First Presidency Message

Leading as the Savior Led

By President N. Eldon Tanner

First Counselor in the First Presidency

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    In order to be a successful leader or teacher (and I will use these terms interchangeably) in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is important that each realizes and understands fully that he is a spirit child of God and that those he is leading are also spirit children of God. It is important also that those whom he is leading know and understand that they are spirit children of God, and know how important that this knowledge is in their lives. They must realize that God is interested in them, wants them to live the way they should, and is ready to answer their prayers and help them wherever possible if they will but listen.

    Someone has said that leadership entails a certain boldness. It is, after all, essentially the business of venturing out front, going first, standing in front of the mob, the congregation, the faceless audience of thousands, or the hardy-eyed gaze of only one doubter.

    Everyone is a leader or has influence in the lives of others even though he may not realize it. The question is: What kind of leader will he be? What kind of influence will he have?

    Each individual must make his own decision as to what kind he will be. He should be determined to be the kind who can say as Jesus said, “Come follow me” and “do as ye see me do,” knowing that he is leading in the path of truth and righteousness. This should be the aim of every leader.

    In order to lead as Jesus led, we are faced with many challenges. One of the first steps in meeting these challenges is to realize that Christ is a model of correct leadership; and to the extent that we study the scriptures, the record of his life and his teachings, they become case studies of divine leadership. To lead as he led, it is important that we search and understand the scriptures and apply them in our lives. As Nephi said, we should “liken all scriptures unto us” (1 Ne. 19:23); and as the Lord said, “live by every word that proceedeth forth from the mouth of God” (D&C 88:44).

    In 3 Nephi, we read:

    “And blessed are all they who are persecuted for my name’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    “And blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake;

    “For ye shall have great joy and be exceeding glad, for great shall be your reward in heaven; for so persecuted they the prophets who were before you.

    “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I give unto you to be the salt of the earth; but if the salt shall lose its savor wherewith shall the earth be salted? The salt shall be thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out and to be trodden under foot of men.

    “And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.

    “Therefore, come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (3 Ne. 12:10–13, 19–20.)

    When Christ came upon the earth to save mankind that they might return to live again with their Father in heaven, he did not say, “I will obey some laws, but I will not obey some of the others.” He did not say, as pertaining to the commandments, “This I will do; this other one, I will not do.” In spite of his experience and pain and suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane, he persevered to the end and gave his life that man might have immortality and eternal life.

    It is so important that we learn to obey and keep the commandments of God. It has been said that obedience is not a characteristic of a slave; it is one of the prime qualities of being a leader.

    Some people fail to become great leaders because they have not learned to follow instructions—even the teachings of Jesus Christ. In order, then, to lead as Jesus led, we must first learn to follow Christ as he followed his Father in heaven. We must keep in mind those eternal goals to which I have referred, and as spirit children of God become more and more like him until we are perfect. Let us not just believe in Christ, but let us follow him. Let us worship him and always be obedient to his teachings.

    When Joseph Smith was asked how he governed his people so well, he replied, “I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves.” (Journal of Discourses 10:57.) This is the essence of the Lord’s approach to leadership, implying that we must be sure we are teaching correct principles with a testimony and understanding of the gospel. Understanding principles of the gospel allows infinitely more freedom and growth than does training in procedures only.

    A leader in the Church is also a teacher, and one of the greatest tools in teaching is example, the tool Christ always used. Though we may not be conscious of it, what we teach by example becomes more persuasive than what we teach intentionally by precept, and it will leave a much more lasting impression on the observer.

    To be an effective leader or teacher, one must show love and actually feel love for the person he is trying to instruct. No power is as motivating as the power of love. Christ loved everyone—the weak, the sinner, the righteous. Sometimes, the ones who need to be loved most are the ones who seem to deserve it the least. Though we may not appreciate or approve of what someone does, we must still show love for the individual.

    At such times, a leader needs patience and understanding. He cannot always act hastily, and he must never overreact. All people cannot move at his pace. President Joseph F. Smith said:

    “In leaders, undue impatience and a gloomy mind are almost unpardonable, and it sometimes takes almost as much courage to walk as to act. It is to be hoped, then, that the leaders of God’s people, and the people themselves, will not feel that they must have at once a solution of every question that arises to disturb the even tenor of their ways.” (Gospel Doctrine, p. 156.)

