Ezra Taft Benson began learning to be a leader in his youth. When he was almost 13 years old, his father was called to serve a mission. As the oldest child in the family, Ezra assumed many leadership responsibilities on the family farm during his father’s absence. Several years later, when he was called to the British Mission, he served as a branch president and as president of the Newcastle Conference (similar to a district today). Later, he served in three stake presidencies—once as a counselor, once for a short time as stake president, and once for a longer period as stake president. During his professional career, he worked in many leadership positions in the agriculture industry. Because he became a leader and expert in the field of agriculture, President Dwight D. Eisenhower asked him to serve in the highest agriculture position in the United States. For eight years he worked with President Eisenhower as the United States secretary of agriculture.
Before he became President of the Church, President Benson served for 12 years as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Quorum members had great respect for him as their leader. Elder Bruce R. McConkie “often told family members he had never seen President Benson’s administrative equal in the Church.”1
In leading the Twelve, President Benson encouraged quorum members to express their thoughts candidly, even if he had a different opinion. When Elder Russell M. Nelson was a new member of the quorum, he thought perhaps he should not speak up. “But [President Benson] wouldn’t have that,” he said. “In fact, if I was silent on something he would draw it out.”2
Although President Benson solicited opinions from all, he did not let discussions wander. President Howard W. Hunter said he “knew how to get open and frank discussion from [the] Brethren and [was] able to direct and control it and arrive at a unanimous decision with everyone united.”3 When “he felt that adequate discussion had taken place, he typically said, ‘I think we’ve got enough hay down now. Let’s bale a little,’ bringing the issue to resolution.”4
President Benson cared for those he led, and he taught by example. “I know of no man more considerate of his associates or more concerned for their well-being,” President Gordon B. Hinckley said. “He does not ask others to do that which he is unwilling to do himself, but rather sets an example of service for others of us to follow.”5 President Benson was also effective in delegating work to others, teaching and building them through that process.
In the general conference when President Benson was sustained as President of the Church, President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed his conviction that the Lord had selected and prepared President Benson to lead the Church:
“I give you my testimony that it is the Lord who selected Ezra Taft Benson to become a member of the Council of the Twelve almost forty-three years ago. It is the Lord who over these years has tested and disciplined him, schooled and prepared him. …
“As one who knows him and who stands at his side, I bear witness that he is a man of faith, of tested leadership, of profound love for the Lord and His work, of love for the sons and daughters of God everywhere. He is a man of proven capacity.”6
The power of Christ’s leadership grew from the challenge of His example. His clarion call was, “Come, follow me!” … His [success in gaining] the loyalty and devotion of men to principles of righteousness depend[ed] upon love as the great motivating factor. He helped us realize that the godlike qualities in each of us clamoring for expression can become glorious living realities. His example continues as the greatest hope and strength of mankind.7
If you are to provide future leadership for the Church, [your] country, and your own homes, you must stand firm in the faith, unwavering in the face of evil, and as Paul said, “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:11–12.)8
Our young people need fewer critics and more models. You are the models to which they will look for a pattern in life to which they can follow and adhere. They will need the inspiration which can come from you as you square your lives fully with the teachings of the gospel.9
One of the marks of great leadership always has been and ever will be the humble spirit.10
Spiritual strength promotes positive thinking, positive ideals, positive habits, positive attitudes, and positive efforts. These are the qualities which promote wisdom, physical and mental well-being, and enthusiastic acceptance and response by others.11
Only the wholesome have the capacity to lift and encourage one another to greater service, to greater achievement, to greater strength.12
There is no satisfactory substitute for the Spirit.14
A genuine leader tries to stay well informed. He is a person who acts on principle rather than expediency. He tries to learn from all human experience measured against revealed principles of divine wisdom.15
One of the best ways for leaders to understand correct principles is to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the scriptures and the appropriate handbook. Most situations have already arisen before, perhaps many times, and policy and procedure have already been determined to handle the problem. It is always wise, therefore, to refer to and be familiar with existing written instructions and Church policy on questions as they arise.16
Leaders are counseled to study the doctrines of the Church so as to be able to adequately represent our doctrines to others. To use the Apostle Paul’s phraseology, we expect you to be a “workman that needeth not to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15).17
A good leader expects loyalty. He in turn gives his loyalty. He backs up those to whom he has given a job. The loyalty extends to matters beyond the call of duty. He is loyal when honors come to those with whom he serves. He takes pride in their successes. He does not overrule unless he first confers with him whose decision he overrules. He does not embarrass an associate before others. He is frank and open with him.18
There is a “union required by the law of the celestial kingdom; And Zion cannot be built up unless it is by the principles of the law of the celestial kingdom.” (D&C 105:4–5.) Among the required principles and attributes is a unity of mind and heart. “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine,” is the Savior’s injunction to His modern Church (D&C 38:27; John 17:20–23). Nowhere is this requirement more essential than among those whom He has called to preside throughout His kingdom.19
A love of people is essential to effective leadership. Do you love those whom you work with? Do you realize the worth of souls is great in the sight of God (see D&C 18:10)? Do you have faith in youth? Do you find yourself praising their virtues, commending them for their accomplishments? Or do you have a critical attitude toward them because of their mistakes?20
Even harder to bear than criticism, oftentimes, is no word from our leader on the work to which we have been assigned. Little comments or notes, which are sincere and specific, are great boosters along the way.21
We know … that the time a leader spends in personal contact with members is more productive than time spent in meetings and administrative duties. Personal contact is the key to converting the inactive member.22
In the Church especially, asking produces better results than ordering—better feeling, too. Remember to tell why. Follow up to see how things are going. Show appreciation when people carry out instructions well. Express confidence when it can be done honestly. When something gets fouled up, it is well to check back and find out where you slipped up—and don’t be afraid to admit that you did. Remember, our people are voluntary, free-will workers. They also love the Lord and His work. Love them. Appreciate them. When you are tempted to reprimand a fellow worker, don’t. Try an interesting challenge and a pat on the back instead. Our Father’s children throughout the world are essentially good. He loves them. We should also.23
People do not like to be forced to do anything, even if it is for their own good. But people do respond to effective leadership.24
The very foundations of the world were laid by delegated authority. Many times Jesus reminded people that His mission on earth was one through delegated authority. The restoration of His Church had its very beginning with delegated authority.
