One of the most important principles President Spencer W. Kimball taught me was to be more reliant on the Lord as the true leader. Even though President Kimball was the Lord's prophet, he would always, in his humble way, stay away from "center stage," seeking always to put the Master there. One of the most important things about leadership is to magnify the Lord in the eyes of the people. If we will lead that way, the Lord will give us power to lead. In my mind, the greatest thing leaders can do is turn the people over whom they preside to the Lord. Leadership, in the Lord's view, is the saving of souls. If a leader can turn a person to the Lord, the leader may have given the greatest gift possible. That is also true in families.
I will never forget a time when the presiding brethren approved the calling of a temple president. As I remember, President Kimball called this good man on the phone to inform him that the Lord had called him to be a temple president. The man was totally overcome. President Kimball told him he would arrive in his city on a certain day and that if the man would meet him in the temple, he would be pleased to set him apart as the temple president.
Some days later, President Kimball arrived at the temple. He bore testimony that the Lord had called the man, and he set him apart as the temple president. After he had finished, he told the new temple president that he loved him and that the Lord would bless him. Then he began walking toward the door. The man panicked and said, "Wait, President Kimball, what instruction do you have for me?"
President Kimball said, "Well, the Lord will bless you. You will do just fine," and began walking down the hall.
The man, now with great urgency, came trailing after the prophet, begging him, "President, what do I know about the temple? What if I have a problem with the cafeteria or the sprinkler system or with some of the temple workers?"
President Kimball said, "Well, if you have any problems like that, feel free to call the Temple Department."
This man now realized that President Kimball really was going to leave. In the parking lot as the prophet was stepping into his car, the man pleaded, "President, please, I don't know what I ought to do."
President Kimball said, "The Lord has called you and the Lord will assist you. Seek him and you will know what to do."
Not satisfied, the man continued, "Don't you have any specific counsel for me?"
Finally President Kimball said, "All right. If you want some specific counsel, I will give you some. It wouldn't hurt you to lose about thirty-five pounds. May the Lord bless you, president." Then he got into his car and drove off.
This new temple president was just flabbergasted. He went back into the temple struggling with his feelings and wondering why President Kimball had handled the situation that way. The man had no alternative but to do what he should have done in the beginning—fall on his knees and plead with the Lord for help. This good man, this humble man, did exactly that and became a most effective, loving, and spiritual temple president.
Could President Kimball not have given him much instruction about temple work? Surely he could have. Could he not have taught him much about leadership? Yes. But can you see that what President Kimball really did was turn this man to the Lord? If we can teach our families in that same manner to rely upon the Lord, who knows what blessings may come into their lives? Then they will know to whom they must look for the resolution of their problems.
When I was called as president of the Uruguay/Paraguay Mission, I might have done some things differently if I had known about that experience with President Kimball. But I didn't. I just knew I was to report to President Kimball's office to be set apart.
On the appointed day, I went with my wife and two of my young sons to the Church offices. After President Kimball had set me apart, I was anxious to receive any training he might to give me, so I said, "President Kimball, you know I'm going among the Lamanites. You've spent much of your life among them. Do you have any counsel for me, any suggestions you would like to give me before I go?"
He said, "Well, I'd just suggest that you stay close to the Spirit of the Lord, and he will tell you what to do."
I was a little disappointed that there wasn't anything else, so I pursued it further, saying, "President, I'd sure be pleased to have you teach us or give us some additional instruction."
Finally he said, "Gene, do you hold the Melchizedek Priesthood?" (I knew then I was in trouble.)
I said, "Yes."
He said, "Haven't you been set apart as a General Authority?"
I said, "Yes."
Then he said, "Adios."
I had the feeling he was saying, "Don't call us; we'll call you when it's time to return."
I testify that the effect President Kimball had on me as a new mission president was the same as the effect he'd had on the new temple president. What a powerful example of leadership training! "Rely on the Lord!" is what President Kimball was saying. He didn't want to get in the way between me and the Lord in terms of the training the Lord would give me. He didn't feel obligated to give me his best counsel or anything like it. He could have kept me there for days, teaching me about missionary work. Who among the Brethren knew more about it? No one. He was not diminishing the importance of our teaching one another in mission presidents' seminars and so on; he was just directing our attention to our first priority. He was a real example of a leader teaching people to rely on the Lord.
I had no alternative but to do what I knew I should have done—to humbly seek the Lord to find out how to be a mission president. I don't know of any principle President Kimball could have taught me that would have been more important. That single act of leadership helped me start my mission the right way, with more power and reliance on the Lord than would have ever been the case otherwise.
Excerpt from the book: Raising Up A Family To The Lord, p. 147 – 148, Gene R. Cook