Saturday, February 8, 2014
Why I Believe: Evidence Three: Joseph's Humility in Leadership
Joseph’s Humility In Leadership©
My interests are in the spiritual principles which he understood and lived by which led to a leadership style that was different from the norm of his day and ours. The principles of his leadership style come directly from heaven; it is a “divine style” of leadership. I am not claiming that Joseph Smith was perfect in any way including his leadership. However, he possessed characteristics and principles, the divine nature of which shine through his life despite his weakness and inadequacies.
One of his greatest leadership traits was humility. I know, we so often hear from his enemies and some misguided Latter-day Saints about the strength and force of his personality which seem to belie any humility. There is no question he was a man of great action, again often misunderstood as expressions of hubris and arrogance. But when you get down deep into the documents and into the interior of his life an attractive and sweet humility emerges through the mists of contemporary caricatures.
It can be seen for example–and I will subsequently write about these things in more detail–in his response to the chastisement he received at the time of the loss of the 116 pages of the Book of Mormon manuscript. Or, given his investment of time and energy in translation and the suffering associated with its publication, it was a remarkable achievement. Yet Joseph made little of the book’s appearance or his involvement with it. Or, consider that much of 2 Ne. 3 is a lengthy series of complimentary prophecies concerning him and his mission, including one statement in which the Lord said that he would “make him great in mine eyes, for he shall do my work” (vs. 8), but as far as I am aware, Joseph Smith did not make a single statement regarding any of these prophecies. His humility is also highly evident in his prayer life–particularly those found in his private journal. I could go on, but as I said, these things are for another day.
This entry highlights one incident and his meek response to it. In interest of full disclosure, I acknowledge that I was reminded of this episode while reading an excellent article by Mark Mendenhall and J. Bonner Ritchie regarding the leadership of Joseph and Hyrum in councils.* In June of 1831, Joseph Smith convened a conference and ordained the first high priests. During that meeting he ordained a man named Harvey Whitlock. Soon after he did so Whitlock’s countenance changed and it was evident to Hyrum Smith that something was seriously out of order. According to Levi Hancock’s account Hyrum said, “Joseph, that is not of God.” Joseph replied “Do not speak against this.” But Hyrum persisted, “I will not believe,” he said, “unless you inquire of God and he owns it.” Joseph could have put Hyrum in his place–and on a later occasion in Nauvoo when Hyrum was out of order Joseph did correct him. But this time Joseph bowed his head and after a short time got up and laid his hands on Whitlock and commanded Satan to leave him.
Lesser men may have spurned Hyrum’s questioning of their authority. If Joseph were prideful and arrogant he would likely have ignored Hyrum. Nor did he reprove his brother with sharpness as mentioned in D&C 121; he was not moved upon by the Holy Ghost to do so. Despite his closeness to God and despite all the revelations and visitations he received, Joseph did not consider himself omniscient or infallible. Rather, he demonstrated one of the hallmarks of humility–he was teachable. He listened to his brother, reconsidered the situation and took the appropriate action to get the guidance of the Spirit. One of the things I admire most about him is when he discovered his mistakes he exhibited the necessary humility to quickly repent or change just as he did in this historical priesthood meeting. Humility such as Joseph’s is a saintly quality of leadership that is largely absent in the practice of many leaders of our modern world.
Thank God for Joseph Smith. Let’s think together again, soon.
*See, Mark E. Mendenhall and J. Bonner Ritchie, “One Heart and One Mind: Councils in Zion, Zion in Councils,” in Joseph & Hyrum: Leading as One, edited by Mark E Mendenhall, et al., (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2010, pp. 1-20.