Cheif Information Officer
Joe Taylor has been the Chief Information Officer for BYU-Idaho since January 2014. Previous to coming to BYU-Idaho, he spent many years working as a leader in the Information Technology industry, specifically in Higher Education and Aerospace. He earned a bachelor's degree in Economics from the University of Utah and a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science in Information Systems from Boston University.
As a young man he served a mission in the Uruguay, Montevideo Mission. After his mission, he married Lori, his high school sweetheart, and together they have five wonderful children and two grandchildren. He loves to spend time with his granddaughter Navy, and looks forward to spending time with his Grandson Sam, whose time on this earth was far too brief.
He has served in church callings all his life, and hopes one day to receive his dream calling of serving in the Primary. He currently serves as Sunday School President in his ward.
He grew up in Salt Lake City as the middle of five sons, and as such is grateful for the patience of loving parents. Joe has spent his career studying organizational behavior and change management and is committed to the idea that I.T. is more about understanding the computer in our heads than it is about the one on our desks.
We invite you to study and ponder on the scriptures and other preparation resources below previous to attending devotional. As you come spiritually prepared the Spirit will have greater power to inspire you, teach you, and to testify to you of the truthfulness of the principles that will be taught.
It's a pleasure to be with you this afternoon and to have an opportunity to share some thoughts. I came to BYU-Idaho just over two years ago and in that time I have truly come to love devotional. Each week we are provided an opportunity to come together in faith and to share in the powerful spirit present in this building. I pray that same spirit will be with us today and that my words will not detract from that.
Today I would like to address the second sentence in the BYU-Idaho Mission Statement. In it we are reminded that the mission of BYU-Idaho "is to develop disciples of Jesus Christ who are leaders in their homes, the Church, and their communities".1
A few years ago, at the outset of 2011, I introduced to my family an idea that had been on my mind for some time. My brainstorm, received by some of my family with joy and excitement, and by others with a little anguish and trepidation, was to plan an excursion to backpack into the High Uinta Mountains in Utah and ascend Kings Peak. The High Uintas are a beautiful and rugged mountain range with plentiful opportunities for hiking, backpacking, and fishing. Unfortunately, each year some, who underestimate the rugged nature of this wilderness, get lost. Many are rescued after a few scary nights spent wandering the hills. Others experience serious injury, and in some cases lives are lost if the appropriate care is not taken. These are mountains that demand respect and will punish those who do not give it.
Kings Peak sits atop this range and stands supreme as the highest peak in the state of Utah. It is only accessible to those willing to pay the price of an arduous outdoor adventure. I had on multiple occasions stood at the top of Utah and looked over the miles and miles of spectacular views and thought that the moment had been perfect, only to realize that the one thing that would have improved that moment would be to have my wife and children with me. That was the origin of the adventure we would embark on during the summer of 2011.
There are more theories and approaches to leadership than one could possibly study in a lifetime. As we wade through the deluge of books, articles, TED talks, webinars, classes, and endless advice it becomes nearly impossible to find the secret recipe that will transform us into the perfect leader. Most of us are not dissuaded, however, and we continue to seek these elusive traits. I, for one, have spent plenty of time, and money contributing to the elevated stature and compensation of those deemed as visionary leaders in our world. To be fair, in that search I have learned much that has helped me in my life and in my career. Conversely, however, I have also discovered that certain aspects of leadership, as defined by the world leave me perplexed as to their effectiveness. In fact, as I have employed some of these strategies I have found their effects to be short lived in some cases and ineffective in others.
As the sun rose on August 7, so did we. We ate breakfast, broke camp, and prepared for the day. I checked with each individual, balanced the loads, and adjusted backpacks. Satisfied, we gathered at the trailhead, prayed, took this picture that I love, and then departed. It was a glorious day; there was a brilliant blue sky, the temperature was perfect, and spirits were high. This was to be an incredible trip.
