President Hinckley Taught about the Loneliness of Leadership

Contributed By Morgan Jones, Church News contributor

  • 8 June 2018

President Gordon B. Hinckley served as the 15th President of the Church. Before receiving that calling, he taught about the “loneliness of leadership” and the importance of learning to live with your own conscience and convictions.

Article Highlights

  • Refusing to compromise your values can result in loneliness.
  • The Savior was the “loneliest picture in history.”
  • You must learn to live with your conscience and convictions.

On November 3, 1969, President Richard Nixon spoke to citizens of the United States of America, calling for national solidarity regarding the Vietnam War effort. The following day, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke to students at Brigham Young University, giving an address titled “The Loneliness of Leadership.”

“I suppose many of you watched President Nixon last night as I did, when he spoke to the nation and was listened to by the world,” Elder Hinckley said. “I watched him with great interest. I observed him as he wiped the perspiration from his face, realizing, I am sure, the importance of what he was saying. As I looked at him, I thought of the terrible loneliness of leadership.”

Gordon B. Hinckley would go on to serve as the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where he would learn more of the loneliness he spoke of. His words serve as a powerful reminder that compromising one’s values is not an option, for, as he said, “no institution and no man ever lived with itself or with himself in a spirit of compromise.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley with President Thomas S. Monson in 1970. Photo from Deseret News archive.

He cited the Savior Jesus Christ as the loneliest “picture in history” as He hung on the cross. Likewise, he offered other examples of loneliness: Joseph Smith and the early Latter-day Saints, missionaries, new converts, and many who share a common testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“Oh, you are all together here now. You are all of one kind; you are all of one mind,” he told the BYU students who gathered to hear his remarks. “But you are training to go out into the world where you are not going to have about you ten thousand, 20 thousand, 25 thousand others like you. You will feel the loneliness of your faith.

“It is not easy, for instance, to be virtuous when all about you there are those who scoff at virtue. It is not easy to be honest when all about you there are those who are interested only in making ‘a fast buck.’ It is not always easy to be temperate when all about you there are those who scoff at sobriety. It is not easy to be industrious when all about you there are those who do not believe in the value of work. It is not easy to be a man of integrity when all about you there are those who will forsake principle for expediency.”

He stressed the importance of this loneliness and the role it plays in the life of a disciple in what is perhaps the best-known quote from the talk: “There is loneliness—but a man of your kind has to live with his conscience. A man has to live with his principles. A man has to live with his convictions. A man has to live with his testimony. Unless he does so, he is miserable—dreadfully miserable. And while there may be thorns, while there may be disappointment, while there may be trouble and travail, heartache and heartbreak, and desperate loneliness, there will be peace and comfort and strength.”

During the Vietnam War, several General Authorities of the LDS Church visited the land. Among them was Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, fifth from the left. In 1966, he dedicated the land of Vietnam for the preaching of the gospel. He later spoke in general conference about the “silver threads” of war and how God works to make good come even amidst the violence of military conflict. Photo from Deseret News archive.