Yesterday in Hong Kong I was fortunate to be part of a meeting where Elder Randy D. Funk of the Seventy and Benjamin Tai, an Area Seventy from Hong Kong, provided valuable training to few of us LDS foreigners living in China. One of many inspiring moments came when Elder Tai played a video of Elder Henry B. Eyring describing his experience when he first saw how decision making took place in the top councils of the Church. Elder Tai used this to teach us how to better use the power of councils in our local units of the Church.
The video clip comes from a press conference immediately after Elder Eyring was called into the First Presidency in October 2007, serving under Gordon B. Hinckley. He fielded a question about how his professional background prepared him for what he is doing now. His answer touches upon a surprising experience when he first saw how the top leaders of the Church work in council to make decisions. The story illustrates the beauty and power of councils in the Church and their potential to be places where miracles can take place and where inspiration and wisdom can flow, if we seek to listen and act the way the Lord teaches us. The example of President Harold B. Lee in this story provides an example many leaders should strive to emulate.
Below is the Youtube video and a transcript kindly provided by Richard Alger in his Oct. 10, 2007 post, “Here are the Prophets of God and They’re Disagreeing!”
Transcript (slightly edited):
The way to look at Harvard and its effect, at least personally, is with this story:
When I first came as the president of Ricks college, I attended my first meeting that I’d ever been in watching the General Authorities of the church, the First Presidency and others, running a meeting. I had been studying for the ten years I was a professor at Stanford how you make decisions in meetings in groups, so I got a chance, here’s my chance to see the way the Lord’s servants do it (of which I now am one).
I looked at it with my Harvard and Stanford eyes and I thought. This is the strangest conversation I’ve [heard]. I mean, here are the prophets of God and they’re disagreeing in an openness that I had never seen in business. In business you’re careful when you’re with the bosses, you know.
Here they were just — and I watched this process of them disagreeing and I thought, “Good Heavens, I thought revelation would come to them all and they’d all see things the same way, in some sort of…, you know.” It was more open than anything I had ever seen in all the groups I had ever studied in business. I was just dumbfounded.
But then after a while the conversation cycled around. And they began to agree and I saw the most incredible thing. Here are these very strong, very bright people all with different opinions. Suddenly the opinions began to just line up and I thought, “I’ve seen a miracle. I’ve seen unity come out of this wonderful open kind of exchange that I’d never seen in all my studies of government or business or anywhere else.” And so I thought, “Oh, what a miracle!”
It was President Harold B. Lee who was chairing the meeting. It was a board of education meeting. I thought, now he’s going to announce the decision, because I’ve seen this miracle, and he said, “Wait a minute, I think we’ll bring this matter up again some other time. I sense there is someone in the room who is not yet settled.” And they went on to the next item. And I thought: that is strange. And then I watched somebody, one of the brethren, I think one of the Twelve, walk past President Lee and say, “Thank you, there’s something I didn’t have a chance to say.”
So I want you to know…. This is what it claims to be. This is the true Church of Jesus Christ. Revelation is real, even in what you call the business kinds of settings.
A great man whom I love and will always love, President Harold B. Lee, taught me a great lesson that says. Now, we can be open. We can be direct. We can talk about differences in a way that you can’t anywhere else because we’re all just looking for the truth. We’re not trying to win. We’re not trying to make our argument dominate. We just want to find what’s right.
And then a man sensitive enough to sense without anybody saying anything, that somebody in the room was not settled. Again, there’s a kind of process of openness and yet coming together and having confidence that you know what the Lord wants, not what we want…
I loved Harvard. I loved Stanford. I had a great time there. My wife is –We spent the first ten years of our married life — I was a professor at Standford. Thought I’d stay there forever; I had tenure. How happy we were. Then [we] went to Rexburg, Idaho from there.
And then [I] came down here and found out that there was a kind of making decisions and working together in groups that I had never seen anywhere else in the world except here.
I’ve run meetings where my actions were far from the Lord’s teachings about how councils should operate. Sure, anybody can get things done and make things happen in a council. Driving a decision and giving out assignments is easy. But the teachings about councils we have in the LDS Handbook and in the scriptures and the teachings of living prophets and apostles is something else entirely.
Councils are designed to open the windows of revelation as we share freely our perspectives and bring new information to the table, helping to make it clear what real problems need to be solved and what can be done. When Saints in unity seek the Lord’s help to find solutions and make plans, they can then reach unity and seek revelation that begins with asking the right questions.
There should be nobody in the council who feels they have to bite their lip and say, “Must … keep … mouth … shut,” doing all they can avoid trouble by sharing their differing perspectives. Sadly, good people sometimes feel they had better just stay quiet and stay unsettled. Leaders must be sensitive to that and draw out the perspectives of all present, especially those who might be sitting on their hands trying not to be annoying when they really have something that might help if others would listen.