Principles of Leadership
Devotional or Speech given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii
January 10, 2012
Steven C. Wheelwright
Welcome and Aloha!
Almost 57 years ago, on February 12, 1955, President David O. McKay presided and spoke at the groundbreaking ceremony for this special campus. As he spoke concerning the students who would receive the blessings of higher education here at the University, he described them as "...men [and women] who cannot be bought or sold, ... who will scorn to violate truth, genuine gold. That is what this school is going to produce." He then continued saying, "More than that, they will be leaders. Not leaders only in this island, but everywhere. All the world is hungering for them..."
Indeed the mission of this University, as reiterated by each of the prophets since President McKay, is "to integrate both spiritual and secular learning, and to prepare students with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God." Our unwavering purpose as a University is to help each of you become learners, leaders and builders.
Today I would like to focus my remarks on becoming the kind of leader that President McKay envisioned - the kind that "all the world is hungering for". To do so I've chosen to organize my comments around three themes that I think are essential if we are to understand President McKay's prophetic utterance concerning the type of leaders he saw being developed at BYU-Hawaii.
First is the reality of the world that President McKay knew each of you would be entering and the pressing need for leadership in that world. Indeed, the Lord's prophet knew the reasons the world would be hungering for the type of leaders being developed at BYU-Hawaii.
Second is the set of foundation principles upon which President McKay knew your leadership would be based. These foundation principles are the same ones found in the pattern of leadership exhibited by all of God's prophets both ancient and modern and by the Savior Himself.
Third is the set of characteristics that President McKay knew you would need to combine with those principles of leadership in order for you to have the confidence and assurance that you could provide that needed leadership no matter where you were in the world and no matter what your circumstances.
1-Why the world is hungering for such leaders
As the Lord's prophet, President McKay foresaw our day. He knew it would be a time when everything would seem to be changing. A time "when peace shall be taken from the earth" (D&C 1:35), when "all things shall be in commotion" and a time when "men's hearts shall fail them" (D&C 88:91). He also knew that there would be both temporal causes of this commotion as well as spiritual causes. Indeed he knew that it would be a time when many would "call evil good and good evil" and would "put darkness for light, and light for darkness" and "put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter." (Isaiah 5:20.)
In such a world, it is natural that people would long for predictability in the midst of uncertainty and for stability in the midst of such commotion and disruption. Indeed as the pace of scientific, social, and economic change accelerates, the world seeks leaders who are consistent and unchanging, whose leadership is based on immutable principles.
These are leaders who adhere to the same principles and patterns that caused Pharaoh to follow Joseph, Israel to follow Moses, the Nephites to follow Captain Moroni, and faithful converts to follow Christ's apostles after His death and resurrection. And it is the same reason that faithful Latter-day Saints around the globe continue to follow President Monson. When President McKay made that prophetic statement at the ground breaking in 1955, he knew that the conditions of this mortal world would cause all the world to hunger for such leaders.
2-Four Principles of Christ-like Leadership
But what are the principles upon which such leadership is built? The principles that provide the stability and predictability so much sought after in today's world? Based on a study of the patterns of leadership exhibited by the Lord's prophets as recorded in the scriptures, as well as a talk by President Spencer W. Kimball given almost 35 years ago entitled, "Jesus: The Perfect Leader" (Spencer W. Kimball, Address delivered to YPO, Sun Valley, Idaho, 15 January 1977), I'd like to explore four principles that provide a foundation for the type of leadership that President McKay foresaw you providing.
The first principle is that of trust - such a leader must be trustworthy. People want to know that they can trust those they follow and that the leader will trust them and support them when they take action consistent with the principles espoused by the leader. Such trust is built over time based on a pattern of decisions and actions that adhere to fixed principles and unchanging values. It is undermined or destroyed even by small breaks in that pattern. Thus such trust is hard to create but easy to destroy.
One of my favorite examples of such leadership from the scriptures is that of Joseph in Egypt. During his more than ten years as a slave and as a prisoner, Joseph was absolutely consistent in his adherence to the principles of the Gospel. Indeed, whether as an overseer in Potiphar's household, as a trustee in running the King's prison, or as Pharaoh's second in command over all of Egypt, Joseph was 100 percent trustworthy. And because his leadership was based on a set of fixed principles and truths, he was constant and unchanging, just as the Savior has always been.
