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Lead Thou Me On

Dear sisters and brothers, aloha. 

Today, I would like to speak about leadership not only for this life but for the eternities. I pray that the Holy Ghost might convey my message in a way that will answer some of the questions you may have about your role and mission as a leader. Leadership is one of the core values and objectives of Brigham Young University–Hawaii, yet only a few of you will have formal leadership courses while you are here. Do not despair. The lessons are all around you as are the opportunities to practice your skills as a leader. 

Leadership is the power to influence others to follow in a given situation. 

The late Elder Neal A. Maxwell said, “Some sincerely wish for more power in order to do good, but only a few individuals are good enough to be powerful” (“Tugs and Pulls of the World,”  Ensign, Oct. 2000).

This is a selfie generation, and pictures taken on beaches, mountains, shopping centers, with plates of food and every facial expression imaginable are uploaded to Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, and Twitter. How long will they last? An hour? A week or two? Taking pictures of others has turned around to “me”-centered pictures. As fleeting as “selfies” are on social media, once those in power or in the limelight have exhausted their use for others, they push people aside. Fame and fortune can be obtained in many ways, but the true leadership has personal righteousness at the center. Many, just like Judas Iscariot, sell their masters for money or special deals at any given moment that suits their personal goals, but great leaders are humble and meek and wait upon the Lord. 

Elder Neal A. Maxwell warned us, “Personal righteousness, worship, prayer, and scripture study are so crucial in order to ‘[put] off the natural man’ (Mosiah 3:19). Whether young or old, we need to be good friends, but also to pick our friends carefully. By choosing the Lord first, choosing one’s friends becomes easier and much safer. Consider the contrasting friendships in the city of Enoch compared to peers in the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah! The citizens of the city of Enoch chose Jesus and a way of life, then became everlasting friends. So much depends on whom and what we seek first” (“Tugs and Pulls of the World,”  Ensign, Oct. 2000).

You came here to gain an education. Obtaining a degree should be your main focus. A vision without action is daydreaming, but actions without a vision turn quickly into a nightmare. 

The sons of Mosiah were faithful, strong, and powerful. They “had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God… But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God” (Alma 17:2-3).

Ammon, Aaron, Omner, and Himni influenced many to come to Christ in other lands. Was it easy? No. Did they expect that they were entitled to get things for free? No. “They had many afflictions; they did suffer much, both in body and in mind, such as hunger, thirst and fatigue, and also much labor in the spirit” (Alma 17:5).

Being a leader was not easy then nor is it easy now. It takes hard work, preparation, practice, and more work. There are people who slap the title “leader” on their foreheads, declaring “I am a leader” without knowing what leadership is. Others appoint a person as a leader and hope for the best. Matthew warned, “And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:14). Bad leaders destroy people and organizations. The book of Proverbs states, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2).

Becoming a great leader is a process. We often have an image of a perfect leader. If we were perfect leaders, I would be standing here in my size two business suit, with long thick hair and high heels, speaking perfect English with a British accent. President Wheelwright would be Batman and Vice President Max Checketts would be his sidekick Robin. The only one who matches the image is Sister Wheelwright because she is a Wonder Woman. To become great leaders, we all need to go through a transformation.

Jesus asked Simon and his brother Andrew to leave their nets to become fishers of men. They followed the Savior immediately. Jesus Christ, the perfect leader, taught them, worked and ate with them, mentored, gave them assignments they could perform, and gave the vision of things to come. The Savior loved Peter, but his communication was direct and his feedback corrective. Some may see Peter as a flawed man with little faith who started to sink when he tried to walk on water towards the Savior, but Jesus Christ saw his potential, and the fisherman Simon was transformed into Apostle Peter, the great leader and head of the early church.