We made great progress for a while, but as the miles began to pile up enthusiasm began to wane. Charlie, for example, our youngest hiker, began to realize how long this day really would be. Discouraged, he slowed, and we slowed with him. I realized we were falling behind schedule and that I needed to do something to motivate him. To this day the kids tease me about the story that I made up as I held Charlie's hand and hiked, side-by-side with him for probably five miles. Somehow, ideas came to my mind and I weaved a tale of intrigue, aliens, explosions, betrayals, and surprises.
With Charlie distracted, our momentum increased. We made great progress for several miles and eventually we arrived at Henry's Fork Basin. Not long after, we came to our next obstacle. We had to cross a swelling Henry's Fork River. The bridge, constructed from trees and some rope, was safe, but crossing it tired and with the weight of the backpacks created some fear in a few of the team. After some coaching and motivation, everyone successfully forded the river.
At this point, the trail slopes into a significant ascent that would be our most challenging climb of this first day. Not long after we began to climb, we were faced with our next challenge; Doug, our son-in-law, began to suffer with respiratory problems. The closer we got to timber line, the altitude where the oxygen is too thin for trees to grow, the more serious Doug's problems became. Finally, after his courage and determination were overcome by his biological need for air, we were forced to stop again. After a prayer and a priesthood blessing, it was decided that Doug would leave his pack and begin walking. I hiked as fast as I could to the top of the ascent, dropped my pack and returned to carry Doug's to the top of the hill. From there we regrouped and moved forward to our camping spot at Dollar Lake.
That night, surrounded by my family in this beautiful place, we sang, told stories, and talked until one-by-one the kids and my wife retired to their sleeping bags. As is usually the case with me, I found myself sitting alone by a fire with an incredible sky full of stars and plenty of time to think. As I reflected on the day that had passed, I admit that a little pride set in as I mused at what a great leader I was. After all, during that day I had been presented with challenges of discouragement, exhaustion, fear, and even physical problems. In each case I had used my leadership toolkit to overcome the problems, and now, here we were. Not only that, but how awesome was it going to be to stand on top of Kings Peak with my loved ones. And how great was it going to be to send that picture out as our Christmas card to all my friends. That was going to be an accomplishment I would be proud of.
Well, there's a funny thing about pride; as soon as we begin to be puffed up in our own superiority and accomplishment, God has a knack for teaching us a lesson. The next day He took full advantage of that opportunity and taught me lessons I will never forget.
For a minute, I'm going to borrow from a talk by President Kim B. Clark, given on this campus in 2015.2 In his talk on disciple leadership he taught us that the purpose of a leader, and especially a Christ-centered, disciple leader is to chase away darkness. Disciple leaders are those who generate light and drive out darkness.
Darkness takes many forms and enters our organizations through arrogance, deception, corruption, mediocrity, exploitation, waste, negativity, and other destructive behaviors. Light, on the other hand, also comes in many forms, and as we know Jesus Christ is the source of all good things. Positive behaviors that bring light include kindness, community, shared purpose, high standards, excellence, and love.
Over the years, as I have had experiences like the one I am sharing with you today, and as I have thought about my personal successes and failures, I have taken the opportunity to evaluate the meaning of true Christ-centered leadership. I bear testimony that the characteristics of a true leader, a disciple leader, can only be discovered by learning of Him who led with perfect purpose, with perfect intentions, and with perfect vision. I testify that the only perfect leadership is Christ-centered leadership.
I would like to discuss six attributes of a Christ-centered leader. These attributes are:
First, let's talk about obedience. As we roused ourselves the next morning, we were excited to get moving. We were already behind schedule when we left, but I knew of a shortcut that would get us to the top quicker. As we arrived at the top of Gun Sight Pass, where a slight deviation would lead us to the shortcut, the spirit whispered, nay yelled at me, that it was not a good idea to take the shortcut. We obeyed and decided to take the longer trail considering that we could still make the top and get back down by midafternoon.
In a familiar Primary song, we are taught about the eternal principle of obedience. The song is simply entitled "Baptism,"3 and recounts the story of Jesus' baptism by John the Baptist. "To fulfill the law, said Jesus, when the Baptist questioned why. And to enter with my Father in the Kingdom up on high" are the words of this song that emphasize the critical and eternal importance of obedience.
