Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
President Russell M. Nelson speaks during a Church Educational System devotional in Laie, Hawaii.

Much will be written in the coming days about President Russell M. Nelson as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints look to him for prophetic leadership in a caustic, chaotic and often confusing world. President Nelson understands that authentic leadership begins with the heart — and not just the organ that beats. Leadership emanates, in part, within two facets of the heart — abundance and forgiveness. An abundance mentality enables a leader to focus on what matters most, and forgiveness empowers a leader to let go of the past in order to embrace the goodness in people and the possibilities of the future.

An abundance mentality

As a pioneer in heart surgery, then-Dr. Nelson regularly met with surgeons and specialists who were also working to perfect lifesaving techniques. They would come together and share notes, best practices, lessons learned, failures and successes.

Years later, Sheri Dew asked then-Elder Nelson about these meetings with the question, “You mean these other doctors, who were your competitors for research money and medical notoriety, would get together and share notes? Weren’t you afraid they would get the accolades, priceless patents and the prominence of success based on your work?”

Elder Nelson’s response was powerful and without hesitation. He replied, “Our competition wasn’t with each other. Our competition was with death and disease and ignorance.”

Dew then posited, "Imagine if today in our country, our common enemy was not each other. Our common enemy was not that we don't see everything the same way. What if our common enemy was tyranny and terrorism and perhaps anything that assaults the human spirit. Imagine if there weren't a constant, almost feverish scramble for headlines, or sound bites, or the most pithy social media posts, or some kind of self-promotion. Imagine if what we really cared about most of all was building lives and saving lives. There are a lot of ways to save lives."

Authentic leaders know there is enough and to spare in opportunities, recognition and success. An abundance mentality has enabled President Nelson to lead from all points of the compass, shine the spotlight wherever light was needed, and focus on what he sees as the heart of leadership — people.


When looking at a list of characteristics for great leaders, forgiveness is rarely, if ever, on it. Yet, President Nelson has demonstrated and declared for decades that forgiveness is essential and the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Absent forgiveness we become bitter, resentful, petty and very small — places from which we cannot lead.

In his novel "The Light Between Oceans," M.L. Stedman captures a conversation between a man who had been abused and mistreated by the people of the town and his wife, who could not understand his warmhearted forgiveness and his absolute rejection of any feelings of contempt toward the townspeople.

When his wife asked how he could show such forgiveness, the husband replies, “I choose to. I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened, or I can forgive.”

“But it’s not that easy,” she answered.

He smiled and said, “Oh, but it is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things.”

We always have a choice to forgive. Leaders forgive, often immediately, because they don’t have time to stew on a slight or offending word. Every moment given to the dark emotions of resentment and bitterness is time taken away from inspiring ideas, hope and opportunities to serve others. Leaders know they have precious little time to lose, because they have limited time to win and do a work that will outlive them. I think that is why President Nelson, at 93, is as energetic and anxious to engage as a young child — he has the heart of an authentic leader.

President Nelson has taught us that there is joy to be found in forgiveness. He said, “Every time we nurture our spouse and guide our children, every time we forgive someone or ask for forgiveness, we can feel joy.”

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Government, business and community leaders should learn these two lessons rarely discussed in business schools, seminars or self-help books. Adopting just these two facets of the heart of leadership would transform business, communities and nations — and imagine, if we all engaged the heart of leadership, what could happen in our homes and in our personal relationships.

President Nelson, the world-renowned heart surgeon, has responded to the Savior’s admonition to become as a little child — developing a heart filled with abundance and forgiveness. He has discovered, and is teaching us all, exactly what the heart of leadership really looks like.