Thomas S. Monson, president, and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) died last night, at home, at the age of 90. He was a true example of leadership and service and demonstrated that those two things go together. Here are just a few examples of how he demonstrated leadership.
Achieving Miracles Takes Hard Work
While serving as a General Authority in Europe during the 1960s, Monson promised Mormons living in East Germany that "if you will remain true and faithful to the commandments of God, every blessing any member of the Church enjoys in any other country will be yours."
That was quite a promise for people living in a country that didn't allow LDS church materials in, nor LDS church members out to visit temples (which is an essential part of LDS teaching). He didn't just sit back and say, "You guys be faithful now!" He continued to work hard, meeting with people behind the scenes and developing friendships with East German leaders.
Because he couldn't bring any official church documents into East Germany, he decided to memorize the LDS Handbook of Instructions. He arrived in East Germany and asked for a typewriter and began typing. Only then did he learn that somehow, they had a copy of the handbook. He willingly did whatever it took to create the miracle he foresaw.
You Can Be a Friend to People You Disagree With.
Today, it seems, you either agree 100 percent with someone or you hate that person. That was not how President Monson approached life. Political and religious leaders of all kinds considered Monson a friend. When the Salvation Army needed a new building, he urged the LDS Church to give them an old meetinghouse, and "organized members to reroof and paint the interior. The church supplied an organ, piano, pews, chairs, silverware, dishes and tables from the former Hotel Utah."
Monson taught that we should "eliminate the weakness of one standing alone and substitute for it the strength of people working together." True leadership recognizes that we are all better off when we treat each other with kindness, even if we have fundamental disagreements.
Never Pass up the Opportunity for Humor
People often think of religious leaders as uptight and boring, but Monson was anything but. He loved humor and a good story. In fact, most of his teaching was based on stories. He knew an important leadership principle: People will follow when they understand how it applies in their lives, and stories help with that. But, sometimes, humor is for humor's sake.
In this video clip, Monson shares a story of a young boy who copied his every move, during a meeting the boy must have found boring. Monson played along, but then decided to make a final move: he wiggled his ears, something the boy couldn't do. It's a great story and worth the 2 minutes to watch.
Young and Old Can Accomplish Amazing Things
The LDS church has sent out young men and women as full-time missionaries for generations, but Monson lowered the age for service in 2012, resulting in a flood of new missionaries. But he didn't just say missionary service was for the young, he continued to encourage senior couples to serve as well.
His point was that age should neither be a barrier nor a determining factor. In the business world we often get caught up in Millennials vs Baby Boomers or what have you. He didn't care about that. He believed all could contribute, and all did. He, himself, served as the leader of a congregation (bishop) at the age of 22 and continued serving his entire life. He saw the value of all ages.
You're Never Too Important to Look out for the One
In 1997 my grandmother died. She and my grandfather had worked with President Monson in church and professional responsibilities. He was, at that point, serving as Counselor in the First Presidency, which also comes with tremendous responsibilities including meetings and travel. Yet, he made time to come pay his last respects to my grandmother.
He could have come in, briefly expressed his condolences to my grandfather and left. Everyone would have understood. But, he didn't. He stayed. He talked to people. He held my baby nephew who immediately thrust his hand into this very important man's mouth. Monson laughed and kept holding the baby.
Monson had a long history of looking out for the one. He visited people. He loved people. He set out to do good and he did good. Under his leadership, LDS charities served millions of people. The goal was always to help those in need.
Sometimes, as we become leaders of businesses or thought leaders in our fields, it becomes easy to forget about other people's needs. That's not leadership. Leadership looks at how actions affect individuals, and that was President Monson's whole life.