Obedience is, and always will be the key to unlocking the powers of Heaven. It is a confused leader who seeks lasting power through breaking the rules of an organization or the violation of the Laws of Heaven. In Doctrine & Covenants 130: 20-21 we read:
"There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated."4
As we obey, we are blessed, as we are blessed, we become more effective and we enable ourselves, and our teams, to accomplish incredible things.
The next attribute is patience. As we descended the back part of the pass, and subsequently began to climb, the rough terrain began to take a toll on my family. Over and over we rested and restarted. I started feeling anxious about our slowed progress. As we proceeded, our pace reduced even more. I began to move past anxiety to genuine worry as we were already into the afternoon hours and were not yet close to the peak. In my mind, we simply needed to move faster, so I continued to push.
It must have been difficult for Christ, at times, with His full understanding of the plan, to work with the apostles, who in the overall scheme of things were learning, much in the way a toddler learns to walk. The gospel was so new to them and although they were inspired and spiritual men, they occasionally required the correction of a loving leader.
In Luke chapter 185, we witness Christ's patience as His apostles attempted to protect Him by barring those desiring to bring their children to Him to be blessed. With love and forbearance, Christ corrected them and in so doing taught them eternal principles about the kingdom of God and instructed them that only the adoption of the attributes of these beloved and innocent children would qualify them to enter God's rest.
Patient leaders know how to wait for their teams, and for themselves to learn, but more importantly they know how to nurture and teach to accelerate and amplify learning. They also labor to understand the Lord's way and the Lord's timeframe and recognize that the vision of man cannot outreach the vision of God. Sometimes we must be patient as God's plans rollforward. Finally, a truly patient leader has turned their life over to the Lord and has the enduring faith to withstand the seemingly urgent emergencies of the world while they wait for the much deeper rewards that will come.
Humility is the next attribute. We arrived at the base of the Anderson Pass. This pass marks the final ascent to the peak, an ascent that is very difficult as there is no path to speak of. From this point on it is a steep and tough climb over huge boulders. After a series of climbs and breaks, I arrived at another resting point and took a moment to look over my flock. It didn't look good. It was already deep into the afternoon, and with the exception of my wife and two daughters, the crew was moving slowly. I was becoming more and more worried and I began to come to the realization that my goal to have all of these people on top of this peak was dwindling away. We gathered in a family council to make a decision that would ultimately require the sacrifice of my badge of honor.
It became clear that getting all of us to the peak, was really not an option, so the question in front of us was whether or not we should split up to allow those still in good shape to make the peak while the others began the descent, or whether everyone would sacrifice the victory and descend together. During this council, I looked at our son Tim, then fourteen years old, and I saw the tears beginning to flow out from underneath his sunglasses. Tim has always had a tender heart and has enjoyed a special relationship with the Spirit. When I asked what was wrong, he replied, through his sobs, "we need to stay together." I was the experienced backpacker, he was just a child. In my confidence, I discounted his council.
It is sometimes difficult to imagine what really happened during the Great Council in Heaven. Clearly, there was much discussion and debate about the principles that would govern our mortal lives, but in the end there was a declaration of the Father's will pertaining to His design of this, our second estate. Lucifer, looking to bring glory upon himself, brought forward another plan, saying, "send me and not one soul will be lost." I wonder sometimes how I responded upon hearing this plan, but I hope I was joyful when Jesus, our brother and the beloved Son of the Father came forward and said "Father, thy will be done, and glory be thine forever." I hope I recognized His humility and love for His Father. I want to believe that I was touched by this modest response by Him, who was greater than all, and that it was His submission to His Father's will that convinced me to follow Him.
Christ-centered leadership cannot be based on pride, arrogance, or on bringing attention upon oneself. Humble leaders are teachable and always improving. They council with others, and listen to that council. Moreover, they trust those they council with and are not afraid to admit their own inadequacies and mistakes. It is only through selflessness and humility that one can become truly innovative. This happens by opening our minds to new ideas and concepts, even if they originate with someone else.
