Sarah Jane Weaver: 10 lessons in leadership from President Russell M. Nelson

During recent months of political strife and civil instability in the United States, I have contemplated leadership. In the process I realized much of what I know and feel about leadership I learned from observing the ministry of President Russell M. Nelson. Following are 10 lessons:

  1. President Nelson’s leadership promotes unity. In October 2018, as President Nelson was leaving Peru’s Government Palace, he intentionally linked arms with Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Elder Enrique Falabella, a General Authority Seventy. In July 2019, President Nelson spoke at the NAACP national convention in Detroit. Following his example, NAACP leaders spoke first of “linking arms” and then “locking arms” with the Church and President Nelson.
  2. His leadership is inclusive. During his 2019 ministry to South America, President Nelson was asked during an interview with Sergio Rubin, Pope Francis’ official biographer, about the role of women in the Church. “Well,” responded President Nelson, “you should talk to a woman about that.” He turned to Sheri Dew, a DMC executive and former Relief Society general presidency member, who was in the room. He motioned her into camera range, and got her a chair. When given the chance to talk about women in the Church, our Prophet — who could have said much — said nothing and instead called on a woman to speak for herself.
  3. His leadership is empowering. In March 2019, President Nelson met with Pope Francis. Again he exited the building arm-in-arm with his Brethren — President M. Russell Ballard, Acting President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Elder Massimo De Feo, the Church’s only Italian General Authority Seventy; and Elder Alessandro Dini Ciacci, an Area Seventy in Italy. While the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles were in Rome, President Nelson selected less-senior leaders with Italian roots to join him in the meeting, acknowledging their contributions to the Church in Italy and empowering local leaders to maintain those important relationships.
  4. His leadership is empathetic. In January 2019, President Nelson visited Paradise, California — just weeks after a devastating fire destroyed more than 18,000 homes and businesses — and two days after one of his daughters died of cancer. When asked why he came, he said, “There is nothing we would rather do than to try to be of help to others.” He later wrote about standing with fire victims: “As we tearfully looked into each other’s hearts, the blackened chimneys and a sea of ash seemed to fade into the background. Our shared faith that God would heal our hearts and help us rebuild our lives knit our hearts together in love.”
  5. His leadership inspires gratitude. Last November, against a backdrop of the current COVID-19 pandemic, racism, violence, political tensions and a lack of civility, President Nelson offered the world “a fast-acting, long-lasting spiritual remedy.” He said: “Over my nine and a half decades of life, I have concluded that counting our blessings is far better than recounting our problems. No matter our situation, showing gratitude for our privileges is a fast-acting and long-lasting spiritual prescription.”
  6. His leadership is humble. When the Prophet enters a stadium filled with Church members, entire congregations stand for President Nelson in one motion and amid powerful silence. He goes to their country and often speaks to them in their language. Yet, photographs document dozens of times this Prophet — who millions stand for — also kneels for children.
  7. His leadership prompts us to look forward. Following last fall’s record-breaking wildfires in the Western United States, President Nelson sent a video message to fire victims, promising them their “brightest days are yet ahead.” “The Lord will perform some of His greatest miracles,” he said in the Nov. 15, 2020, video. “And some of those miracles will be in your lives. If you wonder if happy days will ever return, I assure you that they will. Your children will yet have many opportunities to grow and progress, and your families may enjoy a promising future.”
  8. His leadership is compassionate. President Nelson showed compassion in New Zealand in May 2019 as he announced a $100,000 donation from the Church to rebuild and renovate mosques damaged in a deadly attack. He personally greeted Linwood mosque victim Ahmed Jahangir — asking his name and promising to pray for him and his doctors.
  9. His leadership dispels fear and doubt. During a September 2019 BYU devotional President Nelson said Latter-day Saints do not have to fear or to doubt because we know five truths: 1) God loves us, His children. 2) Eternal laws direct our lives and are simply true. 3) Great blessings and happiness will come as we learn and live by God’s laws. 4) Prophets and Apostles speak for the Lord and will always teach those laws. 5) We can know all these things for ourselves. He included an invitation: “Ask your Heavenly Father if we truly are the Lord’s Apostles and Prophets,” he said. “Ask if we have received revelation on this and other matters. Ask if these five truths are — in fact — true.”
  10. President Nelson’s leadership directs attention not to himself, but to the One Who walks with all of us — Jesus Christ. In October 2020 general conference, President Nelson asked: “Are you willing to let God prevail in your life? Are you willing to let God be the most important influence in your life? Will you allow His words, His commandments, and His covenants to influence what you do each day?”