January 7th, 2008

Training a Leader

photo credit: mjp3000

As I was nearing graduation at BYU, I began to explore my employment opportunities. I narrowed down a long list of potentials, weighed the pros and cons, and prepared for interviews. I was somewhat sidetracked, however, by a phone call from a counselor in my ward’s bishopric.

This man is a highly successful businessman, owning and managing several properties and businesses around Utah valley. The purpose of his call was to request that I be interviewed for a fairly high-level management position in his company.

Naturally intrigued, I obliged. As the interview went on a few days later, he explained to me that it was not important to him that I knew what I would be doing. No prior experience was necessary for this job, though like any endeavor it certainly would have been beneficial. He indicated that rather than looking for somebody with lots of work experience in the given field, he wanted somebody honest, intelligent, and hard-working.

This baffled me, as it ran contrary to everything I had been taught in school. I was under the impression that education was primarily to specialize in a field. Upon graduation, you would seek employment in said field (most of the time) and increase your work experience and knowledge in that area of expertise.

While I was appreciative of this man’s assessment of my abilities, I ended up taking another job. I have always been amazed, however, by this man’s willingness to hire a capable person over an experienced one.

I have since come to the realization that he was looking for a leader—somebody with solid mental acuity, initiative, and critical thinking. While I feel I’ve yet to attain such a status, I recognize the value that true leaders have in our society.

So what is a leader? Are they the politicians making hollow promises and pandering to their voting blocs? Are they managers in the workplace? Might they be celebrities with good name recognition advancing a cause? What makes a person a leader?

Peter Drucker aptly defined the word with four examples:

All the effective leaders I have encountered knew 4 things:

1) The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some people are thinkers. Some are prophets. Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders.

2) Effective leaders are not those who are loved or admired. They are those whose followers do the right things. Popularity is not leadership. Results are.

3) Leaders are highly visible. They therefore set examples.

4) Leadership is not rank, privilege, titles, or money. It is responsibility. (Peter Drucker, via Quoty)

To become a leader, one must first understand how to think. Trained in school for a specific vocation or field, students are primarily taught what to think, as they memorize trivia or read their textbooks.

In my case, I was taught all sorts of things relating to Information Technology. However, I was not trained how to think in school. I lacked exposure to critical texts that in years following would help me open my eyes, analyze principles, and apply myself in fields I was never trained in.

This, I believe, is what my once-prospective employer was seeking after: people who know how to think. Such a potential for leadership is easily applied to many fields of study or work. Granted, one cannot become a professional pianist by simply reading classics and engaging in speech and debate. However, the mind-expanding training offered by rich classic texts broadens one’s horizons interminably, thus allowing a trained web designer to seek employment or be proficient in an area outside of one’s background.

Leaders are instilled with qualities that will bring them success in a variety of endeavors—not just those they specialize in. They will recognize historical lessons, understand economic principles, and make rational, sound decisions that will bring them and those around them prosperity and happiness.

It is the potential for leadership in the rising generation that will improve our families, communities, country, and the world at large. This endeavor requires understanding true principles and instilling them in our children and peers through proper and effective educational methods. It also, understandably, necessitates an investment of our time and energy.

But whether one’s leadership is appointed or assumed, I believe it is incumbent upon each of us to prepare ourselves for that position through reading good books, maintaining productive dialogue, and being anxiously engaged in good causes. It is then that we will become an instrument for good in the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

19 Responses to “Training a Leader”

  1. John
    January 7, 2008 at 1:40 pm #

    I take issue with Drucker’s criteria, especially #2. A truly effective leader, in the long and short run, is loved and admired. Always.

    People who focus solely on short-term results can be the best corporate presidents, the best salesman, the best developers…. until the long haul starts to take it’s toll. They’ve sacrificed people for results, and a focus on progress and program has robbed the “leader” of his followers (and usually his position).

