Mission Leader
Sister Training Leaders

17: Sister Training Leaders

Sister Shaunna Thompson: Welcome to the new mission leader podcast. I am your host, Shaunna Thompson, and I am super excited today because I have two beautiful ladies with me, and we’re going to talk about sister training leaders. So you know we love the missionaries, but boy, as a woman, I’ll sit up a little taller to talk about sister missionaries. We have Sister Bonnie Cordon with us today. She is currently serving as the Young Women General President. And we also want to welcome Melanie Foote. She works with the Missionary Department as a senior manager in the missionary effectiveness division. So today we’re going to talk about sister training leaders, and so I’m just going to throw it right to you, Sister Cordon. What can you tell us about the role of a sister training leader? What specifically is that role?

President Bonnie H. Cordon: You know, I think that it is so wonderful that we’ve expanded our vision of how these sister missionaries can bless the mission. And sister training leaders is one of those positions that I think had been so inspired. So some of the roles, of course—they are going to do exchanges with the other sisters, which was always a little bit of a hole because the elders would always go out and do exchanges. Of course, the elders wouldn’t do exchanges with sisters in the old days. And to see the sisters going out and helping other sisters have success—that’s a fabulous role. Of course, they sit on the mission leadership council, which is such a blessing. And they also hopefully expand the vision just in their whole district of what a good missionary is and how to have an exceptional area. But the thing that I love about sister training leaders is it gives the leadership to the sisters in a way that they can turn around and look outward and bless. And that great vision that they have, they can pass on to the other sisters, and it just lifts the whole mission.

Sister Thompson: Sister Foote, is there anything that you want to add? And also, is there anything they don’t do?

Sister Melanie Foote: That’s a great question. In addition, you typically have two sister training leaders that are assigned to one or more zones, which is wonderful because you have that leadership represented in the mission. And I think they really lift and strengthen all the missionaries, but particularly the sisters as they focus on their needs, their welfare. One thing that they do not do is that they do not conduct baptismal interviews.

Sister Thompson: OK. Good to know. What are some of the considerations when a new mission leader is thinking about calling a sister training leader? Why don’t you start, Sister Foote?

Sister Foote: I think, importantly, the Spirit needs to guide mission leaders in how to do that so that they find people who the Lord wants to be in that assignment. So that’s the first consideration. I think also young women who know how to listen and really see needs and understand what those needs are, so they can help meet those needs.

Sister Thompson: Anything else, Sister Cordon?

President Cordon: Well, you know, as you counsel together as a mission president and his wife, and you’re starting to talk about who should be a sister leader, who could be the person there that would have the impact on the mission, it is interesting to see the view of both of you. And so I think it’s important that you counsel together, because the dear companion of the mission president, or the wife, is going to see, sometimes, the sisters a little bit different. We both do, and so that counseling together is a very important part, I think, of sister training leaders’ selection. But as a sister training leader is considered, I love the fact that they listen to learn. That they’re a real listener. But they also have the ability to have that Christlike attribute to love the other sisters. Because if they have ability to not only see the work, but also see the individual and help them grow. And sometimes you just have to teach to that. Those sister training leaders, maybe they’ve never had an opportunity to do something quite like this, and it really highlights the need for training those young women how to be an effective leader to motivate.

Sister Thompson: Speak to what a new mission leader can do to help the sisters, and I’m sure the elders as well, to avoid that feeling of competition when leadership is chosen. Can you speak to that, Sister Foote?

Sister Foote: I’d be happy to. I served in a mission with lots of sisters, so I know what that’s like. I think when we look at it as the Lord’s work and not a competition—it’s not about how many baptisms we’re getting; it’s about lifting and developing others. And so I think as you deliver feedback or have opportunities to help provide kind correctness that you recognize that you can learn from these sisters too, if you’re putting yourself in the shoes of the sister training leader. And so I think young missionary leaders can learn from one another and from all missionaries.

Sister Thompson: I love that. Sister Cordon, any thoughts?

President Cordon: You know, I think it does start from the top down. And so the way that they’re chosen and the way that we communicate to the rest of the missionaries makes a huge difference. And I think we have to, as a mission president and his wife, realize that as you select a sister training leader, visiting with her and the way that she understands her role makes a big difference of how she will go out and be in that role. And as she’s out in that role, she has a great ability to deflect that competition, or sometimes those missionaries increase the competition because of the nature. So I think it’s really important that you train your sister missionaries to think, How did Christ serve as a leader? What is the perfect leader? Well, it’s the Savior Jesus Christ. And intentionally, we need to teach our sister training leaders, as well as our zone leaders and our district leaders, what does it look like to be a Christlike leader? Because most of the time they are used to seeing what a leader looks like in the world’s view or the world’s eyes. I’m in charge. We one time had an assistant who, bless his heart, we always had water at the trainings, and he ordered orange juice and told the missionaries that they needed to go out and buy him orange juice. We had a long training on, what does it mean to lead? That you’re actually serving the other missionaries, and they’re not serving you. So just little things that youth are learning: how to be a leader, and what does that mean, and that’s no different than our sisters. So we want to set them up for success in their leadership, and so that they can be the best leader that they can possibly be by giving them the expectations of why we do what we do.

