Dr. Gary G. Taylor
When You Have Trouble Working with a Mission Leader
Most missionaries love and respect their mission leaders. Long-term relationships often develop that are cherished many years after missions are complete. On the other hand, there are instances in which personalities and different styles of management clash, making this aspect of missionary life especially difficult. This can happen with missionaries who have trouble accepting their Mission President or his companion; but it usually involves young missionaries serving as District, Zone, and Sister Training Leaders, who in their lack of experience, are overbearing or otherwise ineffective. There can also be a problem between Trainers and those they are introducing to the mission; and/or between Senior and Junior companions.
This can happen anytime one person has administrative authority over another. The basic problem may lie with the leader. “We have learned by sad experience that it is 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 (D & C 121:39). But the problem can also center in a lack of humility, resistance to authority, or other problems that the follower brings to the relationship. In either case, here are a few ideas that might help if you find yourself having trouble with a mission leader.
1. Frequently remind yourself that your time under the direction of a difficult leader is temporary. It’s tempting to think about the problem in general terms, “this is ruining my mission. I’m not going to let him/her get away with this. I can’t handle this.” It’s much better to describe the problem as temporary, “This won’t last forever. It isn’t the end of the world. I can deal with anything for a short time.”
2. Not only is the problem a temporary one, it need be only a small part of your mission experience. For example, your interactions with a mission leader are generally infrequent; and they certainly are a small part of what’s going on in your world. Of course, it will become a big part of your life if you choose to think about it all the time and make it a bigger part of your experience than it needs to be.
3. It will help immensely if you can think of the negative experience with a mission leader as a learning opportunity. Remind yourself that the temporary difficulty gives you a great opportunity to practice forgiving, develop patience, and to become more resilient to adversity. If approached correctly, the experience will make you a better person.
4. The bad stands out; but look for the good. No one is perfect; but we all have redeeming qualities; even the leader you are having trouble with. Make a concentrated effort to find and see the good. One way of doing this is to take out paper and pencil and make a formal list of the leader’s positive qualities. Review and add to the list periodically.
5. Make it a goal to sustain your mission leaders; including the one giving you a bad time. This means to do your best in following your leader’s direction; and it means, to avoid speaking negatively about the leader to others.
6. Doing your best to follow a leader’s direction does not mean that you must accomplish unreasonable goals or follow ill-advised suggestions. It does mean that you be be open to the possibility that your leader might be right after all; and give him or her the respect their position deserves. In general, don’t dismiss their suggestions without given them a try.
7. Don’t feel like a failure if you are failing to meet unreasonable mission goals. Count your service and your effort to serve; not the results of your work, in defining your success. Many great missionaries have served without much in the way of obvious results to show for their service.
8. There is typically no good reason to publicly confront your leader or voice rebellion when unreasonable goals or directions are imposed. You don’t have to resent the leader for pushing a basically righteous (even if unreasonable) goal; and you don’t have to publicly point out how unreasonable you think the goal is. Likewise, you don’t have to push yourself beyond reason in pursuit of a basically unrealistic goal. Just do your best and keep moving forward.
9. On the other hand, there may be value in discussing the problem privately with your mission leader. When you do this, make sure to use “I” not “you” messages. For example, “I’m having… (state the problem briefly but clearly); and I need you help”. Not, “You are doing this and I don’t like it.” Do your best to be heard, but also focus on listening to what the other is saying and feeling. Ask questions until you understand. Be willing to compromise.
10. If you are stonewalled and a private discussion of the problem goes nowhere, you then need to forgive the leader for his or her obstinance and move on; without letting the leader’s attitude or treatment define the value of your missionary service. Obviously, you want the respect and approval of your mission leaders; but you don’t need it. You do need the approval of the Lord. His love is a given; and his approval of your service will be based on reasonable goals and a perfect understanding of your personal situation.