    I don’t see how a leader can be un-loved for very long. It seems contradictory to #1 (a leader requires followers). A follower is someone who has the choice to follow. There’s a difference between a follower and a hireling.

  2. Connor
    January 7, 2008 at 1:56 pm #

    You raise a good point. Perhaps his #2 could be better phrased as:

    Effective leaders are not necessarily those who are loved or admired.

    I think Drucker was implying that a leader isn’t any random celebrity or person that is popular, but instead a person that is moral.

    History clearly shows that do-gooders are often rejected by their contemporaries at large, but loved or revered in successive generations. This isn’t to say that there is nobody that loves their leaders in their prime, but if Ron Paul’s following is any indication, such groups often constitute a minority.

  3. Scott
    January 7, 2008 at 3:09 pm #

    Leadership is a talent that can be learned. But, as with any great athlete, musician, or scholar, some people are simply born with inate leadership skills. Having worked with youth groups for decades, I regularly run into young people that are natural leaders, regardless of whether they serve in a formal leadership position or not. They always have followers. But they’re not always good. Leaders can lead people to do good things or to do bad things.

    I appreciate the suggestions you have listed for making sure that anytime we are called upon to exercise leadership, we do it in a positive way. Indeed, leadership is responsibility, but not all leaders understand that.

  4. Connor
    January 7, 2008 at 3:22 pm #

    ..some people are simply born with inate leadership skills.

    Are they born with these skills, or simply raised in an environment where they learn by example, are exposed to other leaders, and are taught the necessary principles?

    But they’re not always good. Leaders can lead people to do good things or to do bad things.

    I feel that true leadership entails moral correctness, therefore “bad leaders” are not really leaders. They are simply the first of the lemmings in the group that follows closely behind. 🙂

  5. Yin
    January 7, 2008 at 4:15 pm #

    I totally think that a person’s inclination towards leadership is at least in part related to the personality that they are born with. I bet you’ll see examples of leadership (in some form) in a preschool, nursery, or daycare. At young ages, these traits are apparent. Some people are naturally introverts. Some are extroverts. Some are leaders, some are followers. Environment is of course a key role, but maybe only in developing a characteristic that’s already present.

  6. Connor
    January 7, 2008 at 4:18 pm #

    Yeah, I would agree with that notion. I think it’s especially evident when one takes into account our pre-mortal life and the characteristics and talents we developed there.

  7. Curtis
    January 7, 2008 at 9:22 pm #

    The greatest discourse in the history of the universe on the subject of leaders is Hugh Nibley’s, “Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift “:


  8. Connor
    January 7, 2008 at 9:24 pm #

    Agreed. I *love* that talk!

  9. joe
    January 8, 2008 at 12:25 am #

    Hello all,
    Your comments about leadership are interesting. I do have some questions. I wish to understand the LDS faith a little bit better.

    Women are not permitted to hold the priesthood in the LDS faith? This bars many potential leadership positions in the LDS faith.

    Is there any official statement from the LDS church as to why this is the case? Where can I find this statement?

  10. Connor
    January 8, 2008 at 8:35 am #


    You misunderstand this entire post if you equate true leadership with a specific position in an established hierarchy.

  11. Scott
    January 8, 2008 at 5:16 pm #

    As a Scoutmaster, I once had a senior patrol leader that was always leading. He had been that way since birth. He was even leading his older brother and sister before he could talk. He had real talent. The boys would invariably follow his example. He was a good kid, but like almost all 13-year-olds, he lapsed into unproductive behavior from time to time.

    I once sat down with this boy and explained that he had had leadership qualities thrust upon him, that he would be a leader throughout his life whether he like it or not, and that it was his responsibility to make sure he consistently led others to do right. I doubt it was just my little talk, but he really shaped up after that. In fact, he once made a great sacrifice for what was right that still stands in my mind as one of the best examples I’ve ever personally seen.