The importance of such constancy in leadership can be seen in governments, labor relations, institutions and families. Indeed, this principle is the bedrock upon which sustainable leadership is based. It makes such leaders trusted and trustworthy not only in the eyes of those around them, but in the eyes of God and His Son as well.
Let me share two brief examples from my own experience with trusted leaders. The first occurred when I was a graduate student pursuing my PhD. I needed to choose a dissertation advisor. While I imagined that such a choice would have an impact on my future career, little did I realize the incredible difference it would make in every aspect of that career.
Fortunately, with counsel from friends and inspiration from the Lord, I decided to join two young associate professors who were just forming a new department in the college. I made that choice largely because I admired and trusted them - they were leaders I knew would be true to their values and principles and who I could follow in confidence. One of those two trusted leaders is now a member of the First Presidency, President Henry B. Eyring. Since I made that dissertation advisor decision over 40 years ago, he has continued to be someone whose counsel I have sought and followed repeatedly, because I knew I could trust him.
The other example I would share is that of a newly arriving missionary when my wife and I were presiding over the England London Mission. We were welcoming a group of 18 excited and anxious new missionaries at Heathrow Airport. As our assistants organized things and got the luggage into the mission van, one missionary stood near my wife, observing the wonderful leadership of those two Assistants to the President. This new missionary then remarked in a conversational, but sincere voice, "Sister Wheelwright, I want you to know that you can count on me." And we soon found that we could count on that missionary no matter what the circumstances. He could be trusted to always do the right thing.
That young man became a wonderful leader in the mission because all of the other missionaries knew they could trust him as well. Since his mission that characteristic of being trust worthy has only continued to expand with the result that more and more people "count on him." He now has a wonderful wife and family, serves faithfully as a Priesthood leader and is thriving in a career with the FBI.
The second principle of leadership is that of vision. As recognized and recorded in Proverbs long ago, "where there is no vision the people perish". (Proverbs 29:18.) Effective leadership requires a clear vision of what is possible with coordinated effort. Such vision causes others to want to follow because it provides purpose and meaning to both individual and collective effort. And not only must that vision be articulated and shared; it must be understood and adopted by those who follow.
People want to know and understand the whole so they can relate their individual effort - their part or contribution - to that whole. Such understanding adds greatly to the commitment and motivation of all of those involved. An example of the power of such vision on the part of a leader is that of President Hinckley announcing the goal of the church having 100 temples in operation by the year 2000. Undoubtedly, there were many listening at the time who wondered how such a significant goal could be achieved, and even President Hinckley commented following the dedication of the 100th operating temple, that he wondered if it would be possible.
But that vision was achieved due in no small part to his leadership abilities. He not only articulated that vision, but worked through the basic plans for building smaller temples that would operate under the direction of the local stakes. He shared the vision with all who needed to be a part of its accomplishment, and he consistently recognized them for their many invaluable contributions to achieving that goal. And what a blessing that vision has been to millions of Church members throughout the world.
Similarly, the vision of prophets of this school and its role in the blessing of "tens of thousands of God's children" has always been a fundamental part of why the Church continues to make such a significant investment in its future. For one in a role such as mine, the responsibility to understand, clarify and pursue that vision appropriately is always present. I'm reminded of the phrase used by President Eyring during his charge to this new University President four and a half years ago."You follow and enhance a tradition of striving to achieve visions of great possibilities seen by prophets of God." (BYU-Hawaii Inauguration, President Henry B. Eyring, November 6, 2007.)
But the need for vision not only applies to leadership in a large organization, it also applies to individuals and to families. During his recent visit to campus, Elder Holland made the following observation concerning the vision each student at BYU-Hawaii needs to have of themselves as a leader. He said,
"Years ago a wise man wrote:
"˜The human potential is the most magical but also the most elusive fact of life. Men suffer less from hunger or dread than from living under their moral capacity. The atrophy of spirit that most men know and all men fear is tied not so much to deprivation or abuse as it is to their inability to make real the best that lies within them. Defeat begins more with a blur in the vision of what is humanly possible than the appearance of ogres in the path or [danger] beyond the next turning'" (Norman Cousins, Saturday Review, February 6, 1965, 18.)