In speaking to the Jews in the synagogue, Jesus told them that He had been delegated by His Father: “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38).25
Jesus gives us the master example of good administration through proper delegating. … Many of His delegated missionaries traveled without purse or scrip. Men suffered great hardships in carrying out His instructions. Some of them died cruel deaths in His service. But his delegated disciples went forth into the world bold as lions through His charge. They accomplished things they had never dreamed of. No leader ever motivated men and women as did He.26
The Church of Jesus Christ builds leaders through involving people delegated through authority. When [Jesus] was on earth, he called twelve apostles to assist him in administering the church. He also called the seventy. He delegated [to] others. There were to be no spectators in his church. All were to be involved in helping build the kingdom. And as they built the kingdom, they built themselves.
Jesus aimed to exalt the individual. …
Jesus aimed to make of every man a king, to build him in leadership into eternity. On that memorable night after the last supper, He said to the eleven … , “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth in me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” (John 14:12.) Through delegating, Jesus desired to lift, rather than suppress, the individual. And all through the Church today, men and women are growing in stature through positions delegated to them.27
Good management means delegating authority. Delegating part of the workload helps you and your organization. Effective management is the art of multiplying yourself through others.28
Wise delegation requires prayerful preparation, as does effective teaching or preaching. The Lord makes this clear in these words: “And the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith; and if ye receive not the Spirit ye shall not teach” (D&C 42:14). And we might add, ye shall not delegate without the Spirit.29
A wise administrator in the Church today will not try to do the job himself, giving the impression that no one else is quite qualified. And as he delegates, he will give an assurance that he who has been delegated has his full backing.30
When responsibility has been given, the leader does not forget the person assigned nor his assignment. He follows with interest but does not “look over the shoulder.” He gives specific praise when it is deserved. He gives helpful encouragement when needed. When he feels that the job is not being done and a change is needed, he acts with courage and firmness but with kindness. When the tenure of an office has been completed, he gives recognition and thanks.31
No wise leader believes that all good ideas originate with himself. He invites suggestions from those he leads. He lets them feel that they are an important part of decision making. He lets them feel that they are carrying out their policies, not just his.32
In the Church today a leader generally gets in performance what he truly expects. He needs to think tall. He should assure those to whom he gives assignments that in the service of the Lord they have even greater powers than in ordinary responsibilities. There can be no failure in the work of the Lord when [we] do [our] best. We are but instruments; this is the Lord’s work. This is His church, His gospel plan. These are His children we are working with. He will not permit us to fail if we do our part. He will magnify us even beyond our own talents and abilities when necessary. This I know.33
We must remember that … the Church … is not the business world. Its success is measured in terms of souls saved, not in profit and loss. We need, of course, to be efficient and productive, but we also need to keep our focus on eternal objectives. Be cautious about imposing secular methods and terminology on sacred priesthood functions. Remember that rational problem-solving procedures, though helpful, will not be solely sufficient in the work of the kingdom. God’s work must be done by faith, prayer, and by the Spirit, “and if it be by some other way it is not of God” (D&C 50:18).34
The whole purpose of the Church is to build men and women who will be godlike in their attitudes and in their attributes and in their ideals.35
President Benson taught that leaders should set a righteous example (see section 1). Why is example such a powerful influence? How have the righteous examples of leaders influenced you?
Study the characteristics of good leaders that are explained in section 2. Why do you think people “respond to [such] leadership”? Think about what you can do to develop these characteristics.
President Benson taught that Church leaders should follow the Savior’s example as a delegator (see section 3). How does delegation help build the kingdom of God? In what ways have you benefited from responsibilities that have been delegated to you?
How might our Church service change as we remember that “this is the Lord’s work” and that “these are His children we are working with”? (See section 4.) What have you experienced when you have acted as an instrument in the Lord’s hands to help other people?
“Individuals are touched when their contributions are acknowledged. You might make a special effort to acknowledge each person’s comment and, if possible, make the comments part of class discussions” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 35–36).