President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke about challenges leaders face: “There is a great loneliness in leadership. This is so because we have to live with ourselves even if it means abandoning other relationships and pursuits. We have to live with our own consciences. We have to live up to our inner feelings. We have to stand for the values and beliefs that we have embarked, adopted, and woven into our character…The price of leadership is loneliness.” (“The Loneliness of Leadership,” Brigham Young University Speeches, 4 Nov. 1969.)

My mother, who turned 93 last week, always emphasized that the public and private persons needed to be the same. When I was a little girl, I went to a store for my mother. In my purse, I had money and a list of things I was to get. The storekeeper took the list, and once I received the items, I handed her the money. I was then given some change and a receipt. I returned home where my mother checked everything. One time, I had received too much money back. Mother took me to the store with the extra money. When the storekeeper laughed, Mother informed her that my integrity was not for sale for a few coins then or for millions when I grew up. Once I tried to get away with something by saying, “But everyone else does it.” That didn’t work. This tiny woman said that I was not just everybody; I was a member of Hannonen family and a citizen of Finland. Once we were converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, she added “Mormon” to the list. “Remember who you are” has played in my mind before there were iPads or iPods, MP3 players, and truthfully, before there were computers, electric typewriters, or color TV.

I had temptations similar to the ones you face today, but I made choices based on moral and ethical values taught to me in my childhood. Later in life, it did not matter to my mother what place I had in an organizational chart, how many people I was responsible for, or how much money moved through my hands. What mattered was that I had clean hands and a pure heart and that I was working towards eternal goals in the kingdom of God. I cannot give a resume of my accomplishments to the Lord, only myself and who I have become during my time in mortality. 

Many of you are making the transition to the world of adults and productive years in the labor force. You are taking on leadership responsibilities. You are learning that things that were acceptable in your childhood are not so now. You will also find out that people caught up in themselves will let others down. They will not keep their promises. They may even take your bread and with laughter brush it away as “borrowing” permanently with no intention to return what they have stolen. Some people never learn to move past temper tantrums of a two-year old when they want something. You will start families of your own and will be responsible for yourselves and others. You will also pass on your traditions and values to your children. In essence, you will be training the next generation of leaders.

We are often conflicted in our values and those of others in our midst. The validation of our worth and our confidence come from knowing who we are, not just what we do. Jesus answered the question “What manner of men (and women) ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27; Matthew 5:48). 

Pay attention to what you are and how you behave in different situations. Never let anyone stop you from the blessings of renewing your covenants when partaking the sacrament or attending the temple. If you lose sight of your covenants, the only person you hurt is yourself … and maybe next generations. 

My mother was a young chemist who had to stay behind during two wars when she was between 18 and 22 years old. Others in her family were evacuated. She lived in a time of violence but always had that inner peace that passeth understanding (Philippians 4:7). She knew how to be still because the Lord was on her side. All she had to do was bear her cross patiently. She left it to God to order and provide in her life, remaining faithful in every change she encountered. She knew there would be a joyful end. And so it was when Elders Rex Call and Wayne Hassell brought the gospel of Jesus Christ to our home, and we chose to follow the Savior. Her joy was complete when she was sealed to my father who had died at the age of 32 and left her with two small children. Her eternal vision was clear, and she is enduring to the end.

I was in your shoes many years ago as a shy foreign student at BYU Provo. I know the feeling of being rejected because you have an accent, look and dress differently, have different values and customs, like to eat different foods, and have no family close by. However, learning new things and meeting fascinating people from all over the world wiped away any negative feelings. I felt like the luckiest girl in the universe. And I was. 

I knew I was brought to this “land of promise, a land which is choice above all other lands; a land which the Lord God hath covenanted” with Father Lehi to his children and to “all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord” (2 Nephi 1:5). I took Lehi’s warning seriously when he said that people would only prosper as long as they kept the commandments of God and did not “reject the Holy One of Israel, the true Messiah, their Redeemer and their God” (2 Nephi 1:10). Trials come to even those who are righteous. We are here to be tested in all aspects of mortal life. Never lose sight of staying the course and keeping the commandments and your covenants; there is safety and promise when you do so. 

