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Susan Madsen

By January 14, 2019 05:29 PM
Susan Madsen
Professor Susan R. Madsen is the Orin R. Woodbury Professor of Leadership and Ethics in the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University.

Lucas Araujo quoteSusan Madsen quote

It is an honor and joy to be with you here today. I speak often in different settings within Utah, the United States, and globally, and speaking where I can discuss the Savior of the World is by far my favorite.

Elder Uchtdorf once said, “God sent you here to prepare for a future greater than anything you can imagine…God knows of your successes…He knows of the times you have held onto the fading light and believed—even in the midst of growing darkness. He knows of your sufferings. He knows of your remorse for the times you have fallen short or failed. And he still loves you…He loves you not only for who you are…but also for the person of glory and light you have potential…to become.”

Today I want to talk about that “person of glory and light you have the potential…to become.” And, I would argue that to do this we must all prepare to learn, to lead, and to serve like the Savior. By learning more effectively, by leading more powerfully, and by serving more mightily, we can become, as Sister Bonnie Oscarson stated, “brave, steadfast, and immovable warriors who will defend His plan and teach the upcoming generations His truth.” I am talking to both brothers and sisters; we must unite and work together in full force with our heads, and our hearts, and our hands to do Heavenly Father’s work moving forward.


First, let’s talk about preparing to learn. Now, you may say, “I’m already prepared to learn. I’m a student! I learn all of the time” Well, there is actually a learning continuum. On one end there is a surface level type of “learning”—and some of my own students fall into this category, of getting a degree and not necessarily an education—and then at the other end there is a much deeper type of learning that transforms minds and souls. The Savior provided a remarkable example of this type of learning.

He understood the importance of learning. In Doctrine & Covenants Section 130:18-21 he said, “Whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the resurrection. And if a person gains more knowledge and intelligence in this life through his diligence and obedience than another, he will have so much the advantage in the world to come.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley once stated,It is so important that you young men and you young women get all of the education that you can… Education is the key which will unlock the door of opportunity for you…  [I]f you educate your mind and your hands, you will be able to make a great contribution to the society of which you are a part, and you will be able to reflect honorably on the Church of which you are a member.”

To really let learning transform us, WE also need to understand the importance of formal and informal learning and education. Research clearly shows that a college education helps you economically, but did you know that college degrees also help you become stronger parents and community members? Studies have shown (and most of the research has been at the bachelor’s degree level) that children of college-educated parents are better prepared for school, that educated parents are more likely to be involved in their children’s educational activities, that educated parents are more likely to have healthier, more college-educated children, and these parents are more likely to be self-reliant and to provide for their families. More educated individuals are more likely to vote, donate blood, and serve in community leadership. They have more confidence, self-esteem, and leadership skills. And, did you know that more educated people live longer? In fact, one study found that men who are married to more educated women live longer too (which is a good thing, most of the time)! Research has found hundreds of benefits that people attain when they participate and complete college.  

In terms of other types of learning experiences, for me I think some of the most profound came while I was serving a full-time mission to Tampa, Florida. The lessons and skills I learned—such as bravery, perseverance, time management, hard work, overcoming challenges, interpersonal communication, conflict management, accountability, helping people help themselves, and to love the Lord— will stay with me forever.

I have also learned thousands of value lessons from being a mother. My oldest child is 31 now, and he was VERY challenging to raise. It was not until I was doing some research when he was in high school—on learning to lead—that I realized this child has been a gift. For example, he taught me how to pick battles—in high school, he had long hair but he wasn’t on drugs. He taught me conflict management skills as he started constant fights with his three siblings. He taught me how to feel compassion and empathy for people who are disrespectful. And, he taught me how to forgive. I got up every morning and loved that child. Fortunately, I have had many informal positive learning experiences from my four children as well.      

Christ had many other attributes that have been shown to assist in transformational learning. He listened, he inquired, he pondered, and reflected. A well-known leadership scholar, Warren Bennis said, “There are lessons in everything, and if you are fully deployed, you will learn most of them. Experiences aren’t truly yours until you think about them, analyze them, examine them, question them, reflect on them, and finally understanding them…. [U]se your experiences rather than being used by them, to be the designer, not the design, so that experiences empower rather than imprison.”

