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What learning about the Savior and serving with 6 Church presidents have taught Bishop Keith B. McMullin about leadership

Throughout his ecclesiastical and professional service, Bishop Keith B. McMullin has found and strived to apply leadership qualities from the examples and teachings of the last six presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and, more important, from the Savior Himself.

“When it comes to temporal affairs, He cautioned about letting them become the major purpose,” said Bishop McMullin, president and chief executive officer of Deseret Management Corp. and an emeritus general authority. “Focus is always on the needs that are brought about through faith, repentance and baptism, and the sacred ordinances that we all understand are important.” 

By the same token, Jesus Christ also encouraged His followers to be kind. “He encouraged us to be gentle, He encouraged us to be honest and forthright, encouraged us to work for that which we receive and give an honest day’s labor for that which we receive.” 

Bishop McMullin, the former managing director of the Church’s welfare services and counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, shared in a recent episode of the Church News podcast about having ample opportunities to observe the leadership qualities of prophet-presidents and to learn of characteristics of the Savior.

“So we see in the Savior’s teachings the elements of leadership in all aspects of our lives,” he said. “I think that the more a leader patterns his life or her life and lifestyle — and leadership, faculties and capabilities — after those set by the Savior, the more successful the leader will be.”

Bishop McMullin outlined specific leadership lessons he has learned from each of the last six Church presidents.

President Spencer W. Kimball was the 12th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Spencer W. Kimball

Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Spencer W. Kimball

“What I found in President [Spencer W.] Kimball was a man of unbounded love for others, irrespective of their circumstances or background,” Bishop McMullin said.

“He could lift men and women higher than he even stood, but it was because he had a vision of what they could become, and he was most cognizant of the fact that he could build and lift people in the process.”

Bishop McMullin also observed in President Kimball “a need to move things, not just talk about things.” 

“I think President Kimball was the one who laid, in many ways, that groundwork for the hastening that we are now involved in,” he said.

President Ezra Taft Benson was the 13th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

President Ezra Taft Benson

Credit: Busath Photography via The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Ezra Taft Benson

President Ezra Taft Benson was a “superb administrator.” 

“He was a man of great faith, and he knew what he was responsible for as the President of the Church,” Bishop McMullin recalled.

“He was a man of love and tenderness. … I also had the feeling that he was very earnest in the responsibilities that rested upon his shoulders, and he wanted things to move forward in accordance with the Lord’s purposes without delay.”

Howard W. Hunter

President Howard W. Hunter

President Howard W. Hunter

During his time with President Howard W. Hunter, Bishop McMullin noticed the ability to foster “confidence in the midst of calm.”

“​​He fostered devotion in the spirit of love and kindness, and he fostered an eternal perspective in everything that one did,” he said.

Gordon B. Hinckley

When Bishop McMullin served as second counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, he worked closely with President Gordon B. Hinckley in overseeing construction and maintenance of temples.

President Gordon B. Hinckley

President Gordon B. Hinckley

Credit: Jed A. Clark via The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

“I recall when he had been to the colonies in Mexico and had returned with the impression that we should expand the building of temples, I was sitting in his office, as were other general authorities and some staff members,” Bishop McMullin said. “He began to describe what he called a small temple. … He was very careful to distinguish between larger temples and smaller temples. He wanted the cost to be much more modest, and he wanted the temples to be erected much more quickly in order to expedite the blessings that the members of the Church could receive.”

At the end of the meeting, Bishop McMullin asked President Hinckley if he had a sketch of what he had outlined. “And he said, ‘As a matter of fact, I do.’“ 

“But then he said, ‘I’ve been thinking — we should have 100 temples by the year 2000.’ And we all were quite amazed at that goal, but we achieved it under his leadership.

President Thomas S. Monson in his Salt Lake City, Utah, office April 2, 2008.

President Thomas S. Monson

Credit: Tom Smart, Deseret News

Thomas S. Monson

President Thomas S. Monson “did more to knock off my rough edges than any other prophet,” Bishop McMullin said.

“He was always loyal and kind and thoughtful, but he was also a man who helped you understand where you could improve and where you needed to improve, which I came to love.”

President Monson’s love for people, especially the downtrodden, “knew no bounds” and was demonstrated and prevalent in every decision that he made.

Russell M. Nelson

From President Russell M. Nelson, Bishop McMullin has learned that minutia should not deter the work.

President Russell M. Nelson reflects on his schooling at the University of Utah during a video interview. He received an honorary doctoral degree from the U. on May 6, 2021.

President Russell M. Nelson reflects on his schooling at the University of Utah during a video interview. He received an honorary doctoral degree from the U. on May 6, 2021.

Credit: Screenshot

“There is a perspective about power and authority of the holy priesthood and the blessings of the temple that are underscored in his ministry, and there’s a kindness and a love, and an encompassing understanding of how all of the affairs of the Church should and need to work together,” he said.

President Nelson’s background of tending to the needs of individuals has provided him an essential perspective as the Prophet, Bishop McMullin said. “How can you work on a person’s heart on the one hand, and not feel engaged with the individual’s well-being on the other? I think he felt all of that in his professional pursuits, and then his apostolic responsibilities.”


Bishop McMullin has also observed many other leaders in business, and has seen how easy it is for the pressures of business to compromise the virtue of integrity.

“There is an element of trust born of integrity that cannot be replaced by any other virtue, in my judgment,” he said, calling integrity one of his highest valued qualities of leadership. 

Another valuable leadership quality is the ability of the leader to value the people they lead.

“So often, things become the most important aspect of an enterprise. Those things might be widgets that are being produced or profits at the bottom line. But after all is said and done, it’s the people that are of greatest value [and] have greatest worth to the enterprise,” he explained.

Hear more: Episode 72: Bishop Keith B. McMullin on key Christlike leadership principles that bless work, life and family

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