John A. Widtsoe, Conference Report, October 1942, pp. 73-76
Dear Brethren and Fellow Workers:
During the time allotted me I should like to call to mind some fundamentals of leadership. Nearly every member of the Church, at one time or another, is called to some official Church position; but here are assembled the present Priesthood leadership of the Church. In our hands, with the willing cooperation of the membership the Latter-day Saints, lies, in large measure, the future of the Church. We may retard or accelerate its progress. The Lord has given us a great trust.
The Church of Jesus Christ in these latter days has had great leaders. From Joseph Smith to Heber J. Grant they have been mighty men. In their day they may have suffered persecution and derision; but with the process of the years they have come to stand as gigantic figures, worthy of the acclaim of all who love righteousness. They are fruits of the spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ. To follow the examples of these great leaders is to make our own leadership more worthy and powerful.
Joseph Smith, under Jesus Christ is the head of this dispensation of the gospel. To him we bore tender and touching tribute yesterday. He was indeed a leader worthy of our emulation. His leadership began with a consuming love of truth. Indeed no man can be a safe leader who does not love truth above all else. The words truth and light appear and reappear as the foundations of his teachings. He would not walk in darkness. He knew that the light of truth would banish the night of error. Truth was his measuring rod, therefore he would not and could not support any cause, political, social, or commercial, which did not square with truth. There is never a possible compromise with untruth. Truth must ever be obeyed, or leadership leads downward. What a different world we should have today if the leaders of nations had made truth their first love and had surrendered to it. The Prophet declared his passion for truth, and the power of truth, in a glorious answer to a correspondent:
I combat the errors of ages; I meet the violence of mobs; I cope with illegal proceedings from executive authority; I cut the Gordian knot of powers; and I solve the mathematical problems of the universities with truth—diamond truth (DHC 6:78).
Love of truth by all members of the Church, from 1830 to 1942, has made the Church mighty; and love of truth and obedience to it will enable us to establish on earth the kingdom of God. By truth we shall achieve the world's leadership.
The history of Joseph Smith reveals further a man who did not pretend to know everything. He was not opinionated. He was not sufficient unto himself. He knew the limitations of man who is born to die. That is another mark of his leadership. In his eager boyhood; when he longed for the truth of religion he went to the Lord for help. As he grew in age and power, he continued to seek help from the Creator of earth and man. He was prayerful. In the record of his life we read again and again, "I enquired of the Lord." There was in his life a constant outreaching for divine help. He knew the source of truth, and sought refreshment at the fountain head. Personal opinions and even the apparently needed help of living men were set aside when the Lord spoke. James Arlington Bennett, recently, baptized into the Church, but without the spirit of the gospel, desired to help the Prophet out of the difficulties of the day. He offered to be the Prophet's "right hand man." Like a flash from the sky came the Prophet's thunderous reply: "God is my right hand man." We can not attain leadership unless we seek help from the Lord, unless we cultivate the spirit of prayer. Again, let me ask, would the world he in its present state of bloody confusion, if its leaders had sought counsel from the Lord?
The truth that Joseph Smith promulgated, the instructions he received from heaven, were applied in the, spirit of love for humanity. That was a further mark of his leadership. He recognized that all are children of the Eternal Father, and to that extent divine. He was ready to afford all men equal rights on the way to salvation. He did not lift himself above his brethren. He had seen the Lord and had conversed with Him; he was a prophet; he was the president of the Church—nevertheless he was but as one with his brethren—a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, striving and struggling for salvation. In him destroying pride was, swallowed up in life-giving humility. Arrogance was absent from his private or official actions. Such forgetfulness of self such love of his fellow men made him a powerful leader. If we who battle for the cause for which he gave his life desire to become successful leaders, we must love our brethren and sisters, be courteous and gentle with them, must be one with them. The Prophet records in his diary that he told some new arrivals in Nauvoo:
I was but a man, and they must not expect me to be perfect; if they expected perfection from me, I should expect it from them; but if they would bear with my infirmities and the infirmities of the brethren, I would likewise bear with their infirmities (DHC 5:181).
Such an attitude creates leadership. The resulting love quiets "the restless pulse of care" in our human relationships.
Joseph the Prophet met the final test of the leader, that of fidelity. He was true to the cause which he represented. He gave of himself for it. Almost every day of the fourteen years he presided over the Church was one of toil, often of pain and sorrow. But, he continued to be diligent, dependable, ever considerate of the welfare of the people. In the needs of the Church he forgot himself. Opposition to the Church was usually visited upon his head. Fifty times he was charged with offenses, falsely as the record shows, for he was never found guilty. He spent months in a foul jail. He was driven from place to place and robbed of his material possessions. His name became known for "good and evil" the world over (JS—H 1:33). But he did not falter. He built cities and temples; he fought the battles of the Church; he surrendered his own comforts for the benefit of the people; he taught them everlasting truth. When at long last the enemy threatened to take vengeance upon his people, if he would not yield himself to men of the law who were untrue to the law, and because some of his own people were seized by fear, he said, "If my life is of no value to my friends it is of none to myself." And when he accepted arrest he said to the company who were with him:
I am going like a lamb to the slaughter, but I am calm as a summer's morning. I have a conscience void of offense toward God and toward all men (D&C 135:4).
The words of a worthy leader!
He suffered a martyr's death. He was true even unto death.
The Lord does not require that we give our lives in this manner for the cause of truth. Yet, every man to be true to his calling in this Church must possess the spirit of devotion and sacrifice, of diligence and dependability, of love of man and God, which enabled the Prophet to seal his testimony with his blood. Humanity in its present utter travail and sorrow is calling for leaders, who, rising above human diplomacy and self-interest, are true to the cause of truth, at any cost.
Leaders who follow the example of Joseph Smith receive great rewards. They find daily joy in life. The visions of heaven are theirs. And they win disciples. Others, witnessing their lives, seek to follow them. Brigham Young bore incessant testimony to the joy of being a disciple of Joseph Smith; and his dying words were, "Joseph, Joseph!" John Taylor, with Hyrum Smith and Willard Richards, dared death in Carthage Jail to be with their leader and brother. The lives of Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, and Heber J. Grant, judged by the marks of leadership, conform to the Prophet's life. Love of truth, of God, and of their fellow men, and an unquestioned, unselfish devotion to the latter-day work of the Lord have characterized the actions of these men. To follow the examples of these men is to achieve leadership.
In our respective callings, in stake or ward or in the Priesthood quorum, the signs of leadership which have marked the great leaders of the whole Church, will mark us as successful leaders. Leadership is in essence the same wherever applied.
That which makes a Church official a leader may be used by any and every member of the Church in winning joy in life. It is equally important for the whole membership of the Church, if we are to be as a light upon a hill for the guidance of the nations, to love truth, to go to the Lord for help, to recognize the divine kinship of all men, and to be obedient and dependable, true citizens of the Kingdom of God.
We have a great destiny. We are commissioned to bring peace and happiness to the earth, to lead the world from error to truth, from darkness into light. In that sense we have been called to be world leaders. For that calling let us prepare; let us build the Church with courage and faith toward perfection, until the time when the reign of righteousness shall be ushered in, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.