Gordon B. Hinckley - World Leader
by Paul A. Schlag

"If you believe, as a lot of Americans do, that this country is going to hell in a handbasket, spend some time, as we did, with the people who run the Mormon Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints". Mike Wallace, an investigative reporter for "60 Minutes" made the remark at the beginning of his interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, President and Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


On June 23, 1910, Gordon Bitner Hinckley was born to Bryant and Ada Hinckley.  He grew up in the Salt Lake City area and had one brother and three sisters.  Of his parents, Gordon said, “I had a good father and mother.  My father was a man of education and talent.  He was respected in the community. . . . My mother was a gifted and wonderful woman.  She was an educator; but when she married she left her employment to become a housewife and mother.  In our minds she was a great success” (Crocket, 1999).

In June 1932, Gordon graduated from the University of Utah and received a Bachelor of Arts degree, with a major in English and a minor in ancient languages. He had plans to attend Columbia University School of Journalism, but gave up the chance to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Sadly, his mother died while he was a university student. 

Mormon missionaries pay their own way, and Gordon’s family paid for his mission to England, one of the most expensive missions in the world at the time.  This was in the bottom of the Great Depression.  The bank that held Hinckley’s life savings failed, so his father and brother supported him while on his mission.  They also found a small savings account that Gordon’s mother had kept, and this helped pay for his mission. 

Gordon became discouraged while serving as a missionary in England.  He wrote, “Those first few weeks, because of illness and the opposition which we felt, I was discouraged.  I wrote a letter home to my good father and said that I felt I was wasting my time and his money. . . He wrote a very short letter to me which said, ‘Dear Gordon, I have your recent letter.  I have only one suggestion, forget yourself and go to work’” (Crockett, 1999).  Gordon now says, “That July day in 1933 was my day of decision” (Crockett, 1999).

When Gordon returned from his mission, he received a job from the church and in subsequent years, he worked his way up through the hierarchy of the church.  On June 15, 1995, Gordon B. Hinckley was appointed the Prophet, Seer, Revelator and President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  He became the 15th President of the Church.

When Gordon was born, there were nearly 400,000 members of the church in sixty-two stakes and twenty-one missions.  There were 933 missionaries serving throughout the world and there were four operating temples. (Dew, 1996, p. 23).  In April of 1999 there were 10,752,986 members of the church 2,542 stakes and 333 missions in 161 countries.  There were 58,593 missionaries throughout the world (Watson, 1999).  Currently there are 100 operating temples, with 11 under construction and 10 in the planning stages (LDS Church Temples, 2000).  Rodney Stark, of the University of Washington, researched the growth of the Mormon Church and predicted that, “in about 82 years Mormon membership worldwide will be 260 million” (King, 1998).


What is the secret of this growth in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – well, a lot of it is due to the leadership of President Gordon B. Hinckley.  In his book “Standing for Something”, Gordon B. Hinckley lists ten virtues and offers suggestions for cultivating each of these vital virtues.  This paper will consider Hinckley’s life and teachings surrounding these virtues.  Because he has fostered the virtues of love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness and mercy, thrift and industry, gratitude and optimism in his own life, and successfully inspired others to cultivate these same virtues, he is a successful leader. 


Gordon B. Hinckley grew up in an environment of love.  In this setting he learned the powerful principle of unconditional love.  Of this upbringing, Gordon said, “In that old home we knew that our father loved our mother . . . I have no recollection of ever hearing him speak unkindly to her or of her.  He encouraged her in her individual Church activities and in neighborhood and civic responsibilities . . . Her comfort was his constant concern.  We looked upon them as equals, companions who worked together and loved and appreciated one another as they loved us” (Crockett, 1999).  This atmosphere of love instilled within Gordon a tremendous ability and capacity to love.

President Hinckley leads a church that openly encourages helping the needy.  In an interview with Larry King (1998), the host asked, “You require helping people less fortunate, right?”  Gordon replied, “Yes, sir, we do.”  Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are asked to go without food and water for 24 hours the first Sunday of every month.  They then give the money they would have spent in that period to an ecclesiastical leader who distributes it to the needy.  This program provides opportunities to 11 million church members to give of their substance to the less fortunate.  Hinckley and the church also respond to crises all over the world with food, clothing, supplies and training (Wallace, 1996).  The President also heads a welfare program for church members.  Farms are setup in certain areas and church volunteers and church welfare recipients work on the farms and produce food that is then canned and given to those who need it.  The church members can buy these foods and the proceeds go to helping the poor.

