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Benson L. Porter

The Importance of Leadership

That was wonderful. Brothers and sisters, I am truly grateful to be here—just to be able to leave the Church Office Building, walk across campus, look at the holy temple, walk in here in a building that I grew up with as a kid, baptized over there in the Tabernacle. . . . It just brings back the foundation of the greatness of this gospel. I’m glad to be here. And I’m also glad to be able to talk with you for a few minutes in regards to my favorite topic of all times, which is about leadership, and particularly about the perfect leader, that being the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Just by way of context-setting for some of the thoughts that I’ll share with you today, I have been fascinated with the topic of leadership for a long, long time. I remember back as a young lad—deacons quorum, teachers quorum, priests quorum—just having some leadership experience, being interested about how to lead others. I went off to my mission, came back, and my educational pursuit was all about leadership. And I was just fascinated about it. I wanted to study the world leaders and what made them great. And then, I went into the corporate world and spent my time identifying and selecting and developing leaders for my whole career. Now, how fun is that? It was just a great experience. And I had kind of finished with the work world and retired, and then we got called on a mission, and then the Church asked me to come here. And so, again, I have the opportunity to help build and develop leaders within the Church employment. And then it turned into this particular role right here. But I still have that responsibility of identifying and selecting and developing leaders, and I’m having a ball.

So, I wanted to talk with you a little bit not only about leadership, but more specifically about leading in the Lord’s way, Him being the perfect leader. I want to start out with President Eyring. I know that President Eyring has been very interested in leading, and particularly leading in the Savior’s way. For example, for the last two years, when all of the General Authorities come into town a couple of days before the general conference, all of the Brethren speak to the General Authorities who preside as area presidencies. They preside over the various employment functions here in the Church. And President Eyring’s topic has been the same for the last two years—it has all been about the nurturing leader. And he’s talked about the need for us to pattern our leadership style, our behaviors, around that of the Savior. And he’s been very clear to the General Authorities on that because they sit at the top of this wonderful organization.

In fact, President Eyring’s closing words of his last talk, which was on the nurturing leader, were, “I pray we may lead in the Lord’s way, with increased love that gives others courage. And I hope that we will help them rise to their full potential.” Now, there’s a lot in that, and knowing that he has spoken about leadership a lot, there is a lot of substance in those very few words which he spoke. I remember having a conversation with him a couple of months ago. We were talking about leadership. We were talking about leading in the Lord’s way and treating people with kindness and with love. And at the end of our conversation, I’ll never forget it, while he was sitting across his desk from me, he held his hand up— his finger, like he normally does—and with that little quiver in his voice and a tear in his eye, he said to me, “Ben, you are on the right track. This is very important to the Lord.” And I’ve taken that to heart in my time here. I don’t know how long one will be in any one given position with the Church, but I take that to heart to say I’m going to do everything I can to help people understand that in Church employment, and anywhere else for that matter, when we go out into the world that we are truly leading in the Lord’s way, not in the world’s way. So let me talk to you a little bit about leading in the Lord’s way in more depth.

My understanding is that most of you have at least heard of the Leadership Pattern. This is something, in my opinion, that’s got two things that are really special about it. The Leadership Pattern is a set of talents, if you will, or attributes that identify what leadership should be in the Church, as well as anywhere else for that matter. This pattern of talents leads to leading in the Lord’s way.

Now, in the corporate world, I have worked with many organizations to design leadership competencies, attributes, or cultural priorities—they are called all sorts of different things. And I’ve done that worldwide for a lot of organizations. But leading in the Lord’s way is unique verses anything else that I’ve done for two reasons. The first one is that it was established by the Brethren—by prophets, seers, and revelators—for us in terms of how we lead people in the Church organization. That’s pretty unique. I’ve never had that. I’ve had CEOs and senior executives weigh in on this topic, but never prophets, seers, and revelators. And that means a lot to me. And probably the reason why it has so much sticking power in the Church is because of where it came from, and the Leadership Pattern clearly is an inspired document.