Christ wants our experiences to empower and change us, and he teaches us to read, ponder, and pray. He uses his knowledge constantly and wants us to do the same. And, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he wants us to be constantly teaching each other; he knows teaching is one of the most powerful types of transformational learning there is.

We must all prepare to learn like the Savior.


Second, preparing to lead. In 2014, Elder David A. Bednar stated, “If the Lord is hastening His work, we cannot keep doing things the same way we have always done them.” Have you been paying attention to the changes made in the Church in the last six or so months? Isn’t it amazing? As a women and leadership scholar and speaker, my favorite is the policy change related to sister missionaries wearing pants! I love it! And, to you sisters, in 2013 Sheri Dew asserted, “I believe that the moment we learn to unleash the full influence of converted, covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God will change overnight.” We need to always remember the important role that we as sisters play in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  

I believe that to hasten His work, we must all prepare to become leaders—both brothers and sisters. We must strengthen our impact in all types of settings including our homes; extended families; wards and stakes; neighborhoods; communities; schools; colleges and universities; political environments; workplaces; charitable organizations; local, state, and national governments; and more.

Why should each of us learn to lead, influence, and impact more effectively? To strengthen home and family; to perfect the Saints; to bring more sons and daughters to God; to lift, strengthen, and serve others; to defend and protect; to follow His commandments; to redeem the dead; to be an example to others; and to save souls.

President Spencer W. Kimball taught, “We will find it very difficult to be significant leaders unless we recognize the reality of the perfect leader, Jesus Christ, and let him be the light by which we see the way!”

Although there are many ways to lead, He was the most remarkable role model for each of us. He led by example. He led with humility. He gave people a purpose. Doctrine and Covenants 4:6 highlights some of the characteristics of the Savior’s divine character that also link to leadership: “Remember faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, brotherly kindness, godliness, charity, humility, diligence.” And, in Luke 2:52 it says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men,” so from a young age he was concerned about developing Himself to learn, lead, and serve.

These are all attributes of leaders who transform followers in Christlike ways. This doesn’t mean we need to necessarily always be either loud and opinionated or soft spoken. However, it does mean, as Elder M. Russell Ballard said to the sisters, “Be bold. Be assertive. Feel confident about raising weighty issues and concerns. You have as much right to input and inspiration as other…members.” And, as Bonnie Oscarson declared, “[W]e need to boldly defend the Lord’s revealed doctrines describing marriage, families, the divine roles of men and women, and the importance of homes as sacred places—even when the world is shouting in our ears that these principles are outdated, limiting, or no longer relevant.” This counsel applies to all of us.

In 2015, our dear Prophet, Russell M. Nelson clearly stated, “Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women [and I would add men] who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation. We need women [and men] who can detect deception in all of its forms. We need women [and men] who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity. We need women [and men] who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve [and I would add, our Father Adam].”

I believe that as we lead in Christlike ways, we can apply a scripture I read constantly on my mission, which is Doctrine & Covenants 84:88: “And whoso receiveth you, there I will be also, for I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”

It is clear to me, as I study and reflect on the teachings of the Savior and the words of our prophets and apostles, that we need both women and men of integrity to influence and lead in today’s ever-changing world.

We must all prepare to lead like the Savior.


Preparing to learn and lead like the Savior also prepares you and I to serve more profoundly. Christ is such a remarkable example of service. The foundation of his entire life was serving his Father and everyone who has and will ever live on this earth.

Service comes in so many forms, from taking meals to those in need to speaking to audiences like this, from helping a neighbor move to running for and serving in public office, from lending a listening ear to serving on a city planning commission, from caring for a sister’s child to singing in a ward choir, from organizing a family home evening to helping someone on the side of the road who has a flat tire, from doing family history online to attending the temple, from sitting next to sister alone in church to inviting a depressed brother to a ward activity, from Skyping with someone who needs to talk to traveling half way around the world to serve a full-time mission. There are so many ways to serve, both big and small, both private and public, and both spoken and unspoken.    

