The challenge for the leader in any organization, be it business, church, or the family, is to engage in the kinds of actions that will let those who work with or under him know that he has a vital, personal concern about them as individuals.
Dr. Rensis Likert, formerly of the University of Michigan, has stated that a fundamental condition of an effective organization is the degree to which it conforms to what he calls the “principle of supportive relationships.” This principle is defined as follows:
“The leadership and other processes of the organization must be such as to ensure a maximum probability that in all interactions and in all relationships within the organization, each member, in the light of his background, values, desires, and expectations, will view the experience as supportive and one which builds and maintains his sense of personal worth and importance.” 1
No organization, including the Church, can exist for long unless work is done and goals are accomplished. The leader cannot ignore the work-centered activities, and he should see that activities are planned, programs are set up, materials are in order, and assignments are made and followed through. But all of this must be done in the general atmosphere of an overriding concern for those who must do the work and carry out the assignments. When people feel that their superior thinks the work is more important than the people who do it, the motivation to work is hindered.
This is the critical balance—good planning, organization, and high performance standards for work in an atmosphere where each individual involved feels confident that he, personally, is understood, appreciated, and highly involved.
In your own experience in the Church, consider how this balance is being met and maintained in the following situations.
1. Calling to a position. Is the person who issues the call so intent on covering the nature of the assignment, the requirements, and the importance of the work that he fails to deal with the needs, concerns, fears, and questions of the person being called?
2. Oral Interviews. Does the person conducting the oral interview spend all his time asking about the home teaching families or the organization in question, without talking deeply and personally about the inner concerns of the person who is doing the home teaching or working in the organization?
3. Sign-up interviews for temple recommends and tithing settlement. A current practice in many wards and branches is to post a sign-up sheet for an appointment for a recommend or for tithing settlement. For many members this is the only contact they have with the bishop in a personal interview situation. Is enough time allowed for each person to feel the genuine concern of the bishop?
4. Class activity. In church classes, do some teachers make the students feel that the lesson is more important than the learner? Lessons are often impersonal and deal with few issues that are of real concern to the student. It is the wise and skillful teacher who can create a class atmosphere where students can talk about the real issues and questions they have about the gospel.
5. Assignments. Do quorum or ward leaders make assignments with the needs of the person in mind? It is the rare quorum leader who sits down with quorum members and says, “Here is the work we will be responsible for. What is your personal situation? How can we work out a schedule with you that will allow you to accomplish these assignments and yet not create problems for you? What suggestions do you have for getting the assignments completed?” Assignments are frequently made by telling the quorum, “We need six men on the welfare farm. Who will volunteer?” In a strained silence, three hands go up. The quorum leader then says, “If anyone else can go, please give me a call.” No one calls and the quorum presidency goes out again to the welfare farm.
What can be done by church leaders to create an atmosphere of personal concern and individual acceptance?
1. They can take time. Too often the interaction around a church activity is hurried, poorly timed, and conducted with the feeling, “We’re both busy, so let’s hurry and get this over with.” A calling to a position, an interview, or an oral evaluation should be scheduled with time enough to express real appreciation, to find out any personal concerns, and to talk about not only the job but also the person.
2. They can ask personal questions. For many reasons, people shy away from talking personally with others. It seems safer to talk business. But one can move into the area of personal concern by saying something like the following: “I honestly would like to know how you feel about your home teaching assignment. If you have any qualms or reservations, I would like to know; and if you have any suggestions for improving things, they would be most welcome.” “How are things going for you now? Are you having any problems, questions, or difficulties with which I can help?” It may be possible to open up a discussion of something you, the leader, have noticed is bothering the other person.
3. They can listen with understanding. If a person begins to talk about his feelings of concern about matters that affect him, the leader must listen, and listen, and listen, and try to understand. It will not be helpful if the leader invites sharing and then interrupts with such comments as these: “That’s not how it really is.” “You didn’t really get a clear picture of what we are trying to do.” “Let me tell you what I would do if I were you.”
They can listen with understanding or empathy. This means honestly trying to see the problem or the situation from the other person’s position and to understand how and why he sees and responds to things the way he does, so that help can be given from where he is rather than from where the leader is.
4. They can be willing to do something. One of the most common reactions of the leader after a person has shared a real concern is to ask, “How can I help?” This question often puts the interviewee in a real dilemma. He may not have been asking for help, and he may not know what would be appropriate. Feeling awkward and embarrassed, he may say, “Oh, I don’t need any help,” or “I don’t know what you could do.”
Instead of asking what he can do, the leader can actually do something: he can take action. He can express understanding, concern, and empathy. He can respond with an expression of love or gratitude, a touch or a pat on the back. He can suggest action, such as: “I know that home teaching situation is difficult; let me go with you next month to see it for myself.” “I’ll be glad to take part of the lesson next time, so you can sit back and watch the class.” “That’s a tough problem. Let me talk to the bishop and get his reaction.”
If one has real concern, he usually can do something that shows in his actions that his concern is real and not just a ploy used because he has read an article on personal concern and feels he ought to try it.
Dr. Dyer is chairman of the Department of Organizational Behavior at Brigham Young University. He has written widely in the field of human relations and has been a consultant in training programs both in the United States and abroad. He serves as assistant Sunday School superintendent in Edgemont Eighth Ward, Sharon East Stake.