So, the background on that is the that question was asked, several years ago: what kind of a leader do we need today and in the future as the Lord hastens the work, as we go into new growth and new dimensions worldwide? And this is why the Brethren got together and put together this thing called the Leadership Pattern, which is nine talents, if you will, of what identifies an effective leader, particularly in the Lord’s organization.

Now, there are nine of these talents. Let me just work backwards and start with the operational talents, here. If you go down the list from “Defined Direction” all the way to “Render an Account,” you’ll see that the terminology comes from the scriptures, like “Render an account” (D&C 72:5). And as you read more in-depth, you’ll find that there is a lot of terminology that comes from the Brethren and that comes from the scriptures, which kind of sets us apart from the rest of the world. In my world, the corporate world, and my consulting practice, I would always sit down with CEOs and senior executives and talk to them about the three essences of leadership. First was, are you strategic? Big-picture type of thing. It’s in the Leadership Pattern; it’s called “Defined Direction.” Second was, do you know how to get results? It’s there; it’s called “Accomplish the Work.” And the third one was, do you know how to build the capability of your people? And it’s there; it’s called “Build Capability.” So, clearly, the things that I have been out in the world teaching as a lot of these best corporate practices are really gospel-based, and I remember Elder Bednar telling me this. And so I’ve been teaching the Leadership Pattern all this time, but a part of it, not the whole thing.

But the second reason why this leadership pattern sets itself way above other organizations that have identified these leadership characteristics is what we call the Core Talents: lead like the Savior, act under the direction of the Spirit, and align with the Brethren. These are the differentiators that set us apart from the rest of the world. They are not only applicable to what we do here in the Church, but they’re applicable to us even if we go worldwide in any other organization. We can still practice these talents. We can demonstrate these talents, and this is what will set us apart from the rest of the world.

I’d like to talk a little bit about “Lead like the Savior,” which to me is the foundation. It’s how we treat people. In the last couple of years in the Church, we have spent time to try to get the message across that results are important, but so is your behavior. There are a lot of organizations out there that put a lot of emphasis on their performance reviews or whatever. Did you accomplish your objectives? Did you get results? And in the Lord’s Church, we say yes, results are important. But just or even more important is how you went about getting those results. It’s about your behavior; it’s about you practicing and demonstrating leadership in the Lord’s way. So no longer in the Church do we measure just simply whether you met your objectives or not at the end of the year. We want to know how you went about meeting your objectives and was it in a way that was conducive for leading like the Savior?

I want to show you a quick video clip. Mentioned earlier was the leadership enrichment series that I help facilitate. We’ve had a chance to interview many of the Brethren over time, so we’ve put together a number of videos from the Brethren on each one of these nine talents. We use this similar to “Come, Follow Me,” where we show a video and we have a discussion. What did we learn from that? What are the thoughts that came to our mind? And then, let’s go out and demonstrate it.

I just want to show you one video, but what I want you to do as you look at this is to think about where you work now or where you have worked. And I want you to think about how people are treated by the management, the leadership, and even how you treat other people. And if you don’t work, then it’s leadership in the home or leadership at Church. You see, every one of us in our lifetime will be in a leadership position. And the question that I have for every one of you is, what kind of a leader are you going to be? Are you going to be one that tips more toward the world? Or are you going to tip more in terms of how the Savior would have us lead, leading like the Savior? So, as you see this video, there is a question that I have for you that I want you to run through your mind. Contrast where you work now verses some of the principles taught by the Brethren. Is there a difference between the two? Let’s take a look at the video.

[A video is shown.]

      “God is in the people business. We’re saving individuals.”

      “He wasn’t so focused on the job that he forgot the people. There have been great leaders in the past, as you know, political and otherwise, that have accomplished great things, but they left a wake, or in their wake a lot of broken people. And the Savior was just the opposite. He left in His wake people who were edified and built up and strengthened.”