Elder Holland then went on to say, "For Latter-day Saints in general and BYU-Hawaii students in particular there should be no "˜blur in the vision of what is humanly possible.' We of all people should not be guilty of,... as Brigham Young regularly phrased it, "˜living beneath our privilege'." (Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Parable of BYU-Hawaii", BYU-Hawaii Commencement Exercises, 17 December 2011.)
Just as the Lord and His prophets have a clear vision of what is possible for each of us, the leaders the world is hungering for must have an equally compelling and clear vision of what is possible for their followers, both individually and collectively. Such a vision can strengthen businesses, governments, universities, communities, and families. It is what rallied the Nephites around the Title of Liberty under Captain Moroni's leadership, what rallied pioneer converts to the gospel cause in Brigham Young's time as well as in our own, and what missionaries continue to provide for individual investigators as they progress in the gospel. And it is what faithful parents provide for their children as they grow and develop.
I love the counsel Elder Ballard gave concerning how each individual student who comes to this campus should be viewed. He said, "This vision [of each student] is far beyond what perhaps any of you will be able to see when you see them as struggling students.... You need to start looking at these students who come from these far-off parts of the world not as students but as Relief Society presidents, elders quorum presidents, high councilors, bishops and stake presidents." ("Towards Our Destiny", M. Russell Ballard, April 7, 2008, PLC-Hawaii meeting.)
Clearly the Savior offered the greatest of all visions - what man could achieve and become. And He then related it to the individual and taught the one how to achieve that vision.
An understanding of the role of vision in leadership leads naturally to the third principle, that of teaching. Such leadership requires that the leader is consistently teaching both by precept and example. Such teaching enables followers to see how the principles and values can be adopted and applied daily to strengthen the accomplishment of the vision. Every opportunity is seen by the leader as a teaching opportunity.
I love the example of Alma who had extensive leadership experience both as a Chief Judge, the highest government position in his day, and as the head of the Lord's Church. In both of those positions he was always teaching so that others grew in their ability to follow in righteousness and become leaders in their own right. Based on his experiences as a leader and as a teacher, Alma often chose to use teaching as the means to lead others. We read in Alma chapter 31, verse 5, the following:
"And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just - yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them - therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God."
Clearly Alma understood the importance of the leader also being a teacher. Such an approach to leadership provides an exciting and challenging environment that attracts, develops and retains followers as they see the power of the values and the vision that is being taught. Indeed, even the Savior's harshest critics recognized Him as an outstanding teacher who could take humble fishermen, tax collectors and tent makers and make them into great leaders who could carry on after His departure.
Each of us can cite numerous examples of church leaders who have been great teachers. Elder Oaks shared in his recent book, Life's Lessons Learned, the example of his own mother and of his Bishop when he was a 12-year old deacon. That Christmas, his Bishop invited him to help deliver baskets of fruit to each of the widows in the ward. When he had delivered all the baskets but one, the Bishop drove him home. Elder Oaks recounts that when the Bishop drove him home, he gave him the last basket and said, "This is for your mother."
Elder Oaks then continued, "I stood in the front of our house...holding the basket and wondering. I had never thought of my mother as a widow. I had never heard her refer to herself as a widow." He then continued, "That Christmas experience was formative in my understanding of the eternal family and in my appreciation for the faith of my mother. She always taught us that we had a father and she had a husband and that we would always be a family because of their temple marriage." (Life's Lessons Learned, Dallin H. Oaks, SLC: Deseret Book, 2011.) Clearly his Bishop and his mother had taught him powerful lessons as faithful leaders.
The fourth principle that is essential to the leadership that the world is hungering for is that of courage. Leaders must do hard things - especially in today's environment - and many of those take real courage. Furthermore, the consistency needed to be trustworthy requires that the leader always do the right thing. Often this need for courage arises because the leader must take the long term view, even though it may make the short term difficult and messy. But such courage provides the evidence of the leader's commitment to the vision and to the principles that have been espoused.
I've always admired the statement of Joseph Smith regarding his own experience with the need for courage. As he recorded,
"I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true;....why does the world think to make me deny what I have actually seen? For I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, either dared I do it;" (JS History 1:25.)
