Sunday, November 22, 2015

Shadow Leadership--Part III--George's Post

1.    Special Challenges of Shadow Leadership

The following highlights some specific challenges that senior missionaries may face as they try to be good shadow leaders.

(a)  How can senior missionaries get access to local leaders, who are often very busy?

There are two keys to getting access to local leaders: first, make it easy for them to meet; and second, make it worth their while.   As in the United States, local leaders, especially branch and district presidents, are extremely busy.  They must find time to hold a wide range of meetings--presidency meetings, PEC meetings and district and branch counsel meetings; to conduct personal priesthood interviews, worthiness interviews; to help coordinate local missionary activities; to oversee physical facilities, temple preparation, priesthood advancement, the activities of young single adults, young men and young women; and, to help with Church welfare.   And all of this is on top of  seminary and institute, relief society, Sunday school.   It is easy for local leaders to see meeting with senior missionaries as just another duty.   If senior missionaries want support, they need to make the sessions helpful, either by showing how local leaders can lighten their burden by proper delegation or by providing “good” training worthy of their time.   Also they must help to solve the logistical problem—making it both easy and convenient for the local leaders to meet.  This is even more of a problem in Malawi than in other parts of the world.   In Malawi, few local leaders have cars, and getting to and from meetings using mini-buses is an additional expense, not easily borne by most members.   Also evening meetings are a problem, because going home in the evenings is dangerous, especially if they have far to travel on foot in the dark, when streets are largely empty of normal traffic.    

(c)   What other reasons might local leaders have for not meeting with senior missionaries?

Some local leaders may wonder if senior missionaries have much to contribute.   Some are very independent and don’t want to look to senior missionaries for assistance, whether or not they need the help.   They want to do things on their own without interference.    Others may feel defensive about their shortcomings or inexperience, and the last thing they want to do is look foolish in front of senior missionaries.    In rare cases they may be dishonest or incompetent, and wish to minimize the risk of being exposed.            

(d)  Is it possible that pride or cultural perceptions of proper protocol may cause local leaders to avoid looking to senior missionaries for help?

This is no doubt a difficult question to answer.   But it has been our experience that in other settings, Malawians are very scrupulous about observing the official pecking order where clearly-defined hierarchies exist.   Chiefs, sub-chiefs, village headman and their representatives expect others under their jurisdiction to do their bidding and to defer to their judgment and decisions.    When meeting with Blantyre council men, we observed a similar pattern—official positions and titles are taken quite seriously.    One way of showing one’s prestige or standing is by insisting upon strict observance of the formal pecking order reflected in the official chain of authority.   The boss gives order to the sub-boss, the sub-boss to his lieutenant and so it goes down through the ranks--not the other way around; and everyone is expected to know his or her place.   Slights to one’s official standing are not well received.
Some of these feelings may carry over into how local leaders think about the way in which they should exercise their power and prerogatives in the Church.  This is, of course, at odds with Church doctrine—where local leaders are to exercise their power in accordance with “principles of righteousness.”[1]  Leadership in the Church is not to follow after the power patterns so prevalent in the world.   Yet in Malawi, holding Church positions, especially those considered most prominent, is regarded as conferring status and prestige upon the holder; of course, this is not unique to Malawi.  Questions about who is the “greatest” among Church leaders has plagued, and been a part of the Church, since its earliest days.[2]   In Malawi, members invariably refer to local leaders using their official titles—“president so and so;” local leaders are held in high esteem; and, all of the normal protocols for showing respect are scrupulously observed.   Some leaders may think this means that others should automatically defer to them and treat them with special respect.   Releases are hard for the Malawians to process, because they are viewed as a loss of status or standing.[3]    As a consequence, local leaders may refuse to make themselves available for training, absent specific directions from senior authorities, such as the Mission President or the District President, because they think it may be beneath them, or at least inconsistent with their status, to accept training from senior missionaries, who have no officially-recognized portfolio.   Without question, local leaders appreciate, rightfully so, the need of members to stand on their own, and not to rely unduly upon senior missionaries for support.[4] 

(e)   If earning the confidence of local leaders is one of the critical keys to training them, how can senior missionaries earn that confidence?

The efficacy of senior missionaries as “closet” advisors is largely dependent upon two factors: first, their ability to earn the trust and confidence of local leaders—so that they are willing to turn to them for advice--and second, giving advice and counsel in a constructive way that supports, and does not undermine, the authority and leadership of those who are called to serve.  Only if those local leaders turn, on their own initiative, to the senior couple for assistance can they play a meaningful role in helping the leaders and members.  
There is, in my experience, no magic for earning the trust of local leaders.  Malawi members are, in this regard, no different that members throughout the Church.  They respond to those showing hard work, patience, good will, love unfeigned.  They dislike arrogance, mean spiritedness, pettiness, displays of ill-temper, condescension.  They can sense whether senior missionaries have a genuine love for the Church and the members.  Senior missionaries, with varying skill sets, and with different areas of focus, can all be successful.   Earning trust often takes time, as the local leaders come to respect the judgment of the senior missionaries.  Otherwise, there is little they can do in a formal way to help a branch or ward, other than to act as “good” Church members.  Attempts by a senior missionary to insert himself or herself into an advisory role, without invitation, is likely to be met with resistance and suspicion.[5]

[1] See D&C 121: 34-42.

[2] The original twelve apostles were not immune to these temptations, arguing among themselves as to “who” was the greatest among them, and ashamed to acknowledge their preoccupation with this worldly concern, when questioned by the Savior.   See, for example, Luke 22: 24-27; Matt. 23: 7-12; and, Mark 9: 33-35.
[3] That of course is problematic in the Church—when members are constantly been released for one position or another. 
[4] On more than a few occasions, we have witnessed this strong feeling of independence.    Several months ago, during a Fast and Testimony Meeting, President Chikapa, speaking of personal testimonies, stated without hesitation that neither he nor the branch members could or should rely upon the Beals as a senior couple or the younger missionaries, for their testimonies.  They needed to be converted on their own; they needed to have their own testimonies; they should not look to the senior couples or others for help.  The local Church must grow on the backs of the local members.  Certainly this is the right answer—as similar comments have been made repeatedly by the General Authorities when speaking of the Church membership at large.  Each members must be self-sustaining.  In a similar vein, this past Tuesday evening, the physical facilities director for Zambia and Malawi, when meeting with the branch presidents and branch physical facility representatives, reminded those in attendance that they should not look to the senior couples to stay on top of maintenance issues in the local buildings.  It was the responsibility of the local members to do their duties.  The time might surely come when there were no senior couples around.
[5] From an organizational perspective, the Mission President finds himself in a different position.   He is the highest Church official in Malawi.   Hence, he has the benefit of the organizational chart, if nothing else.   Branch presidents, districts, and all leaders under them report to the Mission President.   Malawians seem to be very respectful of formal authority hierarchies, and we imagine this carries over to the Church.   Obviously, they will respond better to the Mission President, if they have respect for him as well.