President Hinckley travels the world at a “frenetic pace” and “[packs] his schedule as tightly as possible, and [is] simply indefatigable” (Dew, 1996, p. 454).  He does this that he might take the Gospel of love to the entire world.  He is constantly traveling to speak and meet with missionaries, members of the church government officials and world leaders.  He has visited one hundred and sixty one different countries with his message of peace and love.  Of him, Neil A. Maxwell said, “President Hinckley has unusual ability and mobility that are allowing him to cover the planet in an unusual way” (Dew, 1996, p. 547). 

The message of love that Gordon B. Hinckley has taken to the world is that love is, “ . . . unyielding and unchanging.  The virtue of love changes lives – ours as well as those of everyone with whom we come in contact.  It is the virtue that has embedded within its precincts the power to have the most lasting good” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 11).  Surely, Gordon B. Hinckley loves and strives to serve all people.  This love is the foundation of his success and leadership. 


Of honesty, Gordon B. Hinckley wrote, “Some may regard the quality of character known as honesty to be an unspectacular virtue and an ordinary, pedestrian topic for contemplation and consideration . . . . [However], without honesty, our lives disintegrate into ugliness, chaos, and a lack of any kind of security and confidence” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 15).  President Hinckley emphasizes the importance of being honest.  He wrote, “Very simply, we cannot be less than honest, we cannot be less than true, we cannot be less than virtuous if we are to keep sacred the trust given by those who have gone before us, or if we are to merit the trust and confidence of those with whom we live, work, and associate” (Hinckley, 2000, pp. 26-27).  The aforementioned excerpts support the principle that honesty is the founding virtue of familial and communal society.

Let us then consider Gordon B. Hinckley’s honesty as seen by someone with whom he lives, works and associates.  His beloved wife, Marjorie says of Gordon, “He had wonderful integrity, you never had to worry about what he said or what he did” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, [film], 1995).  Certainly Gordon B. Hinckley is an honest leader with great integrity.


“We advocate strongly and seriously adherence to moral standards. . . . We cannot expect a great and good society unless morality resides in people”, said President Hinckley (Dew, 1996, p. 344).  Gordon B. Hinckley is a strict advocate of morality and believes that “right is right, and wrong is wrong”.  He challenges all those with whom he comes in contact to, “. . . lift our thoughts above the filth, to discipline our acts into an example of virtue, to control our words so that we speak only that which is uplifting and leads to growth.  These are the steps toward personal purity and virtue. . .” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 41).  By controlling and filling our thoughts, emotions and actions in virtue we gain true peace and freedom.  We also have great strength of character and happiness.  President Hinckley wrote “Both experience and divine wisdom dictate that moral virtue and cleanliness pave the way that leads to strength of character, peace of mind and heart, and happiness in life” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 31).  Truly, Gordon B. Hinckley is a model of morality and preaches the path of true peace and freedom through morality.


Gordon B. Hinckley defines civility as, “the essence of courtesy, politeness, and consideration of others.  All of the accomplishments in the world will not count for much unless they are accompanied by marks of gentility, of respect for others, of going the extra mile” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 47).  Gordon learned a lesson of civility as a young, five year old boy.  One day, as he sat with his friends, an African American family walked by and he made some disparaging remark.  His mother overheard and proceeded to give Gordon and his friends a lecture about civility.  She explained that there is neither inferiority nor superiority in this world and that all men and women are children of God.  Since we are all brothers and sisters, we have an obligation and responsibility to respect and help one another (Hinckley, 2000, p. 47).  This lesson regarding civility has stayed with President Hinckley throughout his life. 

Indeed Gordon B. Hinckley is civil to all people, no matter their faith or race.  In answering questions at the National Press Club, President Hinckley responded thus to a question regarding other faiths, “Oh, I think they all do good.  I believe that.  I have many friends of other religions, and I am satisfied that they are very conscientious, good people who are trying to do good.  I appreciate that” (Deseret News, 2000).  In an interview with Larry King (1998), Hinckley also said this to people of other faiths, “You develop all the good you can.  We have no animosity toward any other church.  We do not oppose other churches.  We never speak negatively of other churches.  We say to people: you bring all the good that you have, and let us see if we can add to it.”  He definitely harbors a philosophy of civility.

