Lesson 29: Developing Leadership

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, (2000), 247–56


The purpose of this lesson is to help us become better leaders and better followers.

The Need for Good Leaders and Good Followers

President Spencer W. Kimball told the following story about how leaders influence their followers:

“Long years ago when I was in the stake presidency in the St. Joseph Stake in Arizona, one Sabbath day I filled an assignment in the Eden Ward. The building was a small one, and most of the people were sitting close to us as we sat on the raised platform about a foot and a half above the floor of the building itself.

“As the meeting proceeded, my eye was attracted to seven little boys on the front seat of the chapel. I was delighted with seven little boys in this ward conference. I made a mental note, then shifted my interest to other things. Soon my attention was focused on the seven little boys again.

“It seemed strange to me that each of the seven little fellows raised his right leg and put it over the left knee, and then in a moment all would change at the same time and put the left leg over the right knee. I thought it was unusual, but I just ignored it.

“In a moment or two, all in unison would brush their hair with their right hands, and then all seven little boys leaned lightly on their wrists and supported their faces by their hands, and then simultaneously they went back to the crossing of their legs again.

“It all seemed so strange, and I wondered about it as I was trying to think of what I was going to say in the meeting. And then all at once it came to me like a bolt of lightning. These boys were mimicking me!

“That day I learned the lesson of my life—that we … must be careful indeed, because others watch us and find in us their examples” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 112; or Ensign, Nov. 1974, 79).

People everywhere are looking for someone to follow—for someone to lead them. A leader is a person who goes ahead of others to direct or guide them or to show them how to do something. Leaders not only tell others what to do and how to do it, they also show them by example. Leaders help others grow.

  • Display visual 29-a, “A sister teaching cooking.”

We look to our parents and friends and to our community and Church leaders for direction and leadership. We listen to their words and observe their actions. Often we pattern our lives after the advice they give us, or we follow what we see them do. Teachers lead us as they instruct us and we learn to follow their instructions.

  • Ask the sisters the following question and write their responses on the chalkboard: What are the characteristics of people you like to follow?

  • What can we do as followers that will help our leaders?

  • How can developing these characteristics help you become a good leader as well as a good follower?

Each of us is a leader. Nearly every person at some time, somewhere, in some way leads another person or a group. Our lives touch the lives of others, and we influence them whether or not we intend to. Our influence, which is different from that of anyone else, is our leadership.

Leaders do not always have to hold a designated position in a formal organization such as the Church or a community organization. Leadership opportunities are varied and come in all areas of our lives: in our homes with families and friends, in our neighborhoods and communities, and in the Church.

  • What are some ways you are or can be a leader in your home? in your community?

Since in one way or another nearly all of us are leaders, it is important that we learn to be good leaders. With good leadership skills, we can improve ourselves, help others, and strengthen our relationships with our friends and family members. As leaders of their families, parents should strive to be the best leaders possible. Good leadership abilities help us work harmoniously with our families, friends, and neighbors.

As the Church is organized in all parts of the world and the Lord’s work continues to expand, many of us will be called to lead others.

Elder Sterling W. Sill stressed the value of good leaders when he said, “A soldier can fight harder, a salesman can sell more goods, a child can do better school work, and a missionary can make more converts if he works under the direction of someone who knows how to teach and inspire and train and supervise and love and motivate and do those other important things that [good leaders do]” (“The Problem Is Always the Same,” Ensign, Mar. 1973, 34).

We can develop the ability to lead if we will work at it. We need to prepare ourselves by learning the principles of good leadership through our Church activity. Then we must live these principles in our daily lives.

Jesus Is the Ideal Leader

Jesus Christ was the model leader because He learned to follow perfectly the will of His Father. In order to become truly effective leaders, we must learn to obey the Savior’s admonition, “Come, … follow me” (Mark 10:21). This requires that we learn to do what the Savior did and follow His example. Following are some leadership qualities we can learn from the Savior:

Jesus prepared Himself. He fasted, prayed, and studied, always seeking to learn the will of the Father. We have been encouraged to study and prepare ourselves (see D&C 88:118–119). As we fast, pray, and study, we also can know the will of our Heavenly Father and increase our ability to serve others as He would have us do.

