As a world religious leader, Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, understands the art of the kind of connected communication often missing in international business and political leaders today. As the 94-year-old continues his sprint around the world, he communicates with an array of people in the ways that make sense to them.
Persuasive leaders recognize that it doesn’t really matter how much sense something makes in their own mind, the only thing that matters is whether they can make sense to other people. Great communicators learn to come up alongside a person or group and express their thoughts in a way that makes the most sense and creates space for true understanding.
President Nelson recognizes the power of "alongside” leadership communication. His communication often feels like a side-by-side walk with a good friend — a lesson, not a lecture. Close observers note he often slides his arm inside the arm of those he is with as if to say “we are in this conversation or cause together.”
As the leader of the 16 million-member worldwide faith, President Nelson demonstrates daily the kind of communication that took place between the resurrected Christ and two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. Christ came up alongside them and spoke to them in a way that made sense, was familiar and caused their hearts to burn within them. President Nelson deploys this approach to communication around the globe.
President Nelson is currently on a five-country ministry tour across South America. He began with a visit to Peruvian President Martin Vizcarra. With a great deal of political uncertainty, due to corruption and scandal in the highest levels of the judiciary in Peru, it would have been easy to cancel or cut short the scheduled meeting between the two leaders.
President Vizcarra soon found in President Nelson a world leader who came with kindness, compassion and understanding along with a desire to provide care for the Peruvian citizens, especially the children of the nation. President Nelson met Vizcarra in a side-by-side manner and communicated in a way that both made sense and conveyed that these two leaders were both committed to improving the lives of the people of Peru. What could have been a brief, formal and potentially awkward meeting turned into a meaningful conversation and an extended tour of the presidential palace.
Standing before the large crowds in Peru and Bolivia, President Nelson offered a profound question and an incredibly powerful communicating statement to the audiences, “Con su permiso, quiero hablarles en Español" ("With your permission, I would like to speak in Spanish").
In graciously and humbly asking for permission to speak in the language of the people present, President Nelson showed he valued who they were, recognized where they were and respected the culture and communities the crowd represented. He was asking for the opportunity to come into their world for a conversation. The spontaneous eruption of applause confirmed that President Nelson was being invited in for an “alongside” kind of conversation that would be meaningful and even transformational to the listeners.
Underneath the stadium prior to the Peru devotional, a small group of teenagers gathered in a makeshift room to have a conversation with President Nelson. One young girl asked a challenging question, “What do I do if my parents are no longer active in the church?” Her heartfelt and earnest question stilled the room. There were many answers that could have been offered. President Nelson, alongside and in a place where this young woman’s heart was, communicated in a way she could understand by sharing his own experience of growing up in a home that wasn’t centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He then offered specific examples of how it would sometimes be hard, with no guarantee of success, but that her example and righteous living would be worth it.
In Bolivia, with a crowd of more than 9,000 in attendance, President Nelson invited all of the children to stand and sing him the song, “I am a Child of God.” As the children began to sing, President Nelson immediately motioned to his wife, Wendy, and to Elder Gary E. Stevenson and his wife, Lesa, to join him at the podium and experience the singing of the children. Together they all listened.7 comments on this story
When the song ended, President Nelson came alongside the Bolivian children and spoke to them in a way that would make sense to them. First he thanked them and said that he would never forget their singing to him. Then he told them to never forget the words to the song they had just sung to the prophet and one of the twelve apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ.
President Nelson wasn’t telling any of these people what to do or how to think. He simply invited them to join him in a side-by-side conversation from wherever they were. Transformational communication with children, teenagers, adults and even leaders of nations happens when a leader chooses to communicate powerfully by persuasion.
This week the road to Emmaus runs right through South America.