In a 1996 speech to students at Brigham Young University, Gordon spoke about civility as it relates to divorce.  “Put the comfort and happiness of your companion and your children ahead of your own. . .”  Hinckley sums up civility by saying, “Caring for others, seeing and reaching beyond our own wants and comforts, cultivating kindness and gentility toward others from all of life’s situations and circumstances – these are of the essence of civility, a virtue to be admired, a virtue to be acquired” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 58).  President Hinckley is a successful leader because unequivocally treats people with civility.


Gordon B. Hinckley was reared in learning.  His parents were both educators and firmly believed in education and learning.  Gordon recalls,

“When I was a boy we lived in a large old house.  One room was called the library.  It had a solid table and a good lamp, three or four comfortable chairs with good light, and books in cases lining the walls.  There were many volumes. . . We were never forced to read those books, but they were placed where they were handy and where we could get at them whenever we wished.  There was a quiet in that room.  It was understood to be a place of study.

There were books of history and literature, books on technical subjects, dictionaries, a multivolume encyclopedia, and an atlas of the world.  There was an environment of learning.  I would not have you believe that we were great scholars.  But we were exposed to great literature, great ideas from great thinkers, and the language of men and women who thought deeply and wrote beautifully (Crockett, 1999).

Gordon B. Hinckley has loved learning all of his life.  In his role as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he is the Chair of the Board of Directors for Brigham Young University, Ricks College and Brigham Young University Hawaii.  He said this to students of Brigham Young University in 1996, “How great is your responsibility, how compelling your trust, to give your very best effort during the season that you are here.”  He believes that we need vigorous students today to shape tomorrow’s righteous leaders.  He believes that education holds a higher purpose than merely gaining knowledge.  In the same speech he said “If this university meets the purpose for which is maintained, then you must leave here not alone with secular knowledge but, even more important, with a spiritual and moral foundation that will find expression to improve the family, the community, the nation, even the world of which you will be a part.”  An education is the “. . . place to prepare yourselves, not only for your chosen academic discipline but in a much larger sense, and possibly a much more important sense, to be a man or a woman who will rise above the mediocrity of his or her surroundings and stand up for what is good and decent.”  President Gordon B. Hinckley deeply believes in the power and virtue of learning.           

He does not, however, believe that learning must only take place in institutions and should cease at a certain age.  He writes, “No matter how old we become, we can acquire knowledge and use it.  We can gather wisdom and profit from it.  We can grow and progress and improve – and, in the process, strengthen the lives of those within our circle of influence” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 59).  We must continually strive to learn and apply learning.  On the subject of learning, Hinckley finally says, “It is not enough just to live, just to survive.  It is incumbent on each of us to equip ourselves to do something worthwhile in society – to acquire more and more light, so that our personal light can help illuminate the darkened world.  And this is made possible through learning, through educating ourselves, through progressing and growing in both mind and spirit” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 67).  President Hinckley has been involved in and taught the power of learning his whole life.  Because of this desire to learn and share learning, he is a great world leader.

Forgiveness and Mercy

Gordon B. Hinckley believes that forgiveness and mercy are twin virtues.  Mercy is the motivational factor that leads us to forgiveness.  In contrast Gordon writes, “Hatred always fails and bitterness always destroys.  Are there virtues more in need of application in our day, a time marked by litigious proceedings and heated exchanges, than those of forgiving, forgetting, and extending mercy to those who may have wronged us or let us down?” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 69).  Gordon adheres to the Biblical principle of loving thy neighbors and thy enemies and doing good to those who curse you and despitefully use you.  He says, “It would become us. . . to reach out with a spirit of forgiveness and mercy and an attitude of love and compassion toward all, particularly those we may feel have wronged us” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 69).  President Hinckley proposes forgiving all men, regardless of what they have done.