Next, let's talk about wisdom. We decided that I would turn around and help those who could not make it and still leave enough time to hike back to our camp before dark. My wife and two daughters would continue on to the peak and immediately follow us down to the camp. Yes, we were disappointed to come that close and not be able to attain the goal. It was hard to watch my wife and daughters scurry up the rocks towards the peak.
Anyway, down we went, and much to my worry, our pace had not sped up. In fact we were moving slower than ever. With time ticking away, I began to feel concerned and worried as I realized that there were no lights in any of the bags. After all, we had planned to be back at camp by midafternoon. I began to be even more worried as I arrived at the base of Gunsight Pass and looked back and saw, off in the distance, my wife, Jaime, and Maddie, following the wrong path, off into Painter Basin. This was a big problem, as it would quickly take them in the wrong direction to a very remote and unfamiliar territory with night quickly approaching.
At that moment, I began to question the decision to leave our flashlights at camp. I began to question our decision to split up. And I began to question how well I had prepared the team to navigate in the Uintas.
Wisdom is the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgment. The Pharisees, a religious party among the Jews, prided themselves on their knowledge of the law and their strict observance of that law. On many occasions these so called learned men conspired to entrap Jesus to discredit Him. They looked for opportunities to prove His lack of compliance and thereby disprove that He was the Son of God. In John chapter 8 we can read of one of these times.
In this instance, a woman accused of committing adultery, was brought before Jesus at the temple where He had been teaching. I imagine the Pharisees thought they had come across the perfect situation to disrepute Jesus. I marvel at the wisdom of our Savior as He patiently contemplated the situation, and wisely sought inspiration. Only when He was ready to respond did He give the reply found in John chapter 8 verse 7.
"So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her."6
One by one, the accusers contemplated Christ's words and, weighed down by their own consciences, relinquished their hold on the woman. As we know, Jesus lovingly taught the woman and sent her on her way.
Christ-centered leaders pursue learning, and make good use of their knowledge, but through their experience, good judgment and the light of Christ, they seek after the spirit to make wise decisions.
The next attribute is courage. After a quick prayer, I made a decision, to send the crew I was with up the pass and I turned around and began to sprint back across the expanse of the valley. Once I got to the other side of the valley, I could see my girls afar off, after all they were hiking quickly to catch up with us, only they were still on the wrong path. I tried desperately to yell and wave in hopes that they would see, but at that moment, I had a serious problem. On the one hand I had the crew who were exhausted and struggling headed up Gun Sight Pass. On the other hand, although they were in good shape, my girls were headed the wrong way.
All the time, the day was turning into night. At that very poignant moment, all disappointment at not making the peak, and any other petty worry left me. I was completely helpless. The feelings of confidence and pride that I had enjoyed the night before were completely vacant.
It was at this moment that I realized that our successful reunion would be entirely out of my hands and that I was dependent on the Lord. The prayer I offered was brief but intense as I asked for guidance. I poured everything I could into it, expressed my willingness to submit to God's will, and waited for an answer.
I marvel as I think about the anguish our Savior went through as He took our sins and weaknesses upon Him. I'm not sure any of us, with our feeble earthly minds will be able to fully comprehend His pain as He atoned for each and every one of God's children, but we get a glimpse in Doctrine & Covenants 19 verses 16-19:
"For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men."7
I'm not sure there is any passage of scripture with more emotion. I'm so grateful for this immeasurable gift as I have frequent need of the Atonement. I am also grateful for the incredible courage exhibited by Jesus. To know what was coming and to willingly accept it because it was right, and because it was the will of the Father, is the greatest show of courage in all of history.
Leaders, especially Christ-centered leaders must have courage. This is especially true in a world that is becoming more confused and wicked. We will be required to do difficult things and it will take courage to do them, but as we muster that courage, the blessings will begin to flow. Have the courage to say no, even when it will not be the popular answer. Have the courage to be wrong and admit your mistakes. Have the courage to assume a support role even when the credit might go to someone else. In the end, have the courage to ask, answer, and act upon the well know question: "What would Christ do?" An honest answer to this question will always lead you along the right path.
