It was a blind man who helped me see a principle of leadership in a way that I will never forget. It happened one day on the Eagle Gate corner in Salt Lake City. I had arrived at the intersection at the same time as a blind man (I later learned his name was Jim Ganski) with his Seeing Eye dog. As the signal changed, the dog hesitated because a bus at curbside was blocking his vision and he was not sure it was safe to cross. Desiring to be helpful, I grasped the blind man’s arm and started him across the street. As we walked, I explained the reason for the dog’s hesitation. By the time I completed my explanation, we had reached the middle of the street and the dog had already turned and looked at me several times and then inquiringly at his master. The twist of the dog’s harness no doubt signaled his concern to his master. It was then that the blind man thanked me courteously for the explanation and then said firmly, “Now, if you would please let go of my arm, my dog doesn’t like people taking over his job.”
What a great lesson! Once you have delegated a job, do not take it over again.
Elder Mark E. Petersen taught me another penetrating lesson about delegating when he was the supervisor of the missions on the East Coast in the late 1960s. He toured the North Carolina-Virginia Mission over which we were presiding in order to give instruction and help.
Knowing of his very distinguished service as president of the European missions, I knew he would be able to give me the answers to all my mission supervision problems. So when we had a few spare minutes together, I would ask about a problem and invite his recommendation. In response he would most often say something like this: “I know one mission president who solved that problem in this way. Another in a more distant area approached it this way.” Always he outlined the options but left the selection of the solution to me. After six days he left on the plane, having responded to my every request for help but leaving to me the responsibility to choose the solutions and accept the consequences of my decisions. That was one of many helpful lessons taught by an outstanding leader in the Lord’s work.
Later I read some writings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and was interested in his philosophy about delegating and stewardship. On one occasion the Prophet wrote to some of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve who were doing missionary work in England. They had asked the Prophet for advice. He gave such counsel as he deemed proper and then wrote the following: “There are many things of much importance, on which you ask counsel, but which I think you will be perfectly able to decide upon, as you are more conversant with the peculiar circumstances than I am: and I feel great confidence in your united wisdom; therefore you will excuse me for not entering into detail. If I should see anything that is wrong, I would take the privilege of making known my mind to you and pointing out the evil.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith, Deseret Book Co., 22nd Printing, 1973, p. 176.)
Some years ago I served on the Priesthood Home Teaching Committee and was assigned to attend stake conferences with the General Authorities to teach leadership principles relating to home teaching. During a Saturday night priesthood leadership meeting in the Raft River Stake in Idaho, Elder A. Theodore Tuttle of the First Quorum of the Seventy called on me to make my presentation. For about 15 minutes I waxed strong on the subject of home teaching and presented what I thought was a very comprehensive outline of methods that might be used to improve the performance of the brethren of the stake. The audience was courteously attentive except for a few yawns on the back row. These I attempted to cure with some interesting stories and all the enthusiasm I could generate. When I wound up the talk, I sat down feeling much like a football coach who had just given a rousing locker room pep talk.
Elder Tuttle had a very thoughtful look on his face as he arose to talk to the group. He began his presentation by saying something like this: “I tried to listen attentively to Brother Anderson’s presentation, but my mind kept wandering. I couldn’t help thinking about the home teaching families to which I am assigned at home. I have some real challenges in trying to reach and influence them, and they are a constant concern to me. Maybe I could just tell you a little about them, and you could help me with some suggestions.”
Elder Tuttle did not reveal any personal information that would betray a confidence, but he did proceed to illustrate some problems. Before long, hands were in the air; the priesthood members were offering suggestions and solutions, and everyone in the audience was involved in helping. Who were they helping? They were helping themselves learn how to solve home teaching problems.
And me? I was observing with awe the work of a great teacher and motivator. He was busy leading, delegating, enthusing, and the receivers of the learning were hardly aware of their change in attitude. They were busily involved, they thought, in solving someone else’s problems.
Perhaps the most challenging leadership assignment in the Church is that of leading a family. In this role, fathers and mothers delegate many responsibilities to their children. Not the least of these is the job of choosing a mate. Few things, however, create more anxiety in parents than watching this procedure in action and trying to refrain from taking over the job. That is why I was so impressed with the calm manner in which Sister Reese (wife of President Cecil Reese of the Kinston North Carolina Stake) described to me the very comprehensive campaign that a seemingly unsuitable young man was making for the hand of the Reeses’ daughter. I asked Sister Reese how she could be so totally confident that her daughter would not marry this young man. “Oh, he’s not a door opener,” said Sister Reese. “You see,” she went on, “Cecil treats me and all of his daughters as if we were something very special. He always opens the car doors for us, sees that we are seated first at the dinner table no matter how informal the meal, and when he is making introductions, he always makes us feel proud of our womanhood. And you see, this young man is not a door opener. One day when the glamour of the courting rush is over, this is going to occur to our daughter, and then it will be all over.” And interestingly enough, it was not long before that very prediction came true. It would be difficult to think of a better example of the Prophet’s admonition to teach correct principles and let people govern themselves—a fundamental principle of delegating.
In a sense, the most important leadership assignment we have is that of leading and motivating ourselves. It was always a thrill to watch missionaries motivate their sometimes reluctant physical and spiritual selves to higher achievement. For instance, while driving through Waynesboro, Virginia, one day with two missionary assistants, I read aloud a sign on the front of an impressive looking high school. “Waynesboro High School, home of the little giants.” It was Elder John Greenland from Tooele, Utah, who made the comment, “That’s kind of a bad program. If I were going to be a giant, I wouldn’t want to be a little one. I’d want to be the biggest, strongest giant that ever was.” He knew the real meaning of the sign, but he was, in a sense, delegating to himself a responsibility and committing himself publicly to strive for perfection. And that is the kind of a missionary he was—a giant on the way to becoming the most dedicated, effective, obedient, hardworking servant of the Lord he could possibly be.
It is a great privilege to associate with giants of our times—leaders, delegators, exemplary men and women. By following the example of those who pattern their lives after Christ’s teachings, we have an opportunity to become giants on the earth. In this sense, being a giant means being worthy to return to the Savior, having responded positively to the responsibility delegated to us by Him to keep our second estate.