and patient man.  In our first meeting together, he didn’t unload all the juicy details of the ward’s problems.  He didn’t pull out the handbook and point to each crucial guideline. He didn’t even give me advice. He simply expressed confidence and asked me to enlighten him about how best to help me in my calling.  In essence, he asked for the unwritten handbook to the care and feeding of Annie.

He didn’t use those words. I think he asked about what kind of feedback I would like from him and how often. And he asked for clarity about my threshold for stress and my ability to draw boundaries.

I was honest: I was quite sure I needed lots of feedback (generous with the positive, please!) and some help keeping from boiling over with stress but I was confident in my ability to maintain boundaries around our family’s priorities and sure that I could be vocal about asking for more help if I needed it.   And that’s pretty much how it played out, with the bishop’s support.

Honestly, one of the biggest challenges of holding a calling in the church is, well, learning to work with other people who think differently and react differently that we do.  I think this bishop was on to something. Imagine!  If we could just be honest with each other from the start with specifics about what feeds us and what drains us and how to read the signs in each other.

I’m picturing conversations with questions like these:

Is there anything I can do to help make this experience a good one? A growing one?  What would you like to learn?  What scares you? What do you do when you’re overwhelmed? What person has inspired you by the way he/she does his/her calling?

I’m dreaming of surveys of visiting teachers and visiting teachees that concretely help the relationship and create understanding:

When I’m upset you can tell by the way I ______.  The love of/idea of___________ really keeps me going.  On a scale of 1-10 how likely am I to ask for help when I need it?  If I had to name one weakness, it is that I_______________  (forget to delegate, love to start things but hate to finish, am late a lot, worry and stew without letting others know, etc.)  From afar, some people might assume that I __________ but I really ___________.

. . .

What about you? What questions would you add to the list?

What are some of your essential care-and-feeding tips for those who know you (in callings or otherwise)?

What could you ask to better understand the people you serve and serve with?

19 thoughts on “Users Manual: Handle with Care

  1. Oh, I think all that needs to be added to the handbook. Imagine what a well-oiled machine serving in the church would be then!

    I know exactly who that bishop was, and I have to say, there was never a better man for the job. It is JUST like him to handle things that way. Such a good soul.

  2. Wow! If only! I think you need to type up a prototype of your user manual and send it to the top :)

    Seriously, that would help me so much.

  3. I love your idea!

    And I’ve been pondering your fill-in-the-blank questionnaire. How would I answer? I think it would be good to ask ourselves those questions. The self-analysis might be really interesting. It would help us see our strengths and our weaknesses–and face things we might avoid thinking about ourselves.

  4. This kind of communication is SO important, and sadly, undervalued. Maybe it’s just that people are unaware that we could actually use this type of dialogue or questionnaire. I’m sure my friends who fit in the “pleaser” category and eventually go into burn out would like to be asked what makes them tick. I would rather know what someone is feeling/thinking than to ask to much of them and not find out until later! Yikes! I also have misjudged people and been misjudged myself. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just skip that part? Laaaa! Very good thoughts/ideas Annie.

  5. Oh yes, if only!
    I don’t know if I will ever be asked those questions, (and I agree with JoLyn–what a good exercise in self-analysis that would be!)but it has me thinking about the people I have stewardship over (I’m in the primary presidency, so I’m thinking teachers, music people, etc.) and how I can serve THEM better by having the type of conversation you had with your wise bishop….
    Hm…
    Great thoughts, Annie. :) Thanks!

  6. This was excellent, and it had me thinking about how much this goes two ways.

    I wonder if I would have been honest had the Bishop asked me such questions. Not that I would have been an outright liar, but I am so guarded about my weaknesses and needs with the people around me. And on the scale of 1 to 10 about how likely I am to ask for help, um, maybe a 1? Not good.

    For instances when we are in someone else’s stewardship, if they don’t have the wisdom of this Bishop to approach us, it would be wise of us to go to them and open the dialogue ourselves. It may be much appreciated. Just a thought.

    Annie, you did well to meaningfully respond to your Bishop’s questions. What a great way to begin that service together! Thanks for sharing this.

  7. As Primary pres, I would often ask the teachers, music leaders, etc how they were doing, if they were tired of being in Primary yet, etc. But I don’t know how often I got told, “I’ll serve until you’re inspired to release me”. Can we have a member’s manual that lets everyone know it’s okay to tell your leaders how you feel? I hated the guessing game, trying to figure out if someone loved Primary and never wanted to be released or if they’d serve well for a year or two and then wanted out. Sometimes the Spirit is very, very clear about callings and releasings and sometimes leaders are just doing their best.

