Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

The Power of Example

By: Shane Barker

From the book: Youth Leading Youth

Welcome to Kyoto!”

Elder Hadley shook my hand eagerly and then reached for my suitcase. “Here, let me help you with that.”

I smiled gratefully as I buttoned up my coat against the cold Japanese air. “Thanks. I feel like I’ve been packing it for hours.”

“I know,” Elder Hadley said. “I had to take three different trains when I transferred here. I didn’t think I was ever going to make it.”

My new companion led me out of the train station and strapped my suitcase to the back of his own bicycle. “Have you ever been to Kyoto before?”

I shook my head. “First time,” I said. “I’ve been to Himeji a couple of times, but this is my first trip north.”

“You’ll love it,” Elder Hadley assured me. “The people here are terrific. We’ve got a great ward, and the members really go out of their way to make investigators feel welcome. Just last month we had three baptisms and . . .”

I laughed as I listened to my new companion talk. He spoke with a delightful accent, pronouncing “I” as “Ah” and saying “are” as “or.” It was exactly the way one of my favorite companions—a missionary I had worked with several months before—talked. So when Elder Hadley quit talking for a moment I asked, “Do you know Elder Burton?”

“Paul Burton? From Colorado?”

“Yeah—that’s the one.”

“He was my last companion! We were together for two months!”

I laughed again, no longer surprised. Elder Burton was a fantastic missionary, and after two months with him it was no wonder that even his style of speech had rubbed off on Elder Hadley.

As I spent more time with Elder Hadley I saw that many more of Elder Burton’s peculiar habits had rubbed off. My new companion, for instance, began every morning with a series of one-armed push-ups, thirty or so sit-ups, and then more push-ups—something Elder Burton did every morning. Elder Hadley also had the habit of bearing his testimony at every door we visited, something I had never seen anyone but Elder Burton do.

One time I even noticed that Elder Hadley marked his scriptures in the same peculiar way I did. I thought that was unusual until I realized that we had both learned our method from Elder Burton!

Elder Hadley had had no intention of patterning himself after Elder Burton, but example is such a powerful tool that he was influenced by it without even knowing it. Living side by side with Elder Burton for two months made it inevitable that certain traits would rub off.

How glad I was that they were all good traits!

As a leader, you too will influence many people through your example. Those you lead will do the things they see you do. If you are cheerful when the task is hard, many others will be also. If you are obedient, those you lead will be obedient. If you show respect for other people, so will everyone else. Demonstrate through your example how to work hard, how to smile, and how to be obedient, and others will follow. You will never teach leadership as powerfully as you will through the strength of your own example.

I have a friend named Jim who conducts rock climbing courses. He spends much of his time with his students out on the rocks climbing and rappeling. But he also insists that his students learn many other things, including knots. Many of his student climbers can tie the figure-eight knots and bowlines that are so important in rock climbing. But many of them also want to learn such things as the Prusik knot.

The Prusik knot is used for climbing ropes (James Bond uses it all the time). It’s one of the easiest knots in the world to tie, but it’s almost impossible to describe.

One time Jim was struggling to teach the Prusik to a handful of young climbers. He tried several times to explain what to do, but wasn’t making any headway. Finally he gave up and said, “Everybody come here and watch this.” He then demonstrated the knot one time. But it was so easy to tie that one time was enough. After just that one demonstration, all the students were able to tie it themselves.

How you lead the Laurels class will depend largely upon how you’ve seen others do it. More important, future leaders will do it the way they’ve seen you do it. Many people will pattern themselves after you. If you work hard—if you complete your duties completely and responsibly—there is every chance that others who see you will do the same.

As a leader you might spend a lot of time teaching your followers to work hard, to be honest, and to be cheerful. But not until they see you working hard, being honest, and being cheerful will they get the message. You may tell them to be on time to meetings. But if you’re late yourself, forget it.

I have a young cousin who lives for gymnastics. Just twelve years old, Holly has won many junior tournaments. Her coach says that Holly has natural instincts. But Holly says her success comes from watching another gymnast on the team.

“Lorraine does the most beautiful floor exercise I’ve ever seen,” Holly told me. “I could sit and watch her for hours.”

Lorraine was a fine gymnast. She displayed elegant split leaps and dazzling pirouettes. She executed neat front and back walkovers, and she did graceful full and double toe turns. She was an athlete worthy of imitation.

But Holly did more than just admire her. Every time she watched Lorraine perform, she picked out one move or trick she liked, then tried to do it herself. Sometimes she’d pick an easy skill that came quickly. And sometimes she picked things that took a little more time and practice before she could do them.