You, too, have been brought to this country by the hand of God and have a special mission on earth. You are at BYU–Hawaii to integrate both spiritual and secular learning, and to become people with character and integrity who can provide leadership in their families, their communities, their chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God. This is a time to prepare to become leaders, to mold your character so that you can be trusted to take additional responsibilities once you leave this university. 

Leaders communicate effectively in multiple languages. I love the following story: 

Captain Moroni and Pahoran were direct in their style of communication (Alma 59-61). As the battle raged against the Lamanites, Moroni requested help from Pahoran. No troops, food, or weapons came, and many people were killed. Moroni was angry and sent a message to Pahoran. He accused Pahoran for being idle, not caring, and many other things. Then he told Pahoran to repent and asked him for help. Pahoran was the chief judge and wrote back explaining his situation. Eventually, they were able to work out their differences, restore the government, and regain the city of Zarahemla. Moroni was about your age or 25 when he was appointed chief captain. He was great in military strategy and led his people by divine guidance. He trusted God, and people trusted Moroni. 

Good leaders are direct in their communication and responses and ask for help. Do not harbor ill feelings towards others when you might not know their situation. Problems, which are not talked about, cannot be resolved. Tired and angry leaders make fatal mistakes with people and organizations. Great leaders of the Book of Mormon communicated, planned, collaborated, and helped restore peace. Most importantly, they were led by the Lord.

Leaders also take time to ponder and rejuvenate their minds and bodies. The Savior retreated to the desert or mountains to meditate, ponder, and pray during his ministry.

My favorite thing to do is swimming. My second favorite thing is hiking in the forest and mountains. I worked summers as a lifeguard and swimming teacher in high school. There was a two-week break before school started, and during that time, I went to the wilderness above the Arctic Circle, which is mostly inhabited by bears, wolves, and reindeer. There were times when I was hurt but had to keep moving. I learned that it is in those lonely, difficult times that we learn what we are made of and that we matter. Our prayers are heard, and we learn to listen to the Spirit and be guided. All our senses become sharper, and we become aware that we are not alone anywhere. There are unseen hands to guide and help us.

Each person must travel through his or her own personal wilderness. Don’t be afraid, have faith in every footstep, and you will come out on the other side. You will find a friend in yourself and a firm, reliable guide in the Lord. There is also the promise from the Lord that when you are faithful to your covenants and keep the commandments, “His angels will be round about [you], to bear [you] up and have charge over [you]” (D&C 84:88;D&C 109:22).

President Joseph F. Smith added this: “We are closely related to our kindred, to our ancestors … who have preceded us into the spirit world. …We live in their presence, they see us, they are solicitous for our welfare, they love us now more than ever. For now they see the dangers that beset us; … their love for us and their desire for our well-being must be greater than that which we feel for ourselves” (Conference Report, Apr. 1916, 2–3; see also  Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 430–31).

Effective leaders have the ability to establish relationships, develop people, and attract talent. They find connections, build high performing teams, and elevate everyone in an organization. I hope that you connect with others often so that they know you care and love them. To have a real friend next to you when you are lonely is much better than 100 friends in cyberspace who simple respond “like” to your plea for help.

My mission president, Kirt M. Olson in the Colombia Bogota Mission, listened to know the heart of his missionaries. He connected us to the ancient Book of Mormon leaders and living prophets of our time. He was friends with President Spencer W. Kimball. Both had a great love for the children of Lehi. These men were shorter than I am physically, but to me, they seemed giants. I was a Welfare Services missionary and trained local leaders. President Olson’s question was always, “Hermana Hannonen, if you were in my shoes, what would you do?” I gave him my recommendations and justifications. What surprised me was that he implemented those recommendations right away. I knew I was valued, my opinions mattered, and my confidence grew. I worked harder and better all the time.

