“I had been a senior patrol leader in Scouts, and I had a little leadership experience at school. I thought I was pretty hot stuff, and I knew what I was doing,” says Dave Shepard. “But when I got up here, they opened my eyes.”
Chris Poll, on the other hand, asks, “See myself as a leader when I first came up here? No, I didn’t. I was nowhere near that type. But now I can see it. I can do it.”
Two different attitudes, same “here.” It’s a camp high in the mountains of central Utah where priest-age young men from Taylorsville, Utah, are being trained in leadership skills. There are plenty of adults on the staff. But young men who went through the course in previous years teach many of the classes and lead the activities.
The “students” themselves aren’t some group of elite, handpicked, natural-born leaders. These are ordinary guys who accepted an invitation to spend a week together learning how to become leaders. Some are naturally outgoing; others are shy. Some, like Dave, have had leadership experience. Many, like Chris, have always seen themselves as followers. All of them leave the camp with a lot of new skills and confidence they never had before.
Some people seem to be natural leaders—drawing others to them, organizing, getting things done. But what about the great majority of us? In the Church we get called to positions of leadership that we didn’t ask for and sometimes don’t feel equal to. Can we learn to be leaders?
“Yes!” The response from the young men here is unanimous.
Take Lem Harsh, chairman of the Venturer Officers Association here at camp. He’s at ease at the microphone and leading a meeting. He makes decisions, gives instructions, teaches, and it looks like it comes naturally. But that’s because he’s been here before. He definitely did not see himself as leadership material his first time at camp.
“I remember coming up and feeling like I had no reason to be here. I wasn’t a leader at all, and I just kind of followed my crew around for a while,” Lem says. “Then I stepped it up because they made you want to be a leader, and they gave you the tools.”
Joe Hiller says he attended the first time mostly because his mom wanted him to. “I don’t think I wanted to see myself as a leader.”
Neal Cook has had some leadership callings, but, he says, “I would look to my adviser and just do what he said. When I came up here and learned what a real leader does, it really opened my eyes.”
So, what does a real leader do?
Andrew Hiller, Joe’s brother, says, “One of the best things you can do as a leader is be the example for others. You may not always know it, but you are being looked to as the example for the group.”
Lem gives an example of example. “You have to make decisions, even if they are not popular decisions—like cleaning assignments. It really helps others to know that you have been willing to do the same thing yourself. The first day here, we were the ones who cleaned the latrines.” When others saw that their leaders were willing to do it, they were more willing to accept the assignment.
One of the most important examples a leader can give is attitude. As Joe points out, “When they see you with a good attitude, then they will have a good attitude.”
Fine. But how do you get a good attitude if, say, your group gets an assignment that sounds anything but fun? Ross says reading the scriptures—especially stories about people like Nephi—helps him have a good attitude. “I think when you trust in the Lord, praying to Him and reading the scriptures, you will have a good attitude because the Spirit will be with you and will be guiding you. And once you have that good attitude, be a good example, and show others it works. You have to decide to have a good attitude.”
One of the coolest things about the young men at this camp is how readily they refer to the scriptures as they talk about leadership. Joe refers to D&C 35:13 and how the Lord uses the “weak things of the world” as His instruments—a reassuring thought for all of us who feel inadequate. And Ross points out D&C 82:18, which says that those who improve on their talents will gain other talents, “even an hundred fold,” all “for the benefit of the church.”
In the end, Lem sums it up. “Whenever I’ve had a question about leadership and what to do, I’ve thought, ‘What would Christ do? How has Christ shown an example of this certain leadership skill?’ And He has. He’s done it, and He’s shown us how best to go about it. Mostly it’s loving each other. If you have any questions, you go to the scriptures, and you find that out.”
In less than a week, the guys at camp learned a lot about leadership and about themselves. Those who thought they knew a lot realized they could still improve. Those who thought they didn’t have what it takes learned they did. Everyone has gifts and talents that can be applied to leadership. And everyone can learn the skills they lack—especially if they are willing to learn from the Spirit and if they are willing to move ahead as Nephi did. The Lord doesn’t call anyone to fail.
Neal Cook: “You don’t have to be some popular stereotype. Just reach inside and be yourself.”
Joe Hiller: “There are different strengths in our group that help the whole group work well together. Same with the crews here. All together we’re a great leadership machine.”
Dave Shepard: “As a leader, you have to be humble. The strengths you have come from God. He has given you those talents to develop.”
Ross Quigley: “God won’t call you to something you can’t handle. He knows you have the capability to do it. But you can’t do it all by yourself. You have to know and use your resources.”
Cameron Swain: “Take an interest in the people you are in charge of. Being a leader is helping them and having them help you. They can teach you as much as you teach them.”