A Personal Observation: The Problem Is Always the Same
March 1973

“A Personal Observation: The Problem Is Always the Same,” Ensign, Mar. 1973, 34

Leadership in the Home and Church

A Personal Observation: The Problem Is Always the Same

As far as I know, there is only one problem in the world. There aren’t two or six or ten—there is just one, and it is always the same. And I think it doesn’t matter very much what the desired accomplishment is—whether one is doing church work, running a business, building an empire, or raising a family—the problem is always the same. It is always lack of leadership.

A soldier can fight harder, a salesman can sell more goods, a child can do better school work, and a missionary can make more converts if he works under the direction of someone who knows how to teach and inspire and train and supervise and love and motivate and do those other important things that make up the leadership concept.

We say that the priesthood is the authority to act in the name of the Lord, but leadership is the ability to act in the name of the Lord. And I suppose that neither one is of very great consequence without the other. That is, what good would it do for a missionary to have the authority to make converts if he didn’t have the ability to make converts? The Lord gives us the authority, but he requires that we ourselves develop the ability.

Lack of effective leadership causes trouble for governments. Millions of dollars are being lost because of business failures. Lives are distorted by family contention and rebellion. The carnage of divorce devastates many homes. And, in one way or another, everyone’s life is adversely influenced because of the lack of leadership. And yet, all of the principles upon which the most successful leadership is based are easily available to us.

There is a simple answer for every problem. And because the need for leadership increases with the importance of the institution that it serves, leadership in the home assumes the greatest possible importance. “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” (President David O. McKay.) The basic organization on which everyone’s happiness depends is the family. The finest family leadership is always supplemented by and coordinated with the Church. God established the family and then his Son came into the world to organize the Church and to make available those great principles on which every success depends.

We sometimes criticize those who claim that God made the earth out of nothing; we say that even God can’t make something out of nothing. However, we teach a much more serious false doctrine when we try to make success out of nothing. That is, no one can make a successful family home evening out of nothing. Neither can one make a satisfactory home teaching record out of nothing. The most constructive person is one who puts more into life than he takes out.

Real success in any area of life must be continually won. The scriptures point out that our lives will be judged according to our works. So will our marriages, and so will our family home evenings and every other worthwhile accomplishment be judged by how much we put into them.

Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Thou, O God, doth sell us all good things at the price of labor.” Good leadership demands a good portion of industry, proper attitudes, planning, preparation, determination, and follow-through. President David O. McKay once said, “The purpose of the gospel is to change people—to make bad men good and good men better,” and that always means work. William James said, “The greatest discovery of my generation is that you can change your circumstances by changing your attitudes of mind.” Many people want to change their circumstances but are unwilling to change themselves.

Many years ago, Elder Adam S. Bennion of the Council of the Twelve demonstrated a great success principle when he said that he had never gone before a Sunday School class without spending an average of eight hours in preparation. No wonder he was a thrilling, exciting, inspiring teacher! There are some people who never spend more than five minutes in preparing to teach a Sunday School lesson, and they are probably just as good as Adam Bennion was in proportion to the time they spend in preparation.

Leadership is the ability to lead, and everyone can learn to do it effectively if he will work at it continually. That is, everyone can learn how to have a successful family home evening or be an inspiring Sunday School teacher who will regularly and conscientiously devote enough time to prepare well for each activity. However, lack of preparation is the most deadly enemy of all prospective leaders. Those home teachers who fail often fail because they are not prepared to succeed. Marriages may fail because the participants are not prepared. Parents may fail because of lack of sufficient preparation. Children may fail because they don’t take time to prepare.

Recently a couple came to discuss their marital problems. The husband said, “All we need is to have the answer to one question.” He said, “Am I supposed to be the head of the house or not? I said, “I cannot answer that question unless I know what your definition is for being the head of the house.”

In the discussion that followed it was perfectly evident that he was not any more prepared to be the head of the house than I was to fly to the moon. To him, to be the head of the house meant a kind of dictatorship or “unrighteous dominion.” Inasmuch as he was not a member of the Church, he had forbidden his wife and children to attend on the grounds that it would break up their family unity. As the head of the house he had taken possession of all of his wife’s property as well as her income, and then had made her beg and crawl to get back the few pennies required to satisfy her personal needs. And the question was not whether or not it was right for her to have the money, but whether or not she had pleased him personally.

About the only family activity that he was really qualified for was to argue and make himself unpleasant. He seemed to be a personal fulfillment of that sacred scripture in which the Lord said, “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.” (D&C 121:39.)

In order to be great souls in heaven, we need to be great souls here. At every age, we should be leaders in righteousness, leaders in doing our duty, leaders in accepting responsibility, leaders in excellence, leaders in industry, leaders in kindness, leaders in obedience, leaders in example.

It is just as important for a deacons quorum president to be a good leader in his sphere as it is for the President of the Church to be a leader in his. No nation would have a very good army if only the generals were faithful. The Lord set the age of accountability at eight years, and if we fail as children, we will be very likely to fail as parents and as Church members and as occupational successes. The Bible says, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6.) Jesus gave the greatest success formula ever given when he said, “Follow me.” Childhood and youth are some of the best times to practice the leadership of an effective followship.