“I learned almost everything I know about the floor exercise from watching Lorraine,” Holly said. “Almost all of my tricks are ones that I saw Lorraine do first.”

Besides being a good athlete, Lorraine had other skills, too. She knew how to play to an audience. She knew how to smile in a way that didn’t seem faked. She made her entrances in a way that seemed to say: “Hey, world! Watch me! I’m having fun!”

Holly was soon doing these same things. No one ever taught her to do them. She learned by watching another gymnast.

You’ll find this principle to be true in almost every aspect of leadership. Just as people learn physical skills by watching others, they also learn obedience, trust, and faith by watching those who practice these traits.

Show others through your own example how to be obedient, trusting, and faithful. And even in circles where you’re not a designated leader, don’t be afraid to let your example set you apart. One person setting the proper example can often change a bad experience into a good one.

A young woman once shared with me an experience she had had at girls’ camp. After a long day, several of the campers had gathered and were discussing their camping partners.

“I can’t believe Ruth came again this year,” one said. “She doesn’t do anything but cause trouble.”

“Collette’s the same way,” someone else added. “I wish they’d both just go home.”

They’re both spoiled brats,” someone else said.

As this was going on, another young woman named Mary became uncomfortable. She didn’t like the direction the conversation was taking. And when the campers were about to vote on who they thought was the most spoiled person at camp that year, Mary suddenly said, “Hey! What if we voted on the girl who is the most fun at camp this year? And maybe we could give her an award or something.”

The idea was greeted with instant enthusiasm.

“And we could vote on the most spiritual girl, too!” someone else suggested.

“And the most inspiring!”

“And the best dressed!”

At the last suggestion everyone laughed. But as the conversation changed, so did the mood. While many of the girls had been on the verge of anger, now they were laughing as they began preparing awards for campers who were making the camp fun and happy.

Many times you’ll be with informal groups, such as this bunch of campers, that do not have leaders. And without someone to keep everyone moving in the right direction, people may unconsciously begin veering the wrong way.

Don’t be afraid to give them a nudge back the right direction.

A young neighbor of mine named Doug told me about a time he went camping with the ward Scout troop. As the boys lay in their sleeping bags, an innocent discussion gradually became crude and offensive. Not liking the manner in which the evening was shaping, Doug suddenly called out: “It’s 10:30, guys. Why don’t we have a minute of silence so everyone can say their prayers?”

The camp was instantly quiet and reverent. And the mood was changed. After a minute or two of silence, the boys gradually began talking again. Many of them talked far into the night, but the conversation never returned to its vulgar beginnings. With a single question—and without any preaching or moralizing—Doug had effectively changed something bad into something good.

A good example can help you, too. If you have trouble motivating the group, find someone who’s good at motivation and watch him. See how he does it. See if you can learn from his example.

You can learn much about leadership by watching other people lead. You can learn about building character and citizenship by watching others. Watch carefully the things they do. See what things work and what things don’t.

In an earlier chapter I mentioned Steve Birrell, the captain of my eighth-grade basketball team. Besides being a good leader, Steve was always happy and full of energy. I wanted to be like him. I wanted people to think of me the way I thought of him.

I didn’t want to be Steve. I just wanted to be the same sort of person that he was.

71So I started doing the sort of things Steve did. Steve often stayed late after practice to pick up towels and store balls in the racks.

I started staying late to help, too.

Whenever Coach Brimhall asked for someone to run an errand— even if it had nothing to do with basketball— Steve was always the first to respond.

I started volunteering, too.

One night after practice one of the school custodians came in to talk with the coach. He said he was cleaning the auditorium for an activity that night. He wondered if anyone on the team would be free to help him for a few minutes.

As usual, Steve’s hand shot up. So did mine. And the two of us spent the next hour picking up paper behind the bleachers. It wasn’t fun work, but we had fun doing it.

That’s the way Steve was. After a game once I saw him go up and say something to the referees. I’m not sure what he said, but because both officials smiled, I know it was something like, “Great game, guys.”

After the next game I went up and said thanks to the referees. It took a lot of courage, but I was surprised at how good it made me feel.

I don’t know if anyone ever admired me as much as I admired Steve. But I liked me for the things I was doing. I knew I was doing good things, and I knew I was improving myself.

Use the power of your own excellent example to shape those you lead. Demonstrate every day exactly the way you want your followers to behave. Be consistent. Don’t worry if people say you sound like a broken record. Show them what you want of them.

When you begin to look and act like a leader, people will follow you with confidence. Your example will show them the way to greatness. Do your best at everything you do. Have fun while you’re at it. And you’ll influence many through your example.

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