  12. joe
    January 8, 2008 at 10:55 pm #

    Leadership can aparently be
    “… with a specific position in an established hierarchy….”

    …The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers….Some are prophets….Both roles are important and badly needed. But without followers, there can be no leaders….

    Apparently someone can be appointed a particular position, but it does not guarentee sucess. “Leadership is not rank, privilege, titles, or money. It is responsibility.”

    The world may never know how sucessful a female LDS prophetess may be unless she is given the chance. As it stands currently, that will not happen. I am just asking why.

  13. Carissa
    January 9, 2008 at 8:29 am #


    If you read the official statements of the church on this subject, they do not explain “why” God chose men, specifically, to bear the responsibilities of priesthood. God has not revealed the “why” for all things. I do not believe the church is worried about proving to the world that women can be successful leaders. I believe the church clearly understands the leadership potential righteous women have. It would seem that God prefers their influence and leadership abilities be used (primarily) in a different capacity than the roles of the priesthood. This is not a lesser role, despite what the world may think, and it does not stifle or prevent a woman’s chances for success and influence.

  14. Joe
    January 15, 2008 at 10:38 pm #

    Where are these official statements to be found? They aren’t exactly easy to find, even with search engines and the internet.

    You state ” It would seem that God prefers their influence and leadership abilities be used (primarily) in a different capacity than the roles of the priesthood.”

    Your statement implies that there is a stated ‘why’ somewhere in LDS belief. Church policies and practices do not occur in a vacuum, without some additional understanding. So, there must be some understanding stated as to ‘why’ women are not ordained to the priesthood. Church policy prior to 1978 was that priesthood was witheld from blacks, there was a ‘why’ associated with that policy, but few mormons come clean in re-stating that ‘why’.

    There is an interesting commentary about the difference between priesthood operation and holding a priesthood office, but I am not allowed to post this link because it might be taken as being anti-mormon, as its slightly critical. Connor said he won’t allow such links. I may never know if that information is accurate and informing.

    Its your organization, its what you believe in.

  15. Carissa
    January 16, 2008 at 7:43 am #

    The priesthood—the authority of God to perform ordinances and act in His name—is conferred only on worthy male members of the Church. Men who hold the priesthood have no advantage over women in qualifying for salvation or eternal life through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. lds.org

    I don’t believe my statement implied the “whys” you are looking for at all. It does, however, reflect the teachings about differing gender roles.

    “There is indeed no privileged class or sex within the true Church of Christ. … Men have their work to do and their powers to exercise for the benefit of all the members of the Church. …
    So with woman: Her special gifts are to be exercised for the benefit and uplift of the race” John A. Widtsoe, Women and the Priesthood

    As to the priesthood ban, you say “there was a ‘why’ associated with that policy, but few mormons come clean in re-stating that ‘why’”. Here is an official statement also from lds.org:

    Ever since biblical times, the Lord has designated through His prophets who could receive the priesthood and other blessings of the gospel. Among the tribes of Israel, for example, only men of the tribe of Levi were given the priesthood and allowed to officiate in certain ordinances. Likewise, during the Savior’s earthly ministry, gospel blessings were restricted to the Jews. Only after a revelation to the Apostle Peter were the gospel and priesthood extended to others (see Acts 10:1–33; 14:23; 15:6–8).
    With the revelation to President Kimball in 1978, the priesthood is now available to all worthy male members regardless of race or ethnicity

    Have you read the interview with Elder Holland? Referring to this subject, he said:

    We just don’t know, in the historical context of the time, why it was practiced. … That’s my principal [concern], is that we don’t perpetuate explanations about things we don’t know. …

  16. joe
    January 16, 2008 at 11:36 pm #

    Mr. Holland says he doesn’t know “the historical context of the time, why it was practiced…” The next paragraph reads:

