Unchanging Principles of Leadership

Wendell J. Ashton


Last week several of us were in the office of my former missionary companion, Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, shortly after he had received his notice from the First Presidency as to when he would speak at this great conference.

Elder Hinckley turned serious and almost wan, then said, “You know, this frightens me terribly. It does every time general conference approaches.”

Elder Hinckley has been coming up here twice a year and performing ably for thirteen years. But can you see how one of us feels coming to this world-conference pulpit for the first, and perhaps only, time?

And so tonight, with your approval and President Smith’s permission, I should like to speak to only two of you here, as I respond to the request of the First Presidency to represent the Church Leadership Committee, headed by Elder Thomas S. Monson. I shall feel more comfortable chatting with only two of you, but you all may listen if you care to. The two are our two sons: Owen, a priest, and Kay, a teacher.

The General Authorities are concerned about you two boys, and your sisters too. Our Church leaders are aware of the tremendous challenges and opportunities facing all of our youth.

Four years ago the presiding brethren launched a leadership training program. It began with the General Authorities themselves, in a school-of-the-prophets meeting each Wednesday in the Church Administration Building. They taught themselves in the leadership skills of Jesus and his prophets. From this modern school of the prophets came outlines and source materials for leadership training in the stakes and missions—at stake priesthood leadership meetings, stake priesthood meetings, Saturday evening leadership meetings of quarterly stake conferences, and at similar meetings in the missions. There have also been leadership seminars for Regional Representatives of the Twelve. These representatives then conduct regional meetings twice a year for stake priesthood and auxiliary leaders. This year, leadership instruction has been extended to a bishops’ training course, to monthly quorum meetings of high priests, and to other areas.

This leadership training aims particularly to help young priesthood holders like you to better meet the challenges of this fast-changing world. And how it is changing!

In 1900 only 4 percent of the college-age group attended college. Now it is 40 percent. A national business magazine notes that “it is estimated at the present time that an engineering degree represents knowledge that becomes obsolete after ten years. Changes are coming so fast that degrees will soon be out of date after five years. …” Another publication reports that 80 percent of the jobs in the future will require less than four years in college, but will demand vocational-technical education for skills such as those of carpenters, auto mechanics, secretaries, and salesmen.

A book, The Year 2000, talks about some of the developments likely ahead for you: mining and farming on the ocean floors, three-dimensional photography, artificial moons for lighting large areas at night, and many others.

Even more sobering, though, are thoughts regarding other changes that some say are ahead: the phasing out of family life and of the moral code that helped make this and other nations great.

As priesthood bearers, we must be prepared to meet change and to resist with all our might those changes that would strike at the basic institution of the Church and of society generally—the home.

You will know wisdom, Owen and Kay, when you fully realize that the lasting lessons in leadership do not change. They are eternal. They helped make Noah and Abraham and Moses giants in the land, giants in character, in leadership, in bringing men and women closer to God. These same unchanging principles of leadership are helping Latter-day Saint priesthood leaders and holders become mighty leaders today, not only in the remarkable growth of the Church but also in government, business, education, and the professions of the world. These eternal principles can help you lead in a world that cries out for real priesthood leadership.

May I give you one or two examples. Let’s begin with that noble forebear of many of us—Joseph, who was sold into Egypt. As a youth he was rejected. His own brothers cast him into a pit and then sold him as a slave. While still a young man, he was bound in a dungeon because he turned away from a woman who tempted him. He was confined in that dungeon for over two years. When he was brought out, he was taken before the Pharaoh, who was troubled with a dream. He had heard of Joseph the prisoner’s reputation for interpreting dreams. Catch Joseph’s reply to Pharaoh’s request for an answer to his dream, Joseph’s first recorded words after emerging from the dungeon: “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace,” said Joseph. (Gen. 41:16.)

Joseph had kept the faith—faith in his Heavenly Father. He had remained free as a slave and as a prisoner because he had kept close to the Lord. Yet there are young men and women today who become slaves when they are free because they unfortunately reach for a pill when they suffer a reverse or feel rejected.

Remember some years ago, Owen, when you and I together prepared a family home evening lesson while on a vacation at Flathead Lake in Montana? The lesson was on David and Goliath. The account in Samuel said that Goliath was six cubits and a span tall. We figured that was nearly ten feet. (What a basketball center he would have been!) Samuel said that Goliath wore a coat of mail weighing 5,000 shekels. We did more figuring. That coat weighed approximately 160 pounds. Goliath was not only big; he was strong. Listen now to David the shepherd boy’s words as he faced the giant in the Valley of Elah, after Goliath had roared out his ridicule.

David replied, “This day will the Lord deliver thee into mine hand. …” (1 Sam. 17:46.)

Owen and Kay, you are going to face some Goliaths ahead—big challenges. Don’t fear them. Meet them. Move into them, knowing that the Lord is with you, if your cause is righteous.

There are more lessons to be learned from Nephi and Naaman, from Joshua and the brother of Jared, from Samuel of Israel and Samuel the Lamanite, and from many others. The most powerful lessons, however, you will find, come from that leader among leaders, Jesus the Christ.

And so, Owen and Kay, from the prophets and from the Prince of Peace, learn how to lead, beginning with yourselves. Stand on your own feet. Stand tall. Hold your heads high as though you are truly sons of God, which you are. Walk among men as holders of powers beyond your own, which you have, through the priesthood. Move on the good earth as though you are partners of the Lord in helping to bring immortality and eternal life to mankind, which you are. Walk quietly, as in stocking feet; but walk fearlessly, in faith. Don’t let the ill winds sway you. Walk as leaders with the priesthood in the government of God. Walk with hands ready to help, with hearts full of love for your fellowmen. But walk with a toughness in righteousness.

If you do, Owen and Kay, I promise you as your father and as the presiding priesthood bearer in our home that you will know the meaning of that blessing of a father of old to his son, when Lehi spoke to Jacob: “… men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Ne. 2:25.)

I give you this witness, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.