I was listening to a talk given by President Gordon B. Hinckley on November 4, 1969 entitled “The Loneliness of Leadership.” The audio is here. It was given at a BYU devotional. It is a very interesting talk, as he begins by discussing President Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War. He alludes to be somewhat critical of the war, but really focuses on the loneliness of the President in having to make decisions and appear before the American people and the world by himself.
He goes on to say, “The price of leadership is loneliness. The price of adherence to conscience is loneliness. The price of adherence to principle is loneliness. I think it is inescapable. The Savior of the world was a Man who walked in loneliness. I do not know of any statement more underlined with the pathos of loneliness than His statement: “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). “
I thought about the great deal of discussion that has gone on this past week or so about the new Church Handbook of Instructions (CHI). There are been many reports about the handbook and the leadership training meeting that introduced it. The reports I have read from those in attendance (that are leaders) have been generally positive. In fact, for most, the handbook itself was also viewed positively.
But, of course, there are the critics. They squawk like birds when their personal situation is somewhat hampered by rules and guidelines. Rules and guidelines they know and understand, but for whatever reason choose not to follow. But, it is not their fault. It is the general leadership of The Church who are at fault for creating the rule or guideline. It is the fault of local leadership who follow it. It is everyone else’s fault. But it is not theirs.
The new handbook gives a significant amount of leeway to a local leader in the implementation of some of the rules and guidelines. In the portions I have seen, if a situation is absolute, it is directly stated. If there is judgment and inspiration needed on the part of a local leader, it is less so. The words are different, they are softer. According to the talk given by President Boyd K. Packer, it is clear that revelation and inspiration must play a significant role in implementing the things in the handbook. He said, “Once again: “Notwithstanding those things which are written”—meaning, regardless of what is in print, including the handbooks—“it always has been given to the elders of my church from the beginning, and ever shall be, to conduct all meetings as they are directed and guided by the Holy Spirit” (D&C 46:2). “ (https://new.lds.org/training/worldwide-leadership/2010/11/concluding-remarks?lang=eng)
Back to the Loneliness of Leadership. I know it is just as hard for a Bishop or Priesthood Leader to tell a member that they cannot do something as it is for the person being told. Hopefully, the message is delivered in the spirit of love and respect and with due considerations to the feelings of the person and the impact of the decision. I recall the story of one of the General Authorities who had to tell an impending bride she could not be married in the Temple in a few days hence because of a confessed moral transgression. What a painful situation for both, what an embarrassing situation for the young woman. One might ask, why did she tell? She could have had her Temple marriage and celebration and no one would know. But she would. The Lord would. And she would have to live with that burden.
We are ultimately sympathetic to the person who is denied the ability to do what they are seeking. But what about the one who must sit in judgment and be the one to render a decision?
Somewhat akin to the Savior carrying the burdens of the whole world on his shoulders, the leader must often time carry the burden of knowing how they might have affected the person denied.
You can do the right thing and still feel terrible about it. Such is the Loneliness of Leadership