When asked by Larry King (1998) about the President Clinton scandal, the Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had this to say,

“Well, I feel very sorry for him in the first place.  Here’s a man of great talent and capacity who has evidently just hurt himself so seriously that it must be a terrible thing for him.  Personally, I forgive him.  The Lord has said, I, the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive.  But of you, it’s required to forgive all men.  And in that sense I forgive him of any offenses committed against me.  But he still has accountability.  He’s accountable to the Congress.  He’s accountable to the people of the United States who elected him.  He’s accountable to God.”

What a tremendous example of forgiveness.  Thomas S. Monson, who serves with Gordon B. Hinckley says this of him, “He is quick to forgive any. . . President Hinckley is always the first to extend the hand of forgiveness to those who may have strayed. . .” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, [film], 1995).  In humble plea, Hinckley exhorts his followers “Let us be more merciful.  Let us get the arrogance out of our lives, the conceit, the egotism.  Let us be more compassionate, gentler, filled with more forbearance, patience, forgiveness, and a greater measure of respect one for another.  In so doing, our very example will cause others with whom we associate to be more merciful. . .” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 78).  Truly, Gordon B. Hinckley is a great leader because of his capacity to love his enemies and forgive others for their weaknesses.

Thrift and Industry

From his childhood, Gordon’s parents instilled a great work ethic in him.  He recalls, “There was a big lawn with many trees that shed millions of leaves, and there was an immense amount of work to be done constantly. . . . I learned a great lesson from [our] furnace: if you wanted to keep warm, you had to work the shovel.  My father had an idea that his boys ought to learn to work in the summer as well as in the winter, and so he bought a five-acre farm which eventually grew to include more than thirty acres” (Crockett, 1999).  He further recalls, “We had a large orchard, and the trees had to be pruned each spring. . . . We learned a great truth – that you could pretty well determine the kind of fruit you would pick in September by the way you pruned in February” (Crockett, 1999).  From the experiences of work in his youth he concluded, “Industry, enthusiasm, and hard work lead to enlightened progress” (Crockett, 1999).  This work ethic has driven Gordon his whole life.  He is now 90 years old and vigorously heads a major world religion.  He travels all over the world speaking to people, dedicating buildings and uplifting others.  He conducts and speaks at semi-annual general conferences for the entire church.  “President Hinckley is tireless.  He’s got all of us running to keep up with him”, said Neil A. Maxwell, a fellow church leader (Dew, 1996,p. 547).

President Hinckley strives for others to learn of the benefits of thrift and industry.  He teaches, “Nothing of real substance comes without work.  Nothing happens in this world without work” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 80).  In conclusion, Hinckley writes, “Work and thrift are indeed virtues to be exploited, virtues to be admired, virtues vital to the stability of any healthy society, family, and individual” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 87).  Gordon B. Hinckley works incredibly hard for those whom he leads and he expects work and industry from them in return.


“Gratitude is the beginning of civility, of decency and goodness, of a recognition that we cannot afford to be arrogant.  We should walk with the knowledge that we will need help every step of the way” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 89).  Gordon B. Hinckley is grateful for those who came before him, for those who help him now, for God and for the gift of life.  In his book (2000), Hinckley expresses gratitude for the wealth of this land, for family and friends, for the wonders of the human body, for great music, for the human mind, for the growing accumulation of knowledge, for the wonders of the ages, for the beauty of the earth, for his companion, and for many other things.  Gordon B. Hinckley harbors a great spirit of gratitude.  At the conclusion of his chapter on gratitude he writes, “Finally, how grateful I am for life, for a feeling of purpose, for opportunities to serve, for freedom to move about as I please, and for living in this remarkable age.  I never get over the wonder of it.  Surely we are a blessed people, for which we ought to express our gratitude and then show the depth of that gratitude by the goodness and measure of our lives” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 97).  President Hinckley is a great leader because of his attitude of gratitude and his ability to help others to see the good things of life.


Perhaps Gordon B. Hinckley’s greatest asset and ability is to be optimistic in the face of pessimism.  Such a virtue was cultivated in the young Gordon as he graduated from college to face the Great Depression.  Of this trying time he said,

“[The Great Depression] was a time of great despair. . . The unemployment rate was above 30 percent when I was graduated in 1932. . . . You people of college age are inclined to be a little critical and cynical anyway, but that attitude was compounded in the 1930s by the cynicism of the times. . . . But it was also a season of gladness and a season of love.  Behind such thoughts, there was for me an underlying foundation of love that came from great parents and a good family, a wonderful bishop, devoted and faithful teachers, and the scriptures to read and ponder” (Crockett, 1999).