Jesus loved the people He led. Love is perhaps the most important quality leaders can have, because it means they genuinely care for those they lead. If they love those they lead, they want to help them improve their lives; they are concerned for their needs and want to help them reach their goals. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we all have one common goal—to return to live with our Heavenly Father in the celestial kingdom. At all times and in all ways in our leadership responsibilities, it is through our love that we can help others accomplish this goal. Love is a powerful motivator. Elder Neal A. Maxwell said that “leadership is love in action” ( … A More Excellent Way [1967], 44). We should remember the Savior’s admonition: “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

  • Why is love more effective than force when working with others?

  • How can our ability to love improve our leadership, especially in our homes?

Jesus taught His disciples the purpose of His work. He helped them to understand their part in His work and to gain a vision of their important responsibilities. We need to give those who are to follow our leadership the vision we have of the purpose of our work and should help them understand the roles they are to play.

  • How could helping children understand their purpose in their family help them better follow their parents’ leadership?

Jesus based His leadership on the principle of agency. He did not force His disciples to follow Him. He invited them to come unto Him.

Agency is a major principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we attempt to force anyone to follow, we are using Satan’s method. If we are to lead in a Christlike manner, we must allow others the freedom to choose. In describing what He expected of His followers, Jesus was honest. As we lead, we also must let others know what we expect from them, and what they can expect from us. When we give them responsibilities, we must carefully explain their duties, the time involved, the meetings they are to attend, and what they must accomplish. Then we must respect their decisions regarding these responsibilities.

  • Why is it important that individuals know what is expected of them before they accept a responsibility? How can giving children specific instructions help them better perform their tasks in the home?

Jesus gave His disciples tasks that were meaningful and challenging. Meaningful and worthwhile tasks help us feel needed. Asking people to do things simply to keep them busy usually does not accomplish good results. As leaders, we need to help our followers feel that what they do is worthwhile. When we lead, we must be certain that we do not infringe on the time of others by giving them tasks that are not necessary. However, everyone must recognize that at times there are necessary but tedious tasks to be performed. All of us must be willing to accept these tasks as well as those that seem easier or those that will bring recognition and praise from others.

Jesus showed He was responsible both to His purposes and to His people. He felt a responsibility to help His people grow. He not only wanted to build His Father’s kingdom, but also to exalt His people. The Prophet Joseph Smith expressed this same idea when he said of the Saints, “I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves” (quoted by John Taylor in “The Organization of the Church,” Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, 339). This should be our purpose—to help our followers grow and gain exaltation.

  • Why is it important when leading others to keep their exaltation foremost in our minds?

Jesus was a good listener. He created an atmosphere of love and acceptance that made His followers comfortable, because He listened with a loving ear. He took time to listen to them and to understand their needs. (See Luke 7:1–10; John 8:1–11.) We too must exercise this kind of concern.

Jesus often helped His followers think through their own ideas by asking them questions. This helped them understand what He was trying to teach them. (See Matthew 16:13–19; 19:16–22; John 21:15–17.) To be good leaders, we must help people solve their own problems and meet their own challenges. We can ask them questions to help them consider possibilities for resolving problems. We must express confidence in them and motivate them to find solutions and make decisions. As mortals we find it very difficult to make wise decisions all the time by ourselves. We find courage and strength in the help of others. We must also seek the strength and help that comes from our Heavenly Father through sincere prayer.

Jesus was consistent in obeying the commandments. He did not change His standards or behavior to please others. He lived an exemplary life. As we willingly follow His example and control our actions in righteousness, we will become good examples for our followers. We must live the standards of the gospel in every way. (Leadership qualities adapted from Neal A. Maxwell, … A More Excellent Way, 53–54.)

  • Why is your example an important part of your leadership? How and what do you teach by the way you live?

Following Jesus’ Leadership Example

A young woman told the following story about the powerful influence of a righteous example:

“During my junior and senior high school years, illness kept me from school and Church almost half the time. When I could attend, I couldn’t participate in any activities. Since I couldn’t make friends or enter into their lives very well under these circumstances, I was a ‘loner.’

“Only once did I try to break the pattern—by entering [a] … speech contest. I was the only one who entered from the ward, so, without hearing my talk, the ward executives sent me to the stake contest, where I was a miserable failure. I decided then and there to stay within my shell, and not get hurt again.

