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Brother Thomas E. Mullen: 3 youth leadership principles learned from President M. Russell Ballard


President M. Russell Ballard, the Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was my mission president.  Much of what I know about leadership, including leading youth, I learned from him as a young missionary.  I continue to learn from him today.

When I arrived in the mission, I had more energy than focus. President Ballard could have easily just put up with me or fit me into a predetermined mold, but he wanted the best for me in the mission and beyond.  He wanted me to be successful in every area of my life and to be prepared for whatever the Lord might ask me to do — especially to be a loyal husband, a loving father and a true disciple of Jesus Christ. 

 He exemplified three youth leadership principles: Be with them, connect them to heaven, and help them lead.

Be with them

President Ballard was not a long-distance leader. He was with his missionaries as we served in the Canada Toronto Mission in the mid-1970s. Not only did he spend time with us, but he also knew us. He knew about my family, my interests and my aspirations. Whenever I saw him, he always made me feel valued and loved. 

Thomas E. Mullen of the Young Men general advisory council learned key lessons of youth leadership from his mission president, President M. Russell Ballard.

Thomas E. Mullen of the Young Men general advisory council learned key lessons of youth leadership from his mission president, President M. Russell Ballard.

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

I gained confidence as he complimented me on things I was doing well. His invitations to improve were direct but never harsh. His love for me motivated me to want to be better. Because he spent time with his missionaries, he seemed to be there when we needed him the most. 

I remember a time early in my mission when I was feeling homesick and discouraged. President Ballard was attending an activity in the ward where I served. I never said a word, but he sensed what I was feeling. He pulled me aside and simply said, “I will do whatever it takes to help you succeed.” 

 That moment changed me forever.  

Read more: President Ballard shares the important lesson he learned while serving as a mission president

Connect them with heaven

President Ballard taught his missionaries the power that comes from daily study of the Book of Mormon and personal prayer. 

He taught that this, combined with striving to keep the commandments, would strengthen our faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement and help us to stay on the covenant path.  He helped me have confidence that I could receive and recognize personal revelation.

President Ballard has been holding mission reunions for almost 45 years. I can’t remember a time when he has not encouraged us to continue the habits we gained in the mission.

I have studied the Book of Mormon and prayed for thousands and thousands of days. The practice has connected me to heaven.

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, smiles during an interview in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. President Ballard is often asked how Latter-day Saints can best prepare to receive a patriarchal blessing.

President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, smiles during an interview in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 22, 2022.

Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Help them lead

President Ballard not only expected his missionaries to lead, but he helped us lead. No matter our assignment in the mission, from junior companion to assistant to the president, he helped us lead.  

Sometimes the lessons were direct and sometimes we learned a lot from watching what he did. If I presented a problem to him, he would typically ask me how best I could solve it. As I came up with a plan, he would offer suggestions and express confidence in me. I thought he only did this for me. When I later had the opportunity to serve as his assistant, I realized he did this for all the missionaries.  

Read more: President Ballard recalls 46 years of speaking in general conference

On one occasion, he invited me into his office and shared with me a particular challenge another missionary was having. I remember thinking, “Wow!  How is President Ballard going to solve this one?” He looked at me and said, “I want you to solve this.” I was stunned. I was sure it was beyond my skill set. He shared a couple ideas. When I still didn’t say anything, he smiled and said something like, “The Lord bless you. You’ll know what to do. Let me know how you solved it.”  

When I walked out of his office, I wasn’t sure what to do, but I felt empowered. Because he expressed total confidence, I had confidence.  

Although I am not as gifted of a leader as President Ballard, I have tried to follow his example as I have worked with youth over the past four decades. Each of us can help young men and young women learn how to lead by consistently applying these same principles.

Let’s be with them, connect them with heaven, and help them lead.

— Brother Thomas E. Mullen is a member of the Young Men general advisory council.

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