      “That’s the Savior’s message: ‘Come follow me.’ Do it the way I do it; talk the way I talk; walk the way I walk; treat people the way I treat people; cry when I cry. How knoweth a man the master who he has not served, and who is a stranger unto him?’ (Mosiah 5:13). How can we emulate someone we hardly know?”

      “Could I make a difference in my life? Could I make it a little more like heaven to work here? We have to serve Him and act like our Savior.”

[End of video]

Brothers and sisters, the video clip doesn’t have to be very long to put the spirit across in terms of how the Savior led. And the Brethren basically testified in terms of those characteristics and those things the Savior did to lead in that way. Now, going back to the question that I asked each of you beforehand, think of your work now, or where you have worked, or your church calling, or whatever. Does your pattern match that of the Savior’s? Do you lead like the Savior? Is there a commitment on your part as you go forward in your life, whether you work for the Church or work here in Utah or go the 60 different places around the world that all of you are from? When you go there and you get involved in the work world or the Church world and what have you, and even your family life, how have you decided to behave? How have you decided to lead others?

Now, I have to tell you that in my experience in the corporate world, particularly the last two corporations that I worked for, it was all about getting results. And if you didn’t get results, you got fired. It was that tough of a business world. And I have to say, to be honest with you, that I fell into some of those traps of assessing people not on who they were or who they could become, but more of just could they get results. That’s tough to look back now in terms of my career, for being responsible for the identification and selection and development of people that I saw more like the world at times verses that of how the Savior would see each of our Heavenly Father’s children.

Now, the reality is that there is not a single one of us sitting in this hall that’s perfect. We all have warts; we all have things that we can work on. And when it comes to leadership, it’s the same thing. We’re learning in this mortal probation about how to be better people and better leaders, and particularly better leaders in the Lord’s Church. So over the last year or so, we have been talking to leaders who are willing to go on the journey, as Elder Bednar would call it. The journey of change; the journey of improvement. It’s one thing to have a leadership pattern and put it up on the wall and say, “Isn’t that nice?” It’s nice to have devotionals, and teaching and training about the pattern, but it is of no use to any of us, unless we change. Unless we improve. Unless we get better in relation to the framework that has been presented there.

So, what you have in this video is one of those leaders who is willing to go on the journey—willing to kind of put their dirty laundry out in the open and say, “You know what? I’m not perfect, but I’m trying.” Let me give you his story.

[A recording/video is shown.]

      “I think I’ve been a pretty good leader of people. But, certainly, my focus has traditionally been on emphasizing bottom-line achievements, bottom-line results. In private industry, bottom-line results kind of speak for themselves.”

      “When he first came in, our division was really in need of goals and objectives and metrics, and all those things that really make a business run and really make it successful. And he came in and was the perfect person for that position.”

      “Having come to the Church and learning that there is an emphasis, an appropriate emphasis on people, I found myself perhaps lacking a little bit in terms of that focus and that awareness.”

      “I report directly to Nelson. He had asked a group of the managers in the fleet services group to do a special project that he was quite passionate about. We were nearing the completion of the project and having a meeting one day . . . ”

      “And I came in to get a status of that project. And I was actually disappointed, and I expressed my disappointment to them. And I did so in a manner that was probably shocking, a little bit.”

      “He made it fairly clear that it wasn’t the way he wanted. He was not very happy with it.”

      “So I went away from that meeting thinking, ‘All right, we’re on the road.’ And, interestingly enough, the leader of that management team came in to see me; I think it was a day or two after that . . . ”

      “I felt I should be honest and went into his office and asked if we could talk. And I shared with him that the experience that he had created in that room was negative. And the way he acted was counterproductive to the success we were trying to have.”