President Olson also encouraged missionaries to find better ways of teaching the gospel to more people. Returning back from a district conference, one elder pointed to lonely huts and yelled from the back of the bus, “Hermana Hannonen, how are you going to take the gospel to those people?” Others laughed! I paused, turned around, and responded, “We are going to teach the gospel on radio.” There was a long silence. I continued, “President Kimball in his dedicatory prayer of Colombia said that the people would hear the gospel preached on their transistor radios… and we are going to do just that.” 

Missionary work is not for the faint in heart. The next day, my companion and I went to all the radio stations in the city and asked them to play tapes from Bonneville International, which included music and messages of inspiration. No one accepted our proposal, but the director of the last station looked at me and said, “I want you to make the programs.” In shock, I said, “Si, senor!” and walked out. Neither my Colombian companion nor I had any idea how to do this, but President Olson did: everything had to come from the scriptures and printed LDS Church materials. The first program was on the following Sunday morning. The topic was the appearance of Jesus Christ on the American continent after His resurrection. When these words, “Behold my Beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased, in whom I have glorified my name—hear ye him” (3 Nephi 11:7) were carried over the radio waves to far away huts in that region, we cried because the Spirit changed everything, and we felt it. There became a tangible transformation in missionaries, members, the whole city, and the mission.

Listen to your leaders and those who have walked the path before you. As students and employees of BYU–Hawaii, we are fortunate to have great leadership lessons, vision, strategy, and guidance from many servants of the Lord who visit our campus. Their speeches are made available on the BYU–Hawaii website. We need to read and study them carefully and align ourselves with the vision and goals.

Another great leader who has influenced my life is Victoriano Pinacue, the chief of Paez Indians in Tierradentro, Colombia. President Olson’s 18-year old daughter Linda and I were told to get on a bus and then follow the Spirit. We had no place to sleep, knew no one, and were on our own. Like Indiana Jones in movies, we took steps into the darkness, and a pathway would open up before us. Within a couple of days, Sister Olson and I knew we needed to climb higher and find the Paez. We were on our sixth hour of going up the mountain path one late afternoon when we encountered Chief Victoriano. He turned around and walked and talked with us while one rode his horse. He told us to go and spend the night with the Catholic nuns two hours away, and he would come and meet us the next morning. I didn’t sleep much that night, but there was no fear. I knew that the Lord had guided us and would not leave us alone.

The story of Ammon came alive when we were invited to go to the Chief’s home. We worked and taught the family welfare principles, held Primary, and preached the gospel. When there was enough trust, Victoriano shared what had preceded our first meeting on the mountain path. He asked why we were so late? Late? He and others had dreams of two blonde girls with blue eyes coming to the mountains, and they had been waiting for us for two weeks. Then, this Chief told us about the white god who had come hundreds of years ago to his people and bathed in the lake near by. He shared the teachings of the white, bearded god and how he was told to treat strangers and discern their intensions.

I kept records of what happened on those mountains. It has been decades but my letters, journal entries, and pictures are all anyone has of that time with the Paez Indians. To help us keep clear focus, we need to keep records and measure our progress. I was a student when President Spencer W. Kimball encouraged all to keep a journal. I wrote a letter every week to my mother. She has kept my letters and those received from my friends. She filed them by year for decades. I am sure that one day I will come up with a more exciting title than “Helena Hannonen: A Life in Letters” for my personal history book.

President Kimball said, “What could you do better for your children and your children’s children than to record the story of your life, your triumphs over adversity, your recovery after a fall, your progress when all seemed black, your rejoicing when you had finally achieved?” (“President Kimball Speaks Out on Personal Journals,”  Ensign, Dec. 1980, 61).

The Lord commanded Nephi to make plates of ore that he might engrave upon them the record of his people. Surely, you can take notes in your classes, Tweet, and write or videotape a record of your life. Every great leader I know has a notebook or a device to capture ideas and inspiration that come to their minds as well as to ensure that what needs to be done actually happens. Put your joys and sorrow on paper and leave them there. The worst note is better than the best memory because we so easily forget important things.

