A Need for Nourishment: Giving Our Leaders Honest Feedback
During the last month, I’ve been combing old issues of Exponent II for some great essays that I might excerpt for blog posts. I was especially struck by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s essay “A Need for Nourishment,” in which she talks about how she nourishes and supports her leaders by communicating honestly with them – which includes letting them know when she disagrees with them.
I suppose I was attracted to this essay because I myself have been wondering recently what role I should play in my ward. I’ve become frustrated with some not so great lessons we’ve been getting (lessons in which not one question is asked – just pure reading of quotes from the manual and lecturing), and I’ve been very tempted to preserve my sanity by skipping out on some of my meetings. (ok, I actually have skipped out on quite a few RS meetings.)
Part of my frustration stems from the fact that I feel I have no power to make things better. I actually have taken Ulrich’s advice and have talked to our RS education counselor about our need for some discussions during our lessons. She was very receptive, but I’ve yet to actually see major improvements. On the other hand, I have had what I consider a positive experience with the bishop. When he called me to something that required very little sacrifice, time, effort, or brainpower, I accepted the calling but openly told him that next time around, I’d appreciate it if he would consider me for a calling that utilized my talents and interests in teaching or humanitarian work, since I felt like I really might be able to contribute something in those realms. A couple of weeks later, he rescinded his original calling and called me to be the humanitarian assistant. I was really impressed that, with the additional information I gave, he was willing to backtrack and find something that would allow me to feel like I was contributing more.
Below is an excerpt from Ulrich’s essay. I would love to know what experiences, positive and not so positive, you have had giving honest feedback to your leaders.
“A Need for Nourishment” by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Exponent II, Winter, 1980
“A refusal to communicate is the ultimate form of rejection. To talk to one’s leader is a sign of trust; to listen to one’s followers is a sign of confidence. Honest disagreement, appropriately expressed, is a form of nourishment. It helps leaders and followers grow through enlarging their perceptions and improving their ability to understand and communicate. Of course, this communication must be suited to the situation. One does not water petunias with a fire hose or serve tacos to a victim of indigestion. I suspect, however, that some leaders in our church are malnourished from too much whipped cream and Jello.
I have been thinking a lot lately about the passage in the Doctrine and Covenants which reads:
We have learned by sad experience that it is in the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion. 121: 39
The phase that stuck in my mind is “almost all men.” The Prophet seems to be saying here that the tendency toward authoritarianism is so widespread that it affects nearly everyone. Since this verse is in a passage discussing the priesthood, I assume that he meant bishops, stake presidents and other officers, as well as ordinary members of the church, male and female.
Now, I don’t think it is my job to decide which of my leaders is exercising unrighteous dominion, but I do think it is my responsibility as a member of the Church to make it very hard for any of them to do so. I can do this by letting them know in word and in action that I intend to nourish as well as support them, that I will tell them what I think as honestly and as openly as I can, that I will prayerfully and thoughtfully consider every assignment and add my inspiration to theirs, and that I will even raise my hand in opposition to a program if the spirit tells me to do so. To do any less than this is to withdraw the lifeblood of the church – the sustaining testimony of each member.”