Also of the 1930s Hinckley stated, “Yet, notwithstanding [the Great Depression], there was much joy in our lives. . . we dated, we danced, we had a lot of fun while worrying about life, and somehow we made it and pulled through” (Crockett, 1999)  This is Gordon B. Hinckley’s way.  He states the hard things and then focuses on the positive side of every situation.  A glaring example of his optimism is evidenced as he describes his mother’s death.  “I also came to know something of death – the absolute devastation of children losing their mother – but also of peace without pain and the certainty that death cannot be the end of the soul” (Crockett, 1999). 

President Hinckley uses this same optimistic view in his leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In an interview with Larry King (1998) he says, “Ours is a gospel to lift people, to lift the world, to help people.”  He answered a question at the Press Club in a similarly optimistic manner.  “We just go on with our work, talking positively, teaching positively, working affirmatively, making the world a better place to live” (Deseret News, 2000).  His voice is a refreshing breath of fresh air in this age of polluted cynicism.  He is realistic, but chooses to focus on the positive side of every situation.  In optimistic conclusion, Gordon proclaims, “We have so much to live for, so much to hope for!  Humanity is essentially good.  We are all of one great family.  We can give strength to the voice of hope.  We can give thanks to those who work for peace.  We can give added attention to those who feed the hungry and bind up the wounds of conflict.  To the extent we cultivate this virtue of optimism, we will bless all the world’s peoples” (Hinckley, 2000, p. 107).  Because of his eternal optimism, Gordon B. Hinckley has blessed all the world’s peoples.


Mike Wallace and Larry King are just two of the many people who have seen the leadership capabilities of Gordon B. Hinckley and have been impressed.  Larry King, in his interview (1998) said, “He’s one of the distinguished religious leaders in the world” and “We’ll be back with a pretty good man, the president of the Mormons, Gordon B. Hinckley.”  At the conclusion of the interview, King made this final declaration, “Our guest has been Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – the prophet.”  Mike Wallace (Hinckley, 2000, p. vii-ix) confirms King’s opinion.  Of the prophet he said, “This warm and thoughtful and decent and optimistic leader of the Mormon Church fully deserves the almost universal admiration that he gets. . . . you’ll find an agile, thoughtful, and engaging mind bent on persuading us to ruminate, along with him, on old-fashioned values: by name, Virtue and Integrity.”  Because of his love, honesty, morality, civility, learning, forgiveness and mercy, hard work, gratitude and optimism, Gordon B. Hinckley is one of the truly great leaders of our time.



Crockett, David R. (1999).  From the Life of Gordon B. Hinckley.  Indirect [online].  Available at:  http://www.indirect.com/www/crockett/gbhlife.html.

Deseret News (2000).  President Hinckley responds to national media questions.  Deseret News Archives [online].  Available at:  http://www.desnews.com/cgi-bin/libstory_reg?dn00&0003200010.

Dew, Sherri S. (1996).  Gordon B. Hinckley: Go Forward with Faith.  Salt Lake City:  Deseret Book Company.

Hinckley, Gordon B. (1996).  Stand up for Truth.  BYU Devotional [online].  Available at:  http://advance.byu.edu/devo/Hinckley96.html.

Hinckley, Gordon B. (2000).  Standing for Something.  New York:  Random House.

King, Larry (1998).  Gordon Hinckley: Distinguished Religious Leader of the Mormons.  CNN Transcript [online].  Available at:  http://www.2think.org/lkl_00.shtml.

LDS Church Temples (2000).  Temple Statistics.  LDS Church Temples [online].  Available at:  http://www.ldschurchtemples.com/news.html.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (producer).  Gordon B. Hinckley, Man of Integrity [film]. (Available from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

Wallace, Mike (1996).  Gordon B. Hinckley:  Mormon Prophet.  60 Minutes [online].  Available at:  http://www.california.com/~rpcman/60min.htm.

Watson, F. Michael (1999).  Statistical Report, 1999.  Ensign [online].  Available at:  http://www.lds.org/conference/talk/display/0,5232,23-1-4-9,00.html.

Copyright © 2003 Paul A. Schlag