During a son’s visit with elderly parents, his mother remarked at how complex the world seemed. “All around us, people are busy. It often appears we have very little time for what’s important because we are too busy trying to do everything.”
Her perspective of life looking back from age 85 is different as compared to a young parent trying to look into the future. The view forward is, perhaps, a view of many things not yet done while the look backward is a satisfaction of fewer, but important things, accomplished very well.
Each day we face the demands of many tasks we feel pressured to accomplish. Some tasks need to be done to ensure our mortal survival while some are critical to our eternal salvation. Following honest introspection, some things might not need to be done at all.
The tasks we accomplish are usually associated with an organization such as a company we work for, a family we belong to, a church we attend or even a service, sports or hobby group we associate with.
Organizations are led by leaders and these leaders often determine what tasks need to be accomplished.
Tom Rath and Barrie Conchie teach in Strengths Based Leadership “if you spend your life trying to be good at everything, you will never be great at anything. While our society encourages us to be well-rounded, this approach inadvertently breeds mediocrity” (Strengths Based Leadership, Gallup Press 2008, p.7).
The authors then describe a successful leader as someone looking beyond self and recognizing strengths of others and then incorporating them into a team of experts, delegating to others the tasks each can do best.
In an article from the MIT Leadership Center, author David T. Morgenthaler writes that we manage things and we lead people. He defines someone who is both a good manager and a good leader: “This is the CEO who does most things right. She sees that the necessary things are scheduled and happen on time, on budget and to acceptable quality standards. She sees that the right people are in place, are stimulated to exceptional performance, and are handled promptly as needed if they underperform” (MIT Leadership Center, mitleadership.mit.edu/r-morgenthaler.php).
A family suffers not when parents are busy, but when parents are so busy trying to do everything, and do it all perfectly, that the result is mediocrity and dysfunction.
In Doctrine and Covenants section 132:8 we are taught: “Behold, mine house is a house of order, saith the Lord God, and not a house of confusion.”
The Church’s structure teaches us to be organized and to delegate. For example, a ward clerk orders supplies and tracks attendance and finances. A Primary president oversees a vital group of teachers and leaders for our very young members. Holders of the Aaronic Priesthood administer the critical sacrament ordinance every week and the bishop, as presiding high priest in the ward, provides doctrinal vision and overall direction to the ward.
A stake president does not prepare, bless and pass the sacrament to all members of the stake nor does he teach every lesson and prepare every report.
A newly called Primary president carefully prepared an outline for each Primary class lesson. She then gathered teachers each week following the ward’s block of meetings and distributed her outlines. She firmly told the teachers that each week she expected them to follow the outline in their classes.
Several weeks passed and one by one the Primary instructors sought out members of the bishopric and asked to be released. They expressed frustration that the new Primary president was doing too much in scripting each week’s class.
The bishop privately sought the help of selected members of the ward council, asking how he might help the Primary president understand the principle of delegation to allow the teachers to follow the Spirit as they taught.
The bishop initiated an abbreviated (and temporary) ward council meeting immediately following the meeting block, thus preventing the Primary president from holding her meeting and distributing her lesson outlines. After several weeks, the Primary president asked to meet with the bishop and expressed her frustration.
In that meeting the Primary president related her fear of failure as a president and her desire to ensure the Primary functioned perfectly. In that moment of humbly expressing her fears, a wonderful teaching moment, accompanied by the Spirit, allowed the bishop to gently guide this new Primary president, and she began to understand that from her trying to do everything, the organization was suffering.
Parents are also pulled many directions. To some it’s keeping up with the neighbors by providing children with the latest in electronic devices, the newest video game or in taking a yearly vacation that must be better than that of other families. Failure to keep up with others is often perceived as being a failure as a parent.
Fear of failure or being found less than perfect by others might cause us to volunteer for every Church activity and try to compensate, often by purchasing “things” to provide an even more impressive event than happened “last year.”
Fearing failure pushes us into a selfish mode of focusing on ourselves and trying to do more than we are capable of doing and, in the process, doing everything, well, poorly.
A bishop once told his ward that, as with families, if everyone was good at everything, the ward would be a very dull place, full of sameness. The rich diversity, the variety of talent and the unique expertise found among ward members, he said, was the genesis of what made a great ward.
Parenting is not raising every child to be letter perfect in every endeavor. Some will have a gift of music and another will have a gift of learning math or science. Others will excel in sports. Great families are often comprised of many talents. Great parents, as with great corporate leaders, help each child, or employee, experience joy in finding and developing talents unique to each person. It is a focus on others rather than self and not trying to do everything.
We will perhaps be better remembered and loved, not for shining a light on our own accomplishments, but for helping others shine as they develop their own talents and expertise.
“And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and ... Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:30-31).