So, how do we prepare to serve like the Savior? We read about Him every day in the scriptures, and we get to know Him so that we will be acquainted with His voice, as it says in Doctrine & Covenants 84:52. We must stay relentlessly worthy to be able to receive the promptings of the Holy Ghost. We develop skills like listening that will help us help others. We practice every day thinking of others and not ourselves. I am so worried about this one, because the more we think of ourselves the less we serve others, and service is one of the core teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One of the research snapshots I’ve published in recent years is titled “Cosmetic Surgery and Body Image Among Utah Women.” It might surprise you that when we compare the state of Utah to other states, Utah is one of the top in the nation in elective plastic surgeries. One source reported that Utah topped its list of Internet searches for breast augmentation (53% above the national average), and the most common Google search for plastic surgery in Utah was “breast implants.” And, we are one of the highest states per capita of Internet searches for beauty products. A while back, Forbes magazine reported that Salt Lake City residents spent 10 times more than the amount that residents of similarly sized cities spent—on hair coloring, cosmetics, and skin-care products. These are all signs of thinking about ourselves instead of others. I won’t go into as much detail with the brethren, but you are not off the hook. There are many issues you face as well—like pornography—where thoughts about self are so much more prominent than thoughts about others. The point is that so many influences are pushing you and me to think about ourselves—social media, peer pressure, television, and more. However, to serve like the Savior, we need to think about others’ needs more than we think about our own.

Often, we think service takes a lot of time, and it can, but in my research the past 20 years, I have found over and over that serving can also be done “in a moment.” I have found that some of the most transformational times in one’s life can happen when someone reaches out “just for a moment”—and things can change forever. For example, I’ve read recent reports on suicide in Utah, and it is striking how much we can see in others if we are paying attention. We can save lives. As Doctrine & Covenants 18:10 reads, “Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.” And, this means each of you here today have great worth to our Heavenly Father.

Frederick Buechner, a novelist, poet, and preacher, once asserted that true vocation joins self and service in “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Where does your “self” and “service” connect?

For me, this journey of strengthening and serving each other—in so many different ways—has been transformational in my own life. I have callings in my ward that I accept and serve in, yet I believe God has other life callings for each of us; and, we must be prepared to accept those callings. I believe that I am called by God to do the work I do with women in Utah and beyond. It humbles me every day, but also gives me energy and joy. What has God called you to do now and in the future? Are you prepared to accept opportunities when they arise? President Henry B. Eyring stated, “Part of the tragedy you must avoid is to discover too late that you missed an opportunity to prepare for a future only God could see for you.”

As Parker Palmer, American author, educator, and activist, once said, “Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world.”

We must all prepare to serve like the Savior.


As Elder Uchtdorf said, “He loves you not only for who you are…but also for the person of glory and light you have potential…to become.” By learning more effectively, by leading more powerfully, and by servicing more mightily, we can become more like our Savior.

A few years ago, a friend introduced me to a prophecy from the Elders of the Hopi Nation, said to be given in Oraibi, Arizona on June 8, 2000. It was addressed “To my fellow swimmers”:

Here is a river flowing now very fast.

It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid,

who will try to hold on to the shore.

They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.


Know that the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore.

Push off into the middle of the river,

and keep our heads above water.


And I say see who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally,

least of all ourselves,

for the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.

The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves.

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

For we are the ones we have been waiting for.

You—your generation—you are the ones we have been waiting for. However, to learn, lead, and serve like the Savior, we need to feel his love. We need to feel the Spirit. As Doctrine & Covenants 6:20 reads, “Be faithful and diligent in keeping the commandments of God, and I will encircle thee in the arms of my love.” I’ve felt His arms, and there is no better feeling in the world. Short-term fun and pleasure will never match the peace, joy, and eternal happiness that we will receive if we are faithful.  

We need every girl and every boy, every man and every woman—and that applies to every individual here in the audience today and everyone who will hear this speech in months and years to come—to learn, to lead, and to serve. Each of us needs to sit a little taller and stand a little firmer in defending our Savior’s plan. We need to use everything we have—our heads, hearts, and hands— to strengthen home and family; to perfect the Saints; to bring more sons and daughters to God; to lift, strengthen, and serve others; to defend and protect; to follow His commandments; to redeem the dead; to be an example to others; and to save souls. It is our turn to stand up, step forward, and make a difference in the world.  

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.



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