Sister Thompson: Talk to me a little bit about a positive attitude. I’m sure that has to play somewhat into the choice of who you call as a sister training leader.

Sister Foote: I think missionary work sometimes can be hard if you’re a young missionary and you’re looking at that. So someone who can help them have faith, and help them have fun, and also encourage them to grow and develop is really important. And I was thinking as you were talking, Sister Cordon, about the importance of love. And I was thinking about the missionaries I served with personally and the missionaries I’ve been out and worked with, and when you see them loving one another it brings that hope. It really ties back to being a leader like the Savior.

President Cordon: Love is huge, because then it becomes about, How can I help this person grow? How can I help them flourish in their missionary work? And then I think some of the competition goes away because you’re trying to help them be the best self they can possibly be in the missionary work.

Sister Thompson: Let me ask this. So once they are sister training leaders, how do they help develop the sisters, and do they have any effect on the elders as well?

Sister Foote: That’s a great question. That’s a great question. I think first is through companionship exchanges, as they have the chance to be out among the missionaries. And an exchange, as you know, is where they spend time with the missionaries all day long. They’ll be with them in their studies, they’ll also go out with them in their field areas, and they have a lot of chance to talk with these missionaries in between that exchange and also see them teach and help teach together. And as they do these things, I think that they can help lift them as a whole. Secondly, I would say in the way that they can develop others is by teaching gospel principles and helping Christlike attributes increase as well.

Sister Thompson: Yeah. Anything else, Sister Cordon?

President Cordon: Well, the exchanges are so important, because as they do these exchanges, they get an opportunity to listen, and I think we’ve talked about listening. Sometimes we’re so anxious to teach these other missionaries how to do it—they will learn more by watching us love the work. And then as we listen to what they’re experiencing or going through, you know, if our sister training leaders really understand, ask them about their family. Have a connection with them. Build that relationship. People really don’t care how much you know until they know how much you love them. And we’ve heard that over and over. And it’s the same thing with our sister training leaders. So of course, they want the work to flourish. They want to see the area do better. But a missionary, a young sister missionary who’s going on an exchange with a sister training leader, sometimes they’re anxious because this is a sister training leader. But if that sister training leader knows you’re there to build a relationship and to help the work move forward—but you need to know her first. And once you know her, then you’re going to know how best to help her with all of the aspects of missionary work.

Sister Thompson: Also, can you address how they affect the elders? Or do they? I mean if that’s their charge is the sister missionaries, do they have any effect on the elders as well?

Sister Foote: I think that’s a great question. In mission leadership councils, just like a ward council, you counsel together. And so I think it’s helpful for both the elders and sisters to hear each other’s perspectives. They have often unique perspectives that they can share with one another, and they can learn from one another. I also think as they even participate in their own areas—because they’ll have an area that they work in, and they’ll work through their district and through their zone. They’ll have an opportunity to add to that component of it and helping be a council in the work that they do there. So I think just sharing their opinions, ideas. They’ll also participate in zone trainings and other trainings.

President Cordon: Just mentioning that, I think it’s really important that they’re part of the training. If you’re going to have elders train in your mission, where they’re having a zone meeting, and if zone leaders are going to train, have your sister leaders also train. If they’re going to train for twenty minutes, have your sister leaders train for twenty minutes. So it should never be that you just have the sisters stand up and just give an idea, a thought, for like five minutes, then have the zone leaders train for twenty minutes. Allow those sisters voices to be heard so that they have the opportunity to train the rest of the missionaries, and I think the elders and sisters will benefit from that as well as they benefit from having the zone leaders also train.

Sister Thompson: I love that thought. Tell me a little bit about—how can a new mission leader and his spouse, how can they help when these sisters are called? Obviously we have weaknesses. They don’t go away when we get callings. So how does one work with the weaknesses of the sisters as they’re called?

President Cordon: Well, with any opportunity to serve we need to be able to train them. We need to be very intentional about, What do they know? If you’re just going to call, whether it be an elder or a sister, in a leadership position, have an opportunity to counsel. Say, “Where are they in their abilities to lead? So what do we need to do to train them to be successful in their calling?” And so in that training, you’ll have an opportunity to—say you know you’re going to do a 20-minute training in zone conference. What does that look like? How would you do that, and how would you formulate that? So that we help them have success as they’re working in their calling.

Sister Thompson: One thing that I did want to say is, I liked how you changed when I asked about weaknesses. You changed it from weaknesses to abilities, which is so positive. I love that. So you’re really looking at more of the ability of the sister missionary instead of just a weakness.

President Cordon: We realize that most people are capable; they just lack the experience. The capability is there, they just don’t have the experience in, what does this look like? And so if we look at them and say, “OK, we know that you’ll be capable to do that”—give them the confidence—”however, with the experience, let’s give you some tools so that you can actually know how to be a sister training leader.” Or that applies to our zone leaders or district leaders. But just because you have a calling doesn’t mean you have the experience in it. So that’s why it’s so important that we allow them to have a space to learn.

