"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
February 19, 2015
Confronting Flaky Counselors
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I am an auxiliary president, and my counselors are really getting flaky. Between them they are habitually late (even when they are in charge), poorly prepared, and unreliable.

They don’t respond to my church-related texts for hours (social texts are answered immediately) or return my calls. And sometimes they don’t show up at all — they go out of town on short notice, they can’t make it the day of, etc. — and I have to scramble last minute.

We are having a presidency meeting soon, and I need to talk to them about being more reliable. I think I’m going to have to lay it on the line and be frank with them and tell them what a hard time I’m having doing everything on my own. How can I approach this problem effectively?


Reprimanding your counselors is a terrible idea. But before I tell you that, let me say that your frustration is justified. It is not okay, in any context, to bail on a commitment and leave someone in the lurch. Your organization’s classes, programs and activities are surely less successful when the presidency members do not fulfill their obligations.

As the president of your organization, it is your job to approach your counselors about this problem and to work to improve it. However, your thinking on this issue will have to go beyond saying, “You guys are late all the time and I’m sick of picking up your slack. Shape up.” That sounds like a reprimand instead of training, teaching, inviting or encouraging. And it is unlikely to change anyone’s behavior.

Further, it assumes that your counselors have the skills to perform the tasks you have assigned them. It is possible that you are asking them to do things they don’t know how to do. If that is the case, you need to teach them how, for example, to prepare a lesson, visit a sick person, plan an activity, conduct an interview or manage crazy comments during class.

It also assumes that your counselors are flaky. It could be that one or both of them is experiencing an actual difficulty that has reduced her ability to serve in your organization. She or a family member could be sick, her employment might be in jeopardy or her children might need more of her attention.

She might be experiencing marital troubles, her missionary daughter might be struggling, or she might be caring for an elderly aunt. If any of this is happening — or even if she is doing something happy, like planning a family reunion — you need to find out about it and adjust your expectations to match what she is able to give.

I suggest that instead of expressing your frustrations at your next presidency meeting, you take the opposite approach. Instead of describing problems, describe the progress you’ve seen in your organization and the people it serves. Illustrate the good that has come from your presidency’s work.

For example, if you are a Young Women president, you might point out that Sylvia has been attending seminary regularly for two months, that the Mia Maid class has been contention-free for three weeks, and that the Lind family participated in New Beginnings.

I have five more suggestions for your meeting.

First, begin your meeting with a well-thought-out gospel discussion. Before you dive into your action items, engage your presidency in a discussion about the scriptures and how they apply to your lives, your callings and your organization.

The purpose is to expand your vision as a presidency, to help you see the big picture of what you are trying to accomplish and to connect your presidency meeting to a broader goal and purpose.

Second, ask your counselors to bring a list of their goals, priorities and concerns. They have stewardships within your organization, and they almost certainly see different needs than you do.

Instead of treating them like support staff for your initiatives, incorporate their goals into your organization’s goals and ask how you can help them. If their priorities seem wildly different than yours, listen harder. They may be out in left field, but you might be missing something.

Third, pay attention to your communication style. If you are prone to bold declarations that squelch discussion, cool it during presidency meeting.

Some counselors will freely disagree with you no matter what, but many will not. Or they may mistake your statement of opinion for a final decision, leaving you without their counsel and them feeling frustrated.

Indeed, this might be the source of your current problem. It is possible that you made plans without consulting them, or in such a way that they did not feel free to object.

Fourth, reflect on the individual strengths of your counselors. What do you like about them? What are they good at? What do they know about? What unique experiences have they had? What can they do better than most people?

The point of this exercise is twofold. (A) to appreciate their good points. Even if you are 100% right about their failings, you will not get a clear picture of who they are unless you can also appreciate their strengths.

And (B) to know how to best use their talents in your presidency and organization. Callings are an opportunity to stretch and grow, but people also need to feel successful in their callings. And that often means letting a person use his obvious talents to do with ease what someone else would struggle to accomplish.

For example, Counselor A might be great at managing Sunday classes, but terrible at making phone calls. If this is the case, assign Counselor A to oversee teaching in your organization and let someone else make the phone calls.

Counselor B might be fifteen minutes late to everything. But she may have a knack with troublesome people. If so, let her deal with the prickly people in your organization.

And when Counselor B is in charge of something and needs to be there on time, call her the day of the event and ask what you can do to help. Suggest you arrive early to set up together, offer to pick her up, volunteer to watch her toddler — do what it takes to help her get there and do a good job.

Finally, express appreciation for your flaky counselors. Even if they drop the ball sometimes, there are certainly things they do well. And you should recognize their successes, praise their contributions and acknowledge the talents and skills they bring to your organization.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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