      “My reaction to his very pointed feedback was initially kind of angry. But as I listened, as I thought about that conversation, then and later that day, I realized that he was right. And he kind of led me to a realization that maybe that wasn’t necessarily, number one, the best approach, and number two, that maybe I should think about what Heavenly Father wants as well, as relates not only to that incident, that project, but everything related to my responsibilities. So, my initial reaction was, ‘I don’t like this feedback,’ but after thinking about it, I was very appreciative of it. The Spirit helps us, and helped me, realize and understand that my will may not be Heavenly Father’s will; that my focus on results, which has been a focus and will continue to be a focus, but has been a focus, shouldn’t overshadow my focus and my care, I guess, for our people.”

      “He actually sent an apology via email to the people he had offended. It was very clear that he wanted to fix any bad feelings, and our relationship was good before, but it’s been perhaps even better since.”

      “I feel a greater love and patience and understanding for people that I work with than I have in the past.”

      “Seeing the change in him made me look at my own organization, and do those who report to me also recognize and know that I see the Lord’s hand in what we’re doing as well? I trust where He’s going, I trust the decisions that are being made, and I, in turn. It creates a good example for me where I can then turn around and do that same thing in my own work.”

      “One of the plans, or the initiatives, rather, of my plan was on a daily basis, in my prayers, to actually talk about my team with Heavenly Father on a name-by-name basis and to seek inspiration for how my interactions with those individuals should go that day. But that little specific daily focus request for guidance and inspiration, I think, has helped me tremendously. I am still on the journey, and I’ve got a long way to go. And while I’ve focused on one aspect, there are several more that I think I probably need to focus to become, not just a better leader, but a better person in general.”

[End of recording]

So, brothers and sisters, I think that Nelson had a lot of guts to do that. I am not sure how open most people are to say, “Here’s my weakness” and to do that publically. The reason I’m appreciative of him, and the many other leaders who have joined in the journey to help out, is to realize first again, there’s not a single one of us who is perfect. Second, especially there’s not one of us who is perfect when it comes to matching ourselves up to the way the Savior would lead, who is the perfect leader. And third, it requires on the part of all of us a degree of humility to say, “I’m kind of a mess-up, and there are opportunities for me to improve.” And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a student, or a teacher, or a corporate leader, or a Church leader—in order for us to improve, we all have to be open to holding a mirror up to ourselves and saying, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:22).

For me personally, coming and working here at the Church is a very, very different experience than working in the corporate world because the corporate world was about getting results. And personally, having gone on the journey myself—I don’t think the journey ever ends until we’re perfected— I got input from some of my people, who perhaps weren’t living quite up to my expectations of getting results and getting the job done. But I was too focused on results and not enough on helping people grow and develop and be the best that they could be.

So, I admit, along with Nelson from the video, that there are opportunities for improvement. Now, some of you are a ways away from getting out there and getting into the corporate world or wherever you decide to go. But I wanted to address this because, again, if it’s not the corporate world, you might end up being a parent or you might be in a Church calling. In any case, any one of us will go through life stepping into a leadership role one time or another. And that question will come up: “What kind of a leader do I want to be? And if I’m not there yet, in terms of doing it the Lord’s way, what am I going to change? What am I going to do differently? How am I going to grow, with the help of the Spirit, to make that all happen?”

Now, I have been involved with training executives and people for many, many years. I also know there’s a big downfall of training or executive trainings or whatever, and that is that people can go and they can hear something like the Leadership Pattern, feel good about it, feel inspired about it, and walk out the door and zero happens as a result. And why is a lot of training a waste? Because people don’t commit themselves to making a change. They don’t change by simply listening and saying, “That is good, and that feels good.” You change because you’re willing to be taught by the Spirit, you’re willing to get beat up a little bit, and you’re willing to be humbled before new behavior—and especially behavior that the Savior demonstrated—becomes a practice on our part.

Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Elder Bednar. He is a great advocate for leadership in the Church, and growing and developing future leaders. So I wanted to interview him and just talk to him about the process of change, the process of becoming—and particularly, becoming a better leader in relation to the pattern—because he was one of those Brethren, prophets, seers and revelators who helped develop the Leadership Pattern. So we actually ended up getting a series of videos from him, and they have to do with a learning approach, an improvement approach. And it’s tied to three simple questions that we’ve all heard before. Before I show you the video clip, here’s what they are. The first one is “What lack I yet?” (Matthew 19:20). Every one of us has got to get to the point where we’re asking ourselves in humility “What lack I yet?” or no change will come about. At least, no lasting change. The second question is “What must I do?” Once the Spirit guides you and directs you to say this is what you could do to improve, then you’ve got to ask the question, “What do I need to do now to put that into play? What do I need to do to actually demonstrate that particular attribute of the Savior?” And then the last question is “Therefore, what?” We’ve all heard that before, and what that is basically saying is that once you go through the experience, once you’ve done the “do” part of it, it’s time to sit back and reflect a bit and say, “What have I learned from my experience?”

Elder Bednar was very clear about this. He said, “It’s very difficult for us to learn from our experience while we’re going through the experience. We’re too caught up in it; we’re not thinking as clearly as we could or we should.” So, when Nephi had to go and get the plates and go the third time, he wasn’t stopping for a minute at the head of Laban saying, “So, what do I learn from this experience?” It didn’t happen that way. But after he got back and reflected on that the experience he had in the wilderness, in terms of the shortage of food because of the broken bow, the experience he had when he built the ship that he knew nothing about . . . it was for his experience. And if you read all three of those big experiences in the wilderness, he then says, here’s what I’ve learned from my experience. And those lessons of experience then prepare you for other experiences yet to come. Yes, he built a ship that no man really understood in terms of its design and its make. But think about what he was commanded to do when he got on the new shore. He was called by the Lord to be the leader. He was called to be a prophet, and he was called to build a sacred temple of the Lord.

That’s what experience is about. That’s what the “Therefore, what?” is about. We’ve got to process that through and say, “What did I learn? What would I do differently?” And then the next time that kind of experience or something similar comes around, then you can say, “Here’s what I would do differently as a result of that experience.”

Let me just share with you the last video clip, which is an introduction to this change process, which is not only applicable to those in the white building across campus but to every one of you here today in terms of your pursuit of being a better person, being a better leader, leading like the Savior, and ultimately, becoming like Him and returning back home to Him and the Father.

[A video clip is shown]

      “If I am to become more like the Savior, if I am, in my relationships and interactions in the workplace, if I am to increasingly become like the Savior, where do I begin? How do I get started? That’s the purpose of the Leadership Pattern.”

      “When I work out, I find it almost overwhelming to think I’m going to run X number of miles or work out for this amount of time. If I have to start out thinking about the totality of that work out experience, that can be a bit more discouraging than encouraging. I can make it for five minutes. And I can string lots of five minutes together.”

      “Same thing is true in terms of responding to the command to, “Be ye therefore perfect” (Matthew 5:48), or be ye therefore complete. When you think of the immensity of that, the totality of that target, it’s kind of hard to get your arms around it. So the purpose of the pattern is to take something that’s so overwhelming and seems so unattainable, and make it more manageable in smaller, incremental pieces. Of course, number one: “What lack I yet?” That’s the beginning of the assessment, the evaluation, information. The second question is “How do I get from here to there?” And the third question is “Therefore, what?” What’s the ultimate target? What is this connected to? What I need to become?”