Elder Richard G. Scott counseled us, “Inspiration carefully recorded shows God that His communications are sacred to us. Recording will also enhance our ability to recall revelation. Such recording of direction of the Spirit should be protected from loss or intrusion by others” (“How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,”  Ensign, Apr. 2012).

I know leaders who have kept their journals in the language of their mission to maintain their language fluency. Others write to learn or improve a language. My brother, who did not want to participate family home evenings but was in charge of keeping the records, wrote the minutes in Russian, so my mother and I couldn’t understand them. Nevertheless, that book is a treasure to our family. 

When we die, our life continues. Looking at things from an eternal perspective, we see that Jesus Christ is the perfect leader and manager. He provided the vision and direction for our lives. Just think of the planning that went into creating this world and everything that is in it. Jesus Christ has a vision for us. He knows our divinely appointed missions on earth and our place in the universe. Jesus had to recruit spirits who would follow the Father’s Plan of Salvation. “Under the direction of our Heavenly Father, Jesus led us in God’s plan for pre-mortal, mortal, and post mortal life. Imagine the logistics involved in directing billions of sons and daughters through the process. We were there, shouting for joy just for the opportunity to come to earth.” (Paramore, James M. “Leadership – Jesus was the Perfect Leader,” BYU Speeches, 22 Aug. 1989).

We accepted and followed the leadership of Jesus Christ. We took our assignments with families in different countries. We are all brothers and sisters, children of heavenly parents. Like prodigal sons and daughters, we will return to our eternal home from faraway lands. 

Alma instructed us, “For behold, this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors. … For that same spirit which doth possess your bodies at the time that ye go out of this life, that same spirit will have power to possess your body in that eternal world” (Alma 34: 32, 34).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell described the tugs and pulls of the world by saying, “Many individuals preoccupied by the cares of the world are not necessarily in transgression. But they certainly are in diversion and thus waste ‘the days of [their] probation’ (2 Nephi 9:27). For true believers, the tugs and pulls of the world—including its pleasures, power, praise, money, and preeminence—have always been there. Now, however, many once-helpful support systems are bent or broken. Furthermore, the harmful things of the world are marketed by pervasive technology and hyped by a media barrage, potentially reaching almost every home and hamlet. All this when many are already tuned out of spiritual things, saying, ‘I am rich, … increased with goods, and have need of nothing’ (Revelation 3:17)” (“Tugs and Pulls of the World,”  Ensign, Oct. 2000).

President Kimball emphasized that Jesus used his time wisely. “Time cannot be recycled. When a moment has gone, it is really gone.” Wise time management is really wise management of ourselves” (“Jesus: The Perfect Leader,”  Ensign, Aug 1979).

President Brigham Young, whose name this university bears, urged us, “Say to the fields, … flocks, … herds, … gold, … silver, … goods, … chattels, … tenements, … possessions, and to all the world, stand aside; get away from my thoughts, for I am going up to worship the Lord” ( Deseret News, 5 Jan. 1854, 2). There are so many things that pull us from our course to the ways of the world; leaders know themselves and have clear focus and say to the world, “Stand aside.”  As global leaders, we are accountable to the Lord for our thoughts, words, and actions. Sometimes, it is for not taking any action when we should. People have the right to have competent leaders. Leadership is not taken nor is it just a position. It is the power to influence others to follow. Jesus drew people to him: women, children, men, sick, and outcast. He only offended and antagonized those who were impure and evil. His personal righteousness drew people to him, and he was able to teach and minister to people.

The hand of the Lord has brought us together at this time in this university. Some of us have a special mission and will be accountable for how we have taught the students in our care to become leaders with integrity and character. Students will be accountable for how they have used their time and opportunities to build those leadership skills. May we study and learn to lead as the Savior did. May the Holy Ghost be our constant companion and guide in this endeavor so that we may fulfill the measure of our creation here in mortality and in the eternities. This is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.