    Another very important step in leadership is delegation. Those delegated must be given a meaningful stewardship. Assigning the stewardship is the duty of the leader. Each individual must accept the assigned stewardship and commit himself to perform the duties as he is taught. He must be given the authority as well as the responsibility. Socrates (470–399 B.C., Greek philosopher) is reported to have said, “Whatever duty thou assignest me, sooner would I die a thousand times than to forsake it.”

    A leader should never try to do the work of one to whom he has made an assignment. As President Lee said, “Let them do everything within their power, and you stand in the background and teach them how to do it. I think therein is the secret of growth, to fix responsibility and then teach our people how to carry that responsibility.

    Give them freedom to do their tasks. Never criticize them, but praise success and encourage efforts. We must make every person realize the great importance of his calling. A leader must never be one who is referred to or thought of as the boss, but as the Savior taught, one who serves with the people. He said, “he that is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matt. 23:11), and gave us the great example when washing his disciples’ feet. He also said “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matt 23:12.)

    I remember President Grant saying so often that he would never make an assignment to anyone to do a job that he would not be prepared to do himself.

    A good leader is concerned with the welfare of his followers or those he serves. As a cabinet minister in the government of the province of Alberta, Canada, I had many difficult decisions to make. I always asked myself, “What is the best for the province, for the people who will be affected, and for the employees of the department?” I also discussed the problems with the leaders of the different divisions of the department, particularly the ones affected, and made them feel that they were accepting at least some of the responsibility, following which I always went to the Lord for guidance, and received it, and was able to make decisions that I could not have made otherwise.

    As leaders, we must realize that the Lord said, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39.) He also said, “Wherefore, as ye are agents, ye are on the Lord’s errand; and whatever ye do according to the will of the Lord is the Lord’s business.” (D&C 64:29.)

    Yes, we as leaders are on his errand and should give the strictest attention to the personal growth of each individual through teaching correct principles and try to lead that individual to prepare himself for immortality and eternal life. This we should do by example and precept and then be prepared to help and support him in his efforts, but we should let him make his own decisions and govern himself according to the free agency that is his gift.

    Let us remember the words of the Lord to Joseph Smith regarding stewardship: “It is required of the Lord, at the hand of every steward, to render an account of his stewardship, both in time and in eternity.” (D&C 72:3.)

    When a leader gives an assignment, it should be clearly understood, with the area of responsibility clearly defined, and then the individual should be free to act and complete the assignment, with a specified time set for a progress or final report. An accounting should always be made to the leader, and he should expect such accounting.

    In Church administration, the basic tool for accountability is personal interview. If the relationship between the interviewee and interviewer is as it should be, this can be a very rewarding experience for both parties, where there is opportunity to give a self-evaluation, and where communication should be open and constructive. It is an ideal setting for offering and receiving help and assistance.

    My experience in the government and business world as well as in the Church has emphasized this great need for proper delegation of authority, following through, and getting a report.

    We must consider seven steps that Christ followed in delegation.

    First, the organization of the church Jesus established was structured in a frame of delegated authority.

    Second, in delegating Jesus did not make the assignments sound easy, but he made them sound exciting and challenging.

    Third, Jesus let those he called know and fully understand their duties.

    Fourth, Jesus gave those delegated full confidence, as his father had given him.

    Fifth, Jesus gave those he called his loyalty and expected theirs in return.

    Sixth, Jesus expected much from those to whom he delegated responsibility and was prepared to give much.

    Seventh, Jesus taught that he who leads should follow the progress of and receive an accounting from those to whom responsibility has been delegated, giving praise and reproof where necessary in a spirit of love.

    Our only hope of greatness lies in following the example of Christ. To be a great leader then, one must do the following:

    First, look to our Savior as the perfect leadership example.

    Second, accept the role of teacher and servant.

    Third, search the scriptures for correct principles.

    Fourth, pray for guidance, listen, and respond.

    Fifth, help the individual to develop self-government.

    Sixth, hold individuals accountable for their work.

    Seventh, express adequate appreciation.

    Eighth, set a personal example consistent with that which he teaches.

    Ninth, listen to the voice of the President of the Church, who is a prophet of God, and follow his counsel and example.