Let’s have an honest discussion of what makes a good leader. All of us have experienced poor leadership and all of us have experienced good leadership. Being someone who has been both the follower and the leader, I’d like to offer some insights into what makes a good missionary leader. (You may fill in mission president, assistant to the president, zone leader, district leader, sister training leaders, trainer, or participant on a mission leadership council.)
Pretty much anyone who plans to serve a mission or is serving a mission needs to plan on being a leader and learning leadership skills is a great first step in the process!
For this discussion on leadership, I turned to a great world leader for insight, President Gordon B. Hinckley!
President Hinckley came up with a list of six qualities for youth to learn back in November 2000, often playfully called the “Be Attitudes!”
BE GRATEFUL: “Walk with gratitude in your hearts, my dear friends. Be thankful for the wonderful blessings which are yours. Be grateful for the tremendous opportunities that you have … Express appreciation to everyone who does you a favor or assists you in any way. Thank the Lord for His goodness to you.”
How wonderful it is to work with a leader that sees your efforts and appreciates your intentions … even when perhaps things don’t always go to plan! For myself, I will always go the extra mile for a leader that has expressed appreciation for my efforts. I find that when someone takes me for granted, I don’t feel very motivated to extend myself the next go-around!
BE SMART: “The Lord wants you to educate your minds and hands, whatever your chosen field. Whether it be repairing refrigerators, or the work of a skilled surgeon, you must train yourselves. Seek for the best schooling available. Become a workman of integrity in the world that lies ahead of you.”
Leaders need to know what they need to know! No one wants to follow someone who hasn’t figured out what they’re doing! If you intend on serving in the Lord’s vineyard, start to learn NOW: study scriptures, attend seminary/institute, and talk with your ward missionaries to get their insights.
BE CLEAN: “How truly beautiful is a well-groomed young woman who is clean in body and mind. She is a daughter of God in whom her Eternal Father can take pride. How handsome is a young man who is well groomed. He is a son of God, deemed worthy of holding the holy priesthood of God. He does not need tattoos or earrings on or in his body. The First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are all united in counseling against these things [drug use, destructive entertainment, evil talk, etc.]”
BE TRUE: “Be true to your own convictions. You know what is right, and you know what is wrong. You know when you are doing the proper thing. You know when you are giving strength to the right cause. Be loyal. Be faithful. Be true.”
One of the most frustrating experiences is having a leader whose actions say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” If you are leading, be TRUE to what you are representing. Be TRUE to the mission rules. It is so frustrating to missionaries to hear of rules being flexed and softened. These are promises you agreed to keep, so KEEP them. As leaders, be the example!
Another aspect of being TRUE is to keep confidences. Be true to the trust placed in you as a leader. Don’t mock someone’s weakness, because others are watching and will see in you someone who cannot be trusted. Don’t gossip. Don’t share confidences that were entrusted to you. Be someone others can trust to see their vulnerable weaknesses, and then show an increase of love. After all, our Savior knows our darkest struggles and still offers Himself as ransom so that we can move forward in our progression. Love those you lead!
BE HUMBLE: “I believe the meek and the humble are those who are teachable. They are willing to learn. They are willing to listen to the whisperings of the still, small voice for guidance in their lives. They place the wisdom of the Lord above their own wisdom.”
This is a key attribute to leading on a mission.
A leader serves. Be there when those you serve need you. Assume the best about missionaries. They’ve given up their time to serve the Lord, so He trusts them. Love and trust your missionaries. Humbly get to know the missionaries you have been called to serve and serve with. Learn their story. Everyone has a story. Humbly and lovingly get to know those around you.
BE PRAYERFUL: “You need His help, and you know that you need His help. You cannot do it alone….Get on your knees and thank Him for His goodness to you and express to Him the righteous desires of your hearts. The miracle of it all is that He hears. He responds. He answers—not always as we might wish He would answer, but there is no question in my mind that He answers.”
Prayers truly bring miracles. Prayers can help you to understand someone’s heart, intentions, and struggles. Prayer can heal and empower. Pray for those you serve, by name. It may take a little longer on your knees to pray for the specific needs of each person you serve, but, I promise, inspiration comes as you do so. I have experienced this many, many times—kneeling in prayer, praying for a specific person and receiving inspiration for that person’s needs.
These skills are not just to help you lead during a mission, these are skills you need in the future. You are going to take everything you learn here—how to work with others, how to help them, how to inspire and strengthen them! You are not just called to be a leader in the mission, you are called to be a leader for life!
Growing up all over the world gave Emlee Taylor an opportunity to see the incredible differences the Lord created in humanity; and even better, the passions we all share as members of the human race: love for family, faith, & a desire to make a difference. Emlee lives life with passion—focusing her time now on raising four children and teaching them to recognize truth and to live true to that truth, regardless of others’ expectations. Emlee is passionately in love with her bestest friend and husband of more than 20 years.