Sister Thompson: Anything else?

Sister Foote: I was just going to add—in addition, mission leaders will have an opportunity to check in regularly with their sister training leaders to find out how things are going and to counsel together. And they may bump up against something that’s a little bit more difficult, and they’ll have an opportunity to counsel. And I remember that as a missionary too, receiving some excellent counsel from my mission leaders and learning and growing. And it’s a new experience.

Sister Thompson: I love that. So you mentioned mission leadership council, or they call it MLC. Correct? What’s the sister training leader’s role in MLC?

President Cordon: They participate in a council. You know this is a first time—this is remarkable because this is the first time that these young men and young women get to sit in council, for many of them. Now they should’ve been sitting in these councils in the ward youth council. They should’ve been growing up doing this. But for many, because they’re new in the Church or they haven’t had these experiences, they’re sitting in a council for the first time. And it is wonderful to teach young people how to sit in a council. We know there’s a lot of principles about counseling together, but some simple ones are, make sure that everyone has an opportunity to participate in a council. If they know that they’re coming to a council and that they know the agenda, then they are expected to come prepared to give some thoughts on what’s going to be talked about. And then have an opportunity to teach them that they’ve got to listen to learn. Why does someone have a different opinion than I do? Why do they see it like that? And then realize that in the Church as we’re counseling, we are really trying to seek the will of the Lord. So what does the Lord need us to do? It’s not just, by five say, “Yes,” and four say, “No,” so let’s do this. What does the Lord need us to do? And then have a plan to act. Those are four things that are very simple on councils that help any mission leadership council to go forward. But they do need a plan. Everyone participate because it is a revelatory experience as you come as a council, because revelation is sprinkled among us. And if we remember those simple things, then we are inviting everyone’s voice. Sometimes depending on personalities—boys or girls, young men and young women—they’ve never spoken up in a council, and so they’ll sit quietly. And sometimes you have to wait and say, “We need everyone to participate and give us our thoughts for this situation.” The goal is to help people have experiences being a leader, and that’s part of being a leader is participating in that council.

Sister Thompson: It sounds to me like even then you are training them. Correct? I mean, you’re training them to find their voice and use their voice and listen to others. It sounds like it can be such a galvanizing experience for them.

President Cordon: And what are you training them to do? To go home; to be a husband or wife; sit on a ward council; to be a voice for good and to know how to listen.

Sister Thompson: I love that. Anything else?

Sister Foote: I just agree with everything you said. I’ve watched missionaries counsel in these kinds of settings, and it’s a marvelous experience to see—as you see these young men and women rising to their calling, and that magnification happens in the ideas and the thoughts. But what’s important is the mission leadership council is really focused on helping others come unto Christ. And just as you said, Sister Cordon, when you go home that’s the same focus, and so it’s all aligned. It’s a beautiful process, and it’s a revelatory process when that happens.

Sister Thompson: Life skills, there you go. So let’s end then with this question: So how does a new mission leader, husband and wife, how do they help these sister training leaders succeed and reach their full potential?

Sister Foote: We were talking about this earlier, and I think that they reach their full potential by working with them one by one like the Savior does. Because they’re each individual and they have individual needs, and the Lord has a plan for them. And I think as they focus on their needs but also help them learn to turn outward on others’ needs, that growth happens. And again, it’s a significant process to see happen, and I personally had that happen in my life, and it continues to happen when you are in just normal life. And so I’m really grateful for that.

President Cordon: I love that. You know, you ponder, what is it that we can do for these young people? And I think the first thing is love them. Truly see why have they been called at this time. Some of the simple things that I think as a mission president’s wife that you can do to know how to help them is truly pray for your leaders. I mean we pray for the missionaries, each one of them. The ones that are struggling sometimes, you start praying for them by name. But as you call these new leaders, what do I need to do to help them to understand how to do this? Prayer is powerful, and as they look outward to see how they can be sister training leaders, encourage them also to pray specifically for those sisters that are going to be under their responsibility. And then they’ll be guided by the Spirit. I think it’s important to help these young people know that they can receive revelation. They can receive revelation in their calling for those that they’re going to serve, and so we want them to really seek the Spirit. If they realize that they’re there to help that sister flourish, and that it’s by love and patience, and we do the same thing to our training leaders. Helping them realize that we have total confidence in them. I think you’ll have that different feeling instead of that competition. Once you start praying for someone and you’re seeking guidance on “How can I help?” it changes your heart and how you’re actually seeing that person. So it is one by one, and one by one as you work with the Lord on how this person really does need the individualized training for that person. For that missionary.

Sister Thompson: One by one. I think that’s a lovely way to end our time together. Thank you so much for joining me, and it just gives me a thrill to talk about sister missionaries. I love it. So thank you for helping us understand a little more about the leadership, and come join me again.