How to Be a Good Executive Secretary

(Warning: I can’t imagine this would be interesting to anyone who’s not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you want to read it anyway, go for it. Nothing secret here. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

For some reason, the word on the street is that I do a good job in my church calling as an executive secretary for the stake. I’m a bit stumped by this, honestly, because I feel like all I’m doing is . . . doing the job. My guess is that the typical expectation for an executive secretary is so low that when one of them just shows up and does what the calling’s supposed to do, then people ooh and aah about it. However, I recognize that maybe I’m off on this. It could be that this is one calling that just plays to my strengths so much that I don’t recognize it as being difficult. After all, a big part of it is being organized, and if there’s one thing I am, it’s organized. (Well, not my office. We’re not talking “organized” in terms of “has no clutter,” okay?)

So with that in mind, I thought I’d just briefly talk about what I do in the calling. If that helps someone out there with the same calling, super. If no one reads this, oh well.

First, for those of you who might not know, the Stake Executive Secretary is in charge of a few basic things, per the church handbook:

  • Meet with the stake presidency and prepare agendas as assigned.
  • Serve as a member of the stake council and attend high council meetings. As directed by the stake presidency, follow up on assignments made in these meetings.
  • Coordinate stake business between the stake presidency, high council, and other stake leaders.
  • Schedule appointments for the stake presidency.
  • Advise the stake presidency of members who are entering the military or are already in military service. Under the direction of the stake presidency, help coordinate Church orientation for stake members who are entering the military.
  • Orient new ward executive secretaries soon after they are called. Provide ongoing instruction as needed.
  • Forward messages received from Church employees and volunteers to the appropriate stake and ward leaders, as instructed by the stake president.

So that’s step one. Read over all those duties, and then . . . do them. Though full disclosure, I have done nothing with the fifth item on the list, and very little with the sixth. (See? I’m already showing I’ve got a ways to go to really do this well.) But as for 1-4 and #7? My approach is pretty straightforward.

“Meet with the stake presidency”: That’s easy. We meet once a week, typically on Wednesday evenings. Simply by showing up to those meetings, I get that part of the job done. Though since I’m there, I try to be a full participant. I give my opinion about different items as they come up on the agenda. I talk plenty in the meetings.

“Prepare agendas as assigned”: This is where it might get tricky for some, but when it comes to figuring out a way to do something with as little work as possible, I’m your huckleberry. I made one agenda waaaaay back when I first started 4 years ago. It was based off the agenda they were already using. It has two main sections. First, a spot to note action items that need to be taken by each individual member of the presidency (President, 1st Counselor, 2nd Counselor, Clerk, Secretary). Second, a spot for new items that need to be discussed. That’s it, in terms of the week to week stuff.

At the beginning of each weekly meeting, I make a copy of the agenda and label it as the agenda for the next week. (All of this is done in Google Docs, because it’s the easiest place to share things.) As we make our way through the current agenda, I delete any action items that are already accomplished. I add any action items that are assigned. I do the same thing for new business. If we talk about something and resolve it, I delete the item. If we don’t, I leave it. By the end of the meeting, I pretty much already have next week’s agenda ready. I email the link to the presidency, and that’s that.

Serve as a member of the stake council and attend high council meetings“: Again, all you have to do is show up. If you’re an active participant, all the better. (And really, why wouldn’t you want to be an active participant? You’re stuck there for two hours anyway. Might as well make things interesting.

As directed by the stake presidency, follow up on assignments made in these meetings“: I do the same thing for stake council that I do for stake presidency meetings. I prepare an agenda, and I note down what action items were assigned. The one difference is that I take minutes for stake council, even though that’s technically the Stake Clerk’s job. I’m already keeping note of all these things. Might as well just do it myself instead of losing track of the information if communication breaks down. I see this as being part of “Coordinate stake business between the stake presidency, high council, and other stake leaders.”

Down at the bottom of the weekly agendas I make, I have a section for Stake Council and Unit Leader Training. As the stake presidency comes up with items that need to be addressed in those meetings, I write them down. (See a pattern? Listen for what needs to be done, and then write it down. Delete it as it’s accomplished.) When it’s time to make an agenda for one of those meetings, there’s no need to wonder what we need to talk about. I’ve already got it down.

Schedule appointments for the stake presidency.”: This took a bit of time to optimize, but like most things, the key was a good spreadsheet. Each month, I find out from the stake presidency what days they’re available for meetings. I then (you guessed it) write those down. I’ve also talked with each of them to find out who they want to meet with on a regular basis. I write that down, too. On one page of the spreadsheet, I have a column for each stake presidency member. There will be a cell that notes their availability, and then under that I break down the actual meetings for them, as I schedule them. On a second tab, I write down all the people they want to meet with regularly, each on their own row. Then above, I label the columns by month. When they meet with someone, I mark it down on that sheet. That way, I know when the last time they’ve met with them is. All I need to do then is see who they haven’t met with recently, and set up those meetings week to week. (I do this for reports from the High Council, as well, to see who has submitted them and who hasn’t.) I add other appointments as necessary and requested.

Forward messages received from Church employees and volunteers to the appropriate stake and ward leaders, as instructed by the stake president.”: This one is self explanatory. Emails come in, and I forward those emails on.

And that’s about the size of it. Other things I do include looking at the statistics for the stake from week to week, and bring anything noteworthy to the attention of the stake presidency. I email action items to members of the stake council after those meetings, to make sure everyone knows what they’re supposed to do. I set up Zoom rooms for meetings when needed, and I email those links out. If the stake presidency has any overarching goals they want to get done, I keep track of the progress of those goals. To do that, I make sure each goal is tied to a specific metric to track. And then I track that metric.

Really, it all boils down to writing things down, and then following up. Over, and over, and over, and over. (And again, that’s something I’m good at doing.) It can be tricky to stay on top of it all, and the repetition does kind of wear you down from time to time. (Each week, I basically have to reset everything I did the week before, and do it again. I’ve done that over 200 times now . . .)

There’s really no secret to any of it. For keeping track of military members . . . I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing, so I haven’t done anything. That’s on me. For training new executive secretaries, I’ve offered, and usually I’m not taken up on it. I should probably be more assertive with that. I’ll have to think that over. But in the end, you read what the handbook says you’re supposed to do, and then you do it.

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