    “We don’t pretend that something wasn’t taught or practice wasn’t pursued for whatever reason. But I think we can be unequivocal and we can be declarative in our current literature, in books that we reproduce, in teachings that go forward, whatever, that from this time forward, from 1978 forward, we can make sure that nothing of that is declared. That may be where we still need to make sure that we’re absolutely dutiful, that we put [a] careful eye of scrutiny on anything from earlier writings and teachings, just [to] make sure that that’s not perpetuated in the present. That’s the least, I think, of our current responsibilities on that topic. …”

    Its interesting how many times he uses the word “forward” and things which emphasize going ‘forward’ from 1978. Such as current, present, forward, forward, forward… So, in one paragraph he says he doesn’t know, and then he says he does know, and seems to appologize for a wrong doing, and wishes to leave the past behind. I think its a great thing, but why was it EVER a problem? Was was there EVER a problem that the Church has to go FORWARD, forward WHATEVER, FORWARD from 1978?

    There is a possiblity that the LDS church could totally change current policies in reguards to women and the priesthood. Depending upon a change in its understanding of gender. I think that a revision of this policy would greatly benifit the LDS faith.

  17. Yin
    January 17, 2008 at 7:53 am #


    There actually isn’t a possibility that the LDS church could totally change current policies in regards to women and the priesthood. Here’s why: Once you understand the doctrine of the LDS church, you realize that there are certain eternal truths or principles. Things that are done a certain way, always have been, and always will be. Not because the leaders of the church say so, but because God says so, and in the eternal perspective that’s just the way it works. It is an absolute truth. For example, for those who are accountable, baptism is a required step in returning to God’s presence. No ifs, ands, or buts. Men hold the priesthood, not women. And that’s the way it will always be. For someone who doesn’t concur with our believe system, this may seem ludicrous. But the LDS church isn’t about to try to alter God’s way of doing things simply because society says we need a revision and a reconsideration of the place of women.

  18. Joe
    January 18, 2008 at 12:23 am #

    Very strange indeed. The LDS church has changed practices and policies before. Plural marriage is a great example.

    The extending of the priesthood to all male members is another great example.
    Prior to that the priesthood was witheld from the negro race for the most part. One notable exception was that of Elijah Abel who was “…ordained as an elder in the Mormon priesthood in March 1836…”

    So, somewhere along the line this policy changed to exclude blacks from the priesthood, and then reversed again in 1978. It doesn’t seem like an act of an unchanging god working with eternal principles, but rather the work of humans.

    This webpage addresses some of the misunderstandings which humans have introduced into the LDS faith.
    What a beautiful family! I really really love them. It must take a lot to suspend former teachings and ideas that people in the LDS faith once held.

    If these people can suspend these ideas, I think anyone can suspend former ideas about gender. I am saying that perhaps the LDS people are wrong in their policy in reguards to women. Where do you get the idea that god approves of this policy that only men hold the priesthood? Is there an actual statement to this? Is there any scriptural support for this? Actually that may not be a great one, because people have used scripture to support ideas about race, which were apparently wrong, or at least not everlasting.

    The FLDS church primarily split with the LDS church over the issue of plural marriage.
    Apparently, these folks did not see a divine hand in the discontinuing of the eternal principle of plural marriage. Some other teachings include that against the black race, blood atonement, and the united order. Its interesting to note that the founder effect is present in producing a high rate of severe mental retardation.


    I’m not so sure that the Salt Lake church is as inflexible about teachings and policy. I also don’t believe its above the influence of general culture in the world. To be inflexible is to invite problems, conflicts and generally create a cult. The FLDS church doesn’t appear to have adapted or changed anything, and they are reaping the harvest of unsound policy and doctrine.

  19. jack
    July 2, 2008 at 6:23 pm #

    I think Leadership is one of those things that’s often awfully hard to define but you know when you see it, and you definitely know when it’s missing.

    Indeed Leadership is one of those areas about which a huge amount is said while at the same time leaving big questions hanging in the air unanswered.


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