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Humility in Covenant Leadership

Audio: "Humility in Covenant Leadership"
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It is thrilling to be with you today. There is a serious spirit on this campus, and we know it is because of the dedicated efforts of each of you to live the covenants you have made with the Lord. It is tangible. It is inviting. It is comforting. It is empowering. It is joyful. And we feel honored to be here.

I am confident that many of you have heard this quote from our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. I never tire of hearing it because it is so profound—and it’s about you! It lays the foundation of the message I’ll share today:

My beloved younger brothers and sisters, you are among the best the Lord has ever sent to this world. You have the capacity to be smarter and wiser and have more impact on the world than any previous generation. [1]

My dear friends, you were born to be leaders! Leaders in your families, in your communities, and in the world! You can and will and do make an impact!

Some people are given leadership titles and responsibilities such as supervisor, Relief Society president, bishop, or manager. But being a leader is not title-exclusive. There is no cap on the number of leaders possible within any organization.

Leaders guide and influence others in ways that help them reach their potential. However, covenant leaders help others reach their divine potential. In my studies of covenant leadership, I have found the principle of humility to be significant, and one from which other principles derive.

During His mortal ministry, Jesus Christ demonstrated great humility by continually acknowledging that His strength came from His Father. He said, “I can of mine own self do nothing. . . . I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” [2]

Humility is recognizing our complete dependence upon God and acknowledging our need for His constant help and support. It’s crediting Him for the abilities, gifts, and talents He gives us. Humility is hungering for the Lord to prevail in our lives. [3]

Humility in covenant leadership can be manifested in many ways. I would like to share some humble leadership traits I have observed through working with some magnificent leaders. I hope you can see yourself, or your future self, in some of these examples.

First, be the servant. We witnessed an amazing example of Christlike love and humility when Ron and I were assigned to a Priesthood Leadership conference with Elder Gerrit W. Gong. Between meetings, a light luncheon was provided for several leaders and spouses who were involved in the conference. As is typical with presiding authorities, Elder Gong and his wife, Susan, were invited to the buffet table to be first in line. Instead of picking up a plate for himself, Elder Gong picked up all the plates and began to hand one to all who came through the line, greeting them one by one with his gentle smile. While Elder Gong was on plate duty at one end of the table, Sister Gong filled cups with drinks at the other end. They saw an opportunity to humbly and joyfully serve, and their simple actions made each person feel important and appreciated.

Ron and I will never forget the humble, covenant leadership we witnessed that day from Elder and Sister Gong. I hope we will remember that, most often, it is the small kindnesses we share that make the biggest difference in the hearts and minds of those we serve.

Second, recognize that revelation is scattered among us.

I have learned from sitting in general councils in the Church that all listen, all have a voice, and all have a vote. No one is adamant or demanding about their position.

Revelation can come in advance, and when we come prepared to participate in a conversation, the Spirit comes prepared to teach. For that reason, in all the meetings I attended as a general officer, we received an agenda at least one day before we met, giving everyone a chance to ponder, pray, and prepare. Giving advance notice of meeting topics and allowing others to add to the agenda is a humble leadership practice.

Third, understand that different is not necessarily wrong.

My husband scrubs toilets as good as anyone I know. He scoops the water out of the bowl with a paper cup and then scrubs the toilet spick and span with a rag. I, on the other hand, put on thick rubber gloves and use the longest-handled brush on the planet. Is one approach better than the other? No! Is the result the same? Mostly!

There are various ways to achieve a goal or plan an event. Allowing others to use their talents is characteristic of a humble leader. Humble leaders don’t micromanage. They teach, set expectations, promote trust in others, and then allow them to fulfill their duties. They focus on results rather than mechanics.

Fourth, ask inspired questions.

A friend recently shared this experience: During a church meeting he attended, his phone kept lighting up, and he quickly realized that there was a problem at the business he owned. He read and responded to a few texts and resolved the issue. After the meeting, the leader in charge verbally tore this man to pieces for not paying attention. Can you imagine how he felt? What could have been done differently? Would asking an inspired question have helped to discern the situation? What question would you have asked?

One response may have been, “I noticed you were anxious during the meeting. How can I help?” A question that tends to work in many situations is, “Will you tell me more?”

Fifth, build unity—we vs. I

Most of the work we do in business, church callings, and families is the result of collaborative effort. A marker of humility is giving credit where credit is due. Using phrases such as “we decided” or “our committee concluded” builds unity and confidence.

Sixth be teachable.

Humble leaders are aware of their shortcomings and are eager to listen and learn.

We may not be able to use all the advice we receive, but we can accept it gracefully and never close the door to being taught or corrected. In many cases, I have learned more from loving correction than from praise. It stings, but I’m grateful for those who are willing to help me become better.

Seventh, avoid spiritual manipulation

When I was a freshman at BYU, a young man told me that it had been revealed to him that we were to be married. We had never even been on a date! I was confused! I called home and cried to my dad, “Do I have to marry him?” My dad simply asked, “Do you love him?” A big fat “no!” flew from my mouth. “Then why would you marry him?”

It is inappropriate to impose our own revelation upon others. In my meetings with apostles and prophets, I never heard them say, “God told me” or “The Spirit said to me.” I refer to these types of expressions as spiritual manipulation. They suggest that we are the only ones entitled to inspiration, leaving others to wonder about their own ability to understand the Spirit.

Conversely, I hear the brethren use expressions such as, “I had a thought,” “What if we considered this,” or “I’ve been thinking” . . . they humbly allow the Spirit to speak to each member of the council individually.

Finally, I hope you will be joyful. My first international assignment as a counselor in the Young Women General Presidency came just a few weeks after my call. Ron and I traveled to the Caribbean Area. I admit to being quite nervous—I just didn’t want to mess anything up! Elder Jose L. Alonso, who was a counselor in the Caribbean Area Presidency, accompanied us as we visited six islands over a period of ten days. To say it was an incredible experience would be a vast understatement. At the end of our trip, I asked Elder Alonso what I could do differently as I moved forward in my new calling. I knew I had much to learn, and I hoped for some helpful, honest feedback. After some coaxing, he finally threw his hands up over his head and, with a big smile on his face and an animated voice, he said, “Enjoy! This is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it is the gospel of joy.” He then suggested that as I meet with members of the Church throughout the world I remind them of this divine truth and to live and serve with joy!

“[Humility] is not a sign of weakness, timidity, or fear; it is an indication that we know where our true strength lies.” [4] As we humbly allow the Lord to lead us in our efforts, I testify that He will fill our hearts with His perfect joy!

Dear brothers and sisters, the Lord needs you to be His covenant leaders. Because of the covenants you have made with Him, or will yet make with Him, you are endowed with His power. Be fearless, yet humble leaders, and the Lord will direct you in ways that will impact your families, communities, and the world in glorious ways!

In the name of our perfect leader, Jesus Christ, amen.


Notes

[1] Russell M. Nelson, “Hope of Israel,” Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, June 2018, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/broadcasts/worldwide-devotional-for-young-adults/2018/06/hope-of-israel.

[2] John 5:30.

[3] “Humility” Gospel Topics Essays, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/manual/gospel-topics/humility.

[4] Ibid.