  8. thanks for the post, currently i am a university rs president and have been for the past year and half (most of us are one year callings) and I was getting really tired, and my bishop just showed love and support that made me more focused on the calling and made me feel better about my efforts in the ward, since the epq wasnt.

  9. LOVE this, particularly in light of visiting teaching. I really believe we have so much there that is so untapped. I also think that sometimes we have to help our visiting teachers help us. I am seriously considering using something like that both as a visiting teacher and visiting teachee.

    Thanks for these thoughts. Really great.

  10. Wow.

    That may be the most incredible leadership lesson I’ve ever read. And I love the way it works both ways- I need to feel understood, I need to understand.

    Wow. Thanks. I’ll be pondering this for a while.

  11. Your eloquent thoughts are such a tender mercy for me tonight. THANK YOU.

  12. This is good but not everyone is emotionally/spiritually aware enough to answer the questions. There is also a level of trust that most people would need before they peel back their layers to answer these very personal questions. Often the answers can bring up memories or issues that are still being processed.

    In short, I would love it if we could all be so emotionally aware and open so we could answer these questions, but life is complex. For instance – A sister I VT is in a abusive marriage, but when people try to “fix” it she runs the other way. Sometimes the best way to love is to. Be patient and long suffering, holding someone’s hand even when you don’t understand.

  13. Jendoop, you bring up a really good point. People do have different comfort levels with this kind of disclosure and discussion so it takes sensitivity to begin with, absolutely.

    To me, this kind of understanding isn’t about “fixing” (in fact, as Jendoop said, that often indicates a lack of understanding) but about knowing how to best express support– whether someone would like hand holding or a little space or a lunch out together or a regular phone call or walking together as a show of love.

  14. I was a Scoutmaster in Massachusetts for 12 years, and I had quite a few scouts become Eagles. Not one of the scouts was pushed by his parents to become an Eagle. The Scouts were self-motivated and pushed their parents to help with their Eagle project.

    In helping the scouts plan their Eagle projects, I used principles of project management that I had learned and used as a software engineer. I didn’t tell the scouts what to do or how to do it. I asked questions to help them discover what they should do and how they should do it.

    The following link is an essay I wrote that describes the dialogue between a scout and his scoutmaster in the planning of a genealogy class for the community. The dialogue illustrates the leadership technique that helped me work with my scouts in all aspects of scouting and Priesthood activity. I’ve also used the technique in many Gospel Doctrine and High Priests Group lessons, all with the same effect. People must discover for themselves what and how they should conduct their life.

    http://mormonsite.org/eagle.html

  15. Amen to JES’s comment. I’ll be taking some of those questions to my presidency meeting as ideas for getting more info about our teachers in our Primary. What a great leadership example your bishop gave! I hope I can take it to heart.

  16. I’m autistic, and if more people acted the way you described I think that I’d have fewer problems in life.

    I mean in particular, since I run into these problems a lot.

  17. Allen, what a great way to exercise “shadow leadership” in helping those boys work out their own plans through guiding conversations. (I’m in Massachusetts myself.)

    Jared, thanks for sharing your perspective–I hadn’t thought about it that way but I can see how that would be frustrating and how more specific information more helpful. Good point.

    Lauren, JES, newly called, jenny, and all: I’d love to hear your experiences with this if you do use it. I’m embarrassed to say that, although I really benefited from this kind of communication with the bishop, I haven’t always been good at using it myself. I think part of why I remembered it recently is because I’ve been hoping to be a better leader, server, and support.

  18. Recently I moved back to the branch that was witness to the sudden and public end of my marriage. I am not thrilled to be back, for many reasons, and am yet to receive a calling.

    Yet I am comfortable, and relieved, because within 2 weeks of being back my branch pres called in into his office for a chat – and it was obvious by his questions and conversation that he had really been thinking about what sort of difficulties I may be facing moving back to the branch. He stated that any calling I had would fit in with looking after my sons, and going to uni, because they were the most important things I had to concentrate on. I wasn’t expecting such obvious concern, and an empathetic determination to help me, in whatever way was most needed.

    You can’t fake concern. Simply caring and wanting to know how to help someone (in their calling/with life) can get the real answer. Even if it takes a while to get an answer.

    Thanks for the thought poking Annie!

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