“But my [Mutual] teacher decided differently. For the first time, I had a teacher who was not willing to let me sit silent in my corner. She was given the chairmanship of the program for the stake … banquet and immediately assigned to me the job of being toastmistress, deciding the theme, and suggesting topics for the responses. I told her I couldn’t do it. ‘Yes you can,’ she assured me time after time, ‘because I’ll help you every step of the way.’

“I loved her so much I was willing to try for her, although in my heart I knew I’d fail. First, she and I talked over possible themes. When we met with a committee of girls, however, she made me tell them my ideas. She claimed no part in them. I wrote out my [speech], and with her careful and loving suggestions, rewrote it many times until even I could see that it was good.

“‘But,’ I told her, ‘I can’t stand up before three hundred girls and give it. I’ll make a poor impression, and I’m not pretty or attractive, and I’ll spoil your whole evening.’ With an arm around me, she said, ‘That’s utter nonsense; you’ll be the star of the evening!’

“So she heard me say my part many times, once even taking me to the [hotel where the banquet would be held] to do it. She had arranged to have a microphone there so I could experience the actual setting. Then she asked to see the dress I would wear. She brought a corsage for me that night that not only matched the dress, but also lifted my spirits. She had her hairdresser do my hair in a way that would be more becoming to me.

“But best of all, she knelt with me just before the event, and explained to the Lord that I was a lovely girl who had worked hard and that I needed His help to do a good job. How could I have failed with His and her love so surrounding me?” (script for “A More Excellent Way,” produced at June Conference, 1968, 5–7).

  • What did this leader do that helped the young woman? (List the answers on the chalkboard and discuss each as a leadership quality.) How was this leader following the example of Jesus in her leadership qualities?

Developing Leadership in the Home

Our Church leaders have always expressed strong testimony of the importance of the home in the development of Christlike leadership skills.

“Because the need for leadership increases with the importance of the institution that it serves, leadership in the home assumes the greatest possible importance. ‘No other success can compensate for failure in the home.’ (President David O. McKay [quoting J. E. McCulloch].) The basic organization on which everyone’s happiness depends is the family” (Sterling W. Sill, Ensign, Mar. 1973, 34).

It is in the home where we first learn how to work with others, how to accomplish tasks, how to delegate tasks, and how to ask for help. In the home, a loving, genuine concern for each individual should be the prevailing attitude.

A righteous home environment can lead to the development of qualities that will help both parents and children be good leaders. We can develop feelings of self-worth in our family members by giving them opportunities to develop talents and perform tasks well and then praising and encouraging their efforts. Children develop a sense of confidence as they are assigned to help with tasks that they are able to accomplish. It is in our homes where we first learn to talk with others and to accept suggestions, where we learn how to resolve conflicts and overcome difficulties. We can learn in our homes to follow good models and to be good examples for others.

Parents should set an example of serving in the Church with good attitudes. This should also be true of their service in the home and community. Their righteous examples will encourage their children to learn how to become good leaders. It is important that children be supported and encouraged in their leadership responsibilities. “Making a place in our home life to teach, informally, leadership skills, can make it possible for our children to make a place in their hearts and lives later for the duties and challenges of leadership” (Neal A. Maxwell, … A More Excellent Way, 132).

  • How can giving children assignments for family home evening help them develop leadership skills? How can working together as a family develop leadership in each member? How can older children develop leadership in the family?

Conclusion

We are all leaders to someone, whether it is informally as an associate, a friend, or a loved one, or formally by virtue of a designated position in the Church, the community, and other formal organizations. Our opportunities for leadership as members of the Church are increasing. We can learn to be better leaders by following the example of Jesus and the leaders of the Church. The most important leadership responsibility of parents is in the families, where we should, by personal example as well as words, encourage and help our children become good leaders.

Challenge

Think of someone who has served, taught, or led you. Ask yourself what that person did specifically that was helpful to you. Try to develop the same qualities in your life.

Plan as a family to give each individual an opportunity to develop leadership in family home evening and family activities. Practice being a good leader and a good follower in your relationships with others at home, in the community, and at church.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Review “The Life of Christ,” chapter 11 in Gospel Principles.

  2. 2.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.