Blog: Leadership and Meekness

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Leadership – Meekness

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Leadership is a topic that has fascinated me. I’d like to discuss how meekness makes a truly inspiring leader. I was inspired to ponder this topic because Jodi recently gave a talk in church about meekness and during her preparation she recommended that I listen to a Brigham Young University devotional given by Elder Neal A. Maxwell titled “Meekly Drenched in Destiny.” Neal A. Maxwell was a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Prior to his church service he taught and was an administrator at the University of Utah. He passed away in 2004 after a lengthy battle with Leukemia. In the talk Elder Maxwell discusses the importance of meekness.

Let’s start first with defining meekness. The modern view of meekness can be found in its definition on Dictionary.com. It states that meek means humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others; overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.” In modern times a meek man is looked down on. He is seen as soft, someone who refuses to confront those who wrong him. The original and scriptural basis for meekness offers a different view. David A. Bednar, a current member of The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, stated in April 2018 that “The Christlike quality of meekness often is misunderstood in our contemporary world. Meekness is strong, not weak; active not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious, or overbearing and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others.” A meek person is submissive but he is submissive to the will of God, not man.

Meekness though is not weakness as David A. Bednar states. A meek leader knows when to stand firm to defend one’s principles and when to defer and recognize that someone else is correct. Abraham Lincoln was a surprise choice in the 1860 election. There were far more well-known and popular Republicans in the primary and Lincoln was not on the radar of any but a few from Illinois. In the end he was awarded the Republican nomination and became one of the greatest presidents to have held the office.

Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote an excellent book, Team of Rivals, on Lincoln’s presidency and in particular how he interacted with his cabinet. He understood that in order to have the strongest government possible he needed the best men. It just so happened that those men were his political opponents during the presidential primary. Most would have shied away from selecting these men to hold such powerful posts but not Lincoln. Each of these men came into the cabinet thinking they would make Lincoln a puppet. Most left thinking he was the greatest man to have lived in their lifetime. Today, Abraham Lincoln is looked upon as one of the greatest presidents to have lived. Yet, he could easily be considered a meek man. The actions above demonstrate in part Lincoln’s meekness. There is more though.

I read an article recently from The Atlantic by Joshua Wolf Shenk published in October 2005. The article discussed how Lincoln’s depression gave him the attributes necessary to lead the nation through the Civil War and manage the personalities and egos of those in his cabinet. It is well known that Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression throughout his life, even during his presidency. It was this depression that brought clarity to his world view and the humility to be meek. Mr. Shenk stated:

“The humility came from a sense that whatever ship carried him on life’s rough waters, he was not the captain but merely a subject of the divine force—call it fate or God or the “Almighty Architect” of existence. The determination came from a sense that however humble his station, Lincoln was no idle passenger but a sailor on deck with a job to do. In his strange combination of profound deference to divine authority and a willful exercise of his own meager power, Lincoln achieved transcendent wisdom.”

The author calls it humility but I believe that it is meekness that is described in this quote. Lincoln was following what he felt was a divine power that he could not deny. In the exercise of these actions and in large part because of his temperament caused by his depression he allowed those around him to shine without feeling that it took away from his own luster. This is meekness! No one would claim that Abraham Lincoln was weak. He was forced to make some of the hardest decisions a president has ever had to make. It was this meekness that allowed him to make the right decisions and lead the country through a tumultuous time.

Donald T. Phillips in his book Lincoln on Leadership described Lincoln’s qualities saying, “He was compassionate and caring yet, when necessary, could put his foot down firmly and be decisive beyond question. He was patient, persistent, consistent, and persuasive rather than dictatorial. But, without a doubt, the foundation of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership style was an unshakable commitment to the rights of the individual” (3).

Too often today we confuse loud mouthed bluster with great leadership. It is not! Unfortunately, this is the type of leadership most often seen. All one has to do is turn on the television or look at social media and you can see what leaders without meekness look like.

James McGregor Burns in his book Leadershipstated:

“Many acts heralded or bemoaned as instances of leadership—acts of oratory, manipulation, sheer self-advancement, brute coercion—are not such. Much of what commonly passes as leadership—conspicuous position-taking without followers or follow-through, posturing on various public stages, manipulation without general purpose, authoritarianism—is no more leadership than the behavior of small boys marching in front of a parade, who continue to strut along Main Street after the procession has turned down a side street toward the fairgrounds.”

It is not weak to let others share the spotlight. Good leaders, in my experience, have built me up and lifted me rather than insulting and beating me down. In the world today we need more leaders like Abraham Lincoln who are confident in their abilities, comfortable listening and working with those who may not agree, and capable of lifting those around them to excel in pursuit of shared goals even if it diminishes the spotlight on the leader for a while.

You may be wondering what this has to do with family culture. As parents we are leaders in the home. What kind of leader are you being in the home? What example are you setting? Being meek applies just as much as we lead our families as it does if leading people at work or church.

This post was written by my husband, Michael Chaffee, creator of “The Independent Brief.

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