Finally, I'll talk about love. My answer came. It was to turn around and get back with the part of my family struggling to get up Gun Sight Pass. I was not in a place to question the Lord so I turned, wiped the tears from my eyes and again sprinted back across the valley and scurried, as fast as I could up the pass. I caught up with my kids near the top and discovered that things were not going so well. Everyone was exhausted and discouraged. To top it off, my oldest daughter had a severely sprained ankle.
With determination, and after a prayer, asking the Lord to protect our family, we slowly but determinedly moved toward our camp. As we arrived, I was aware that the sun had gone down, darkness was creeping across the world, and the girls were still lost. I was terrified. After getting everyone settled, I grabbed a bag full of flashlights, enjoyed a brief drink of water, and headed back up the trail. I didn't know what to expect, but I knew I needed to go back. I was listening to the Lord at this point.
As I hiked, I cried. I rethought the day and the decisions that lead us to this point. While I knew I was doing what the Lord was telling me now, I could see the things I had done wrong previously in that very long day and realized that the price of my mistakes might be catastrophic. By now, it was dark. The light was gone. I was very worried and offered another prayer.
Although the path in front of me was illuminated by the light strapped to my forehead, there were three out there who were hiking in the dark. A few moments later as I hiked with all the energy I had left in my body, I saw the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. There they were, my wife and daughters, coming around the corner. I fell to my knees, exhausted and grateful. After a quick prayer of thanks, I ran to them and hugged them.
Back at the camp, I sat, surrounded by those people who are most important to me. Each of us, through the trials of the day had all the worldly concerns and pride stripped away. Although my wife and two daughters had reached the peak, my goal was not accomplished. That didn't matter, for I had gained something more valuable. I learned lessons of critical importance. The worldlypride of boasting that my family reached the peak had been stripped away and replaced by a contentment that I cannot describe. Oh how I rejoiced as we sat there in love with one another and feeling the joy of the Lord.
Have you ever really thought about the Last Supper? Have you ever closed your eyes and imagined being in the room on that fateful evening? As Jesus and the twelve came together to share the last meal they would share before Christ's death, I'm sure the room was full of emotion. During the course of the supper, Judas was identified as a betrayer, the sacrament was instituted, Jesus washed the feet of the apostles, and through it all, Christ humbly continued to teach.
As the night was coming to a close it seems that Jesus was now ready to deliver the message that His words and actions had been eluding to all evening. With renewed energy, He looked to the eleven remaining apostles, addressing them as "Little children," and delivered the very poignant message found in John 13: 34-35:
"A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another."8
There it is. This was it. In the very last moments of his earthly life, Christ, with plainness and exactness, gave the eleven apostles the key. This time there was no parable to interpret to illustrate the point; it was simply out there; the commandment upon which all others might be based. This was, and is, the very foundation of Christ's Gospel. All His teachings, all His actions, all His miracles—all of it was based on an intense, incomprehensible love; a love for His Father and a love for His flock.
Now that He was leaving, He was ready to instruct the eleven, and us, on how to carry on His sacred work and mission. It is love that distinguishes a great leader from a mediocre leader. It is love for the organization, it is love for the mission, and it is love for the people, and it is a love for God and His gospel.
My brothers and sisters, I close with this picture, taken halfway between Anderson Pass and Kings Peak, just after the difficult moment when we decided to split up and turn around. Originally, to me, this photo was a memorial to my disappointments of that day. Since, after understanding the lessons taught to me, it has become one of my favorite photos as it is a continual reminder that lasting success in this life, and in the life to come, can only be found by turning ourselves over to the will of our Eternal Father and by following the examples and teachings of His Son and our Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
I express my love to you, to my Savior and to our Father and bear testimony of the truthfulness of His eternal gospel.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen
1. BYU-Idaho Mission, http://www.byui.edu/about/our-mission.2. Kim B. Clark, Disciple Leadership Conference 2015, http://www.byui.edu/student-support/disciple-leader/address-archive.3. Children's Songbook, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, 2005.4. Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21.5. Luke 18:15-17.6. John 8:7.7. Doctrine & Covenants 19:16-19.8. John 13:34-35.