When I was Primary President (leader of Sunday instruction and weekday activities for the toddlers through pre-teens), my Bishop once said to me, “Molly, this isn’t work, you can’t just fire people whenever you want to!” Well, my initial theory about my assignment was that I was there for the children, and the adults should grow up and pitch in. If they weren’t showing up, replace them.
Additionally, I was also supposed to have a Secretary to help me get all the paperwork done – class lists, announcements to parents, speaking assignments for the children, etc. After my fourth (??) Secretary decided to suddenly stop attending Church (and was no where to be found) … I told the bishop I didn’t see the point in exerting the energy to pray about who should fill the calling, argue with the bishopric about my inspiration, wait for the person to be interviewed and accept, and then train yet another person.
I could do the paperwork just fine on my own – in fact, I had an amazing system of spreadsheets that I was quite proud of. The Bishop kindly sent a message via my husband (who was his counselor) that not calling a replacement was not an option. Within the congregation, the Primary organization had the largest number of assignments (“callings”) and people needed the opportunity to learn and grow.
I slowly and eventually realized that even though I was there for the kids (and they were the best part) that I was equally there for the adults. I had grown up in the Church, and knew what Primary should look and feel like. I understood and felt deeply about the purpose and role of Primary in the lives of those children.
Often, the adults I felt prompted to call as teachers and assistants had not grown up in the Church, some had never had any leadership assignment. Thankfully, others were very familiar with music and teaching children – because I was not a professional. But all were called by the Lord to serve, and all were needed. I tried hard to lead, mentor, and teach but felt it deeply and personally when the adults chose to not fulfill their callings.
Well, I occasionally have to travel for work. In these quiet and extremely boring hours on flights, I often reflected on the things going on in Primary and prayed for answers to the challenges we were having. Some of these resulted in visits and discussions with the Primary staff. After some beautiful and enlightening conversations, I would know whether to be patient or to call someone else to the assignment.
About the time that I realized I couldn’t just fire people from Primary, I started to have some epiphanies about my leadership roles at the office. To be honest, some days I wish I could fire my co-workers. I KNOW they want to throttle me some days, as well. Thankfully, labor laws and business practices make it very difficult for us to do this to each other.
What I did learn, however, is that I want to be a good technical leader and a good people leader. I discovered that there is a place to make good business decisions, good technical decisions, and still treat your co-workers with respect. Well, that’s the goal. As an engineer, the problem, task or project is always foremost in my mind. That’s the fun part. The analytical part of my brain can spin on the science and the math, and create solutions.
But I care deeply about others, and to be true to all of me, I needed to find ways to solve problems without just running over those who get in my way. I needed to find ways to bring the team with me. A 14-hour day analyzing data is easy. A 9-hour day working with people to make organizational progress is exhausting.
So, what do I do about it? On my good days, I pray. I attempt. I discuss. I go out of my comfort zone to have really difficult discussions. I remind myself to treat others with respect because God wants me to and it’s good for the job, even when I personally don’t feel they deserve it.
On my good days, my team has all of me. On my good days, mountains are moved and clouds part. We find brilliant solutions to complex problems together and we are excited about it TOGETHER. On other days, I’m just a struggling, exasperated engineer who fails to understand other humans and doesn’t accomplish as much.
My bishop was right, Church callings aren’t like work assignments. However, maybe work wasn’t really what I thought it was either.
Molly A. Kerr
Molly is on a life long quest to figure herself out. Born to be and educated as an aerospace engineer she is also blessed to be a wife and a mom of two in the present, previously served as a full-time missionary, is consistently called to teach the youth in her ward, is eagerly though slowly doing home improvement as money and time allow, all while gradually learning how to be herself and find peace and balance somewhere in between. Despite her attempts to make “the right” decisions in her life, she has learned to deal with some unexpected challenges over the last two decades. Total tornadoes, really. What she has discovered is that her career has taught her a lot about the Gospel and being a better mother, and the Gospel, when applied to challenges at the office, has made her a better professional. She has also learned that it is okay to be herself, and God still loves (and forgives) her for it.