      "How will I know if I’m successful? What information will I have that lets me see the gaps staying the same, getting bigger, reduced? So, the Leadership Pattern helps us get a sense for, okay, how do I get a handle on this? It disaggregates that, to a limited degree, and gives a series of starting points or things to focus upon. But if that remains separated, then it loses its power. Ultimately, it’s in all of those things being put together in one, in the character of Christ increasingly in us—that’s where the power comes from”

      “If it’s broken down to line upon line, precept upon precept—principles, skills, competencies, operational core, whatever they might be—then all of a sudden, I can see one of these that I need to work on. Here’s some information about this particular capacity. Here’s where I am; here’s where I need to be headed, knowing that we are not alone and receiving help from heaven to make those little steps, day by day. Not all successful, not all smooth, but just a little bit every day—that really makes it worth it. My invitation to all of us is to faithfully consider the invitation of the Savior to “take my yoke upon you” (Matthew 11:29). Associated with this invitation is the framework, the tool of the Leadership Pattern. It simply helps me obtain the information necessary to assess those gaps and disparities so that I can identify behaviors that will help me to reduce those gaps and press forward on the journey. But it’s only when we do the Lord’s work the Lord’s way that we get the completeness that this whole journey is all about.”

[End of clip]

So, brothers and sisters, to conclusion here, I just simply wanted to communicate to you that you’re all leaders. We’re all leaders in one capacity or another. And the Lord is looking to you and to me, to not only lead the best way we can in terms of the world’s standards, but to lead in His way, in the Lord’s way. When I look in the mirror, sometimes I feel that the sun is setting on my ability to influence and to lead. But when I look at you, or my kids, you are the ones that He is preparing now to lead in His kingdom worldwide. These are tough times, and there will be much put upon us. And I can assure you that the Lord is looking at you, grooming you and preparing you to be a leader in His Church. Be ready, be prepared, because as Elder Bednar told me once, “You are in for a wild ride.”

May I leave you with my testimony that, simply said, Christ is the Master. He is the perfect leader. I have experienced that it makes a difference to the Father and the Son if you only go to them in prayer. They will tell you what matters to them. That same principle applies to you in everything that you do, and especially in terms of leading in the Lord’s way in the Lord’s kingdom. I bear witness to you that He lives, that Jesus is the Christ. He is the Master, He is the healer, He is my friend, and He is the Redeemer of the world. I am grateful to know that and to feel that, and have that testimony grow within me. May each of you be blessed in your pursuit of perfection, in your pursuit of leadership, and in your pursuit of leading in the Lord’s way. And I leave this with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Introduction: President Lawrence Richards

       Let me introduce to you Brother Ben Porter. He is the managing director of the Church’s Human Resources Department. He was born in Salt Lake City and served his mission in the Australia Perth Mission. He received a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications and a master’s degree in human resource development from Brigham Young University. Before his current assignment, Brother Porter was the director of talent management and development, also within the Church’s Human Resources Department. He has more than 30 years of organization and leadership development experience, and has held executive-level positions with companies such as AlliedSignal, Lockheed Martin, Amoco, PepsiCo, and AlliedSignal/Honeywell. And after many years within the corporate ranks, Brother Porter left to establish a consulting firm, with the title Leader Works. This firm focused on helping organizations build leadership and capacity. Brother Porter’s clients included such companies as Honeywell, General Motors, Tyco, Johnson & Johnson, and the Royal Bank of Canada. Brother Porter is also the co-author of Family 360, which focuses on improving family relationships and received high praises from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the television show “Good Morning America.”

      Among his colleagues in the Church, Brother Porter has served as a stake president, as a bishop twice, and as the president of the New Zealand Auckland Mission. He married Sister Kerry Lee Elkins in the Provo Utah Temple in 1978. Today, she is tending a new grandbaby. They are the parents of six children, and my notes  say, Brother Porter, ten grandchildren.

      So we’re still there at ten. Brothers and sisters, you will be blessed by Brother Porter. Periodically, some of us at the College get a chance to observe as Brother Porter conducts a leadership enrichment series and interviews members of General Authorities and others within the Church who teach us about leadership. I’ve come to enjoy his insightfulness, and the questions that he asks, and the service that he renders to all of us within the kingdom.


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