Elder Holland gave some wonderful advice concerning this principle of courage when he was here on campus this past month. He said,
"Someone once wrote, "˜A ship is very safe in the harbor, but that is not what ships are made for.' So Seasiders that you are, set sail! ...The Lord said to the first generation of elders in this Church, "˜Ye are not sent forth to be taught, but to teach the children of men the things which I have put into your hands by the power of my Spirit' (D&C 43:15.) ... Don't you dare just go blend into the amoral, telestial, hard-scrabble world of today...Be strong. Be true. Teach - rather than being taught. You can't control everyone's morals, but you can control your morals. You can't control everyone's language, but you can control yours. You can't control everyone's standards, but you can control yours." (Elder Holland, ibid.)
President Hinckley reinforced this same principle of courage when he referred to what it would be like once each of you leaves the confines of this campus. He said,
"It is not easy to be virtuous when all about you there are those who scoff at virtue.
"It is not easy to be honest when all about you there are those who are interested only in making "˜a fast buck'.
"It is not easy to be industrious when all about you there are those who do not believe in the value of work.
"It is not easy to be a man or woman of integrity when all about you there are those who will forsake principle for expediency." ("The Loneliness of Leadership", Gordon B. Hinckley, BYU Devotional, Nov. 4, 1969.)
President Hinckley then concluded his discussion of our need for courage by citing the words of the apostle Paul,
"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:8-9.)"
And so it is with all great leaders. They exhibit the principle of courage no matter the circumstances or the consequences, knowing that by doing what is right, they will have the support and admiration of their true followers and with the Lord's help they will weather the storms that may come.
3- Adding Power to those Four Principles
When leadership is anchored in a set of timeless, fixed principles that include trust, vision, teaching, and courage, it provides the consistency and dependability that all the world is hungering for. But two other elements can also add further power and confidence to such leadership. One of those elements is that of personal virtue. When the leader's personal life adheres to standards that are exemplary and that reinforce those principles, the leader is able to call on the powers of Heaven for further insight and inspiration as new challenges and opportunities arise, making him or her a more powerful leader.
It was this characteristic of personal virtue that led the Nephites to choose a righteous young man named Mormon to lead their armies and that has enabled young, inexperienced missionaries to successfully invite mature, accomplished adults to listen to the message of the restored gospel and to accept the Savior's invitation to follow Him. Likewise, the Lord Himself has reinforced the importance of such personal virtue by making it a pre-requisite for all of those who would serve in leadership positions in His Kingdom. Consider the Lord's promise to such leaders:
" ...Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven.
"The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever." (D&C 121:45-46.)
The second element that serves to amplify and leverage the principles of leadership is that of love. When the leader is motivated by love and has charity towards those whom he or she serves, nothing is impossible. Indeed such love not only communicates unselfishness and genuine concern for others but it also changes the way in which followers view their leader.
Each of us have witnessed the power of such love as we have reflected on our own willingness to follow our prophet, President Monson, and all who serve with him. Knowing of their genuine love for us helps us to give greater weight to their counsel and guidance. Indeed their love for us and our love for them motivates us to accept their invitations to improve and strengthen our commitment to follow the Savior and His gospel.
This past April, Elder Russell M. Nelson spoke on our campus and summarized his view of you as such leaders. He said,
"May I offer my vision of you and your future. There is good news and bad news. I won't try to separate them because both may come at you at the same time. You enter a world caught in a steep slippery slide of diminishing moral values. Against that backdrop, your character and integrity will let you stand out and shine like a lighthouse. If you are true and faithful, you will stand out in stark contrast to the surrounding masses mired in mediocrity. You will be anchored in eternal truth. You, your families, and your homes will become beacons of hope in a darkened world. You will be seen as citadels of stability wherever you live. Your faith and optimism will make you leaders in your communities, in your countries, and in the Kingdom of God on earth." (Elder Russell M. Nelson, BYU-Hawaii commencement, April 9, 2011.)
I add my testimony and promise to that of Elder Nelson. A strong commitment to personal virtue and love towards all men will make it possible for you to become the leaders the world so desperately needs:
Leaders who are trusted,
Leaders who have a clear vision,
Leaders who are always teaching, and
Leaders with the courage to act by always doing what is right.
I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, our Savior and leader, Amen.