Much academic ink has been spilled on the topic of leadership. As far back as Plato and Plutarch, scholars have written on the topic. Academic theories such as Theory X and Theory Y or leader-member exchange theory have looked to identify the characteristics and behaviors of good leaders; great minds, both in and out of the Church, have explored the difference between leaders and managers.
William Willes, the author of this hymn, was an early member of the Church and one of the first LDS missionaries sent to India. His analysis of leadership revolves around a single principle: leading from the front.
“Come along, come along” is the call that will win,
To lead us to virtue and keep us from sin;
Most men can be led, but few can be driv’n
In shunning perdition and striving for heav’n.
We are all, at times, given stewardships—we may be looking out for a deacon’s quorum, a Relief Society, or a family we hometeach. In each case, we are tasked with leading others to virtue and keeping us from sin. Willes’s counsel to us in these stewardships is clear: We’ll have greater success when we lead, rather than coerce. By inviting others to “come along,” we invite them to a place where we are, instead of trying to push them a place we will not go.
Sometimes this can appear or feel hypocritical; for example, we may be asked to teach a lesson on a commandment we do not personally excel at following. But note the distinction—we can lead without having arrived at the destination. We can lead while we are on the path ourselves.
However, others know when we do not lead with real intent. When we lead with faith, somewhere along the path ourselves, the Holy Ghost confirms our testimony to those we teach. A lesson taught, advice given, or a testimony borne without our own intent to live that principle of the Gospel sinks into perfect insignificance, and no matter our eloquence will be wasted on those we try to lead.
There is tremendous precedent for leading from the front, or leading by example, for that is how the Savior leads.
“Come to me, come to me” sweetly falls on the ear,
The word of the Lord full of comfort and cheer,
To bind up the broken, the captive set free,
In the good time that’s coming, we hope soon to see.
The Savior is the ultimate leader, in that He does not ask us to go anyplace He has not gone. He led a sinless life, overcoming all temptation, setting the standard we all strive for. He was baptized, though he needed no remission of sins. He prayed to His Heavenly Father, setting a pattern for us also to communicate with God. Every aspect of His perfect life—His forgiveness, His compassion, His kindness toward the sick, poor, and hopeless—shows us how to live.
Even more so, when He suffered and bled for us in the Garden of Gethsemane, He took on suffering greater than any of us will ever encounter. He can effectively lead our souls because He has been further down the path than we can possibly imagine going. He knows our pains, our insecurities, and our regrets. He—even God—trembled because of pain, bled at every pore, and suffered both body and spirit. He did it for us. He did it so that we can follow Him.
The Savior is the greatest leader possible—the perfect leader—because He can lead from perfect experience and perfect intent. When the Savior beckons us to come, to pass through the fires of life and come where He is, we can trust His extended hand, and follow. He has forged, with His own blood, a pathway for us to follow.
And to us He simply says, “Come along.”