Lessons from the life of President Nelson: A conversation with Sheri Dew

Sep 11, 2021, 5:00 AM
President Russell M. Nelson fast pray...
FILE - In this Oct. 6, 2018, file photo, President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy, wave as they leave the morning session of a twice-annual conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

Best-selling author Sheri Dew has spent a great deal of time with President Russell M. Nelson and has written a biography about his life. She joined Inside Sources and Boyd Matheson to discuss lessons learned from his 97 years of life, on his birthday.

Related: Senior church leaders share lessons learned from the prophet

President Nelson was born Sept. 9, 1924. A well-known heart surgeon and medical researcher, President Nelson was sustained and set apart as prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Jan. 14, 2018.  

You can listen to their conversation below.

Sheri Dew on President Nelson

An uncorrected transcription follows:

Boyd Matheson
Today the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Russell M. Nelson is celebrating his 97th birthday and here to share some lessons and some observations of the prophet’s life as someone who’s looked at it very closely over the years, Sheri Dew.

She is the Executive Vice President and Chief Content Officer at Desert Management Corporation as well as a best-selling author and her book, which is a kind of a quasi-biography, I think it’s the way all biographies should be done, Insights from a Prophet’s Life Russell M. Nelson, and thanks for taking some time to join us today.

Sheri Dew
Thanks, Boyd, nice to be here.

Boyd Matheson
So I went back this morning. President Nelson, of course, has been president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for about three and a half years now. And I went back to that day he was introduced as the new president and prophet of the church, and I’m gonna read you a couple of headlines and have you respond, too, Sheri.

Sheri Dew

Boyd Matheson
The Wall Street Journal says he is not a reformer. Nothing, basically nothing to see here. NBC said this will be a status quo administration and the Washington Post said this would be a caretaker administration. On your mark, get set, go!

Sheri Dew
I remember too there was an AP story they said the same thing, we can’t expect much of difference out of Russell M. Nelson, he’ll be just like all of his predecessors. Wow. I think anybody who’s been an observer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during these last three and a half years, would say, okay, those journalists missed the mark on that one.

And honestly, I guess from the surface, you might have looked at that and said, this is a man into his 90s, what can you really expect? But if they had looked at his life at all, and understood that from the time he was a very young man, graduating and in with lightning speed from the University of Utah, and then going through all the steps to become not just a doctor, but a surgeon, and then a truly world-famous heart surgeon who helped you a lot of pioneering. You look and say, oh, my goodness, he’s done pioneering all of his life.

And I think, externally, as we’ve watched from the outside of the many, many changes that started happening in his administration, from the first General Conference. If you go back to that first General Conference, he was president, and there started to be change, and then another change, and then another change, you would see it.

I’ve also had the chance to watch that and to observe it personally because of various meetings that I’m in where he’s present. And he’s always wanting to hear your best ideas, wanting a discussion and wanting to talk about what could be, not necessarily what has been.

Boyd Matheson
So so important. It’s such a hallmark of his leadership. We were talking this morning with Amanda and Tim, and he’s one of those people who he walks in the room and everyone knows he’s the smartest guy in the room.

Some people who are like that they everyone leaves feeling a little bit dumber. But he is one that everybody leaves feeling elevated and challenged and engaged. Because he never says, ‘Oh, I knew that’ or ‘I’ve heard that or yeah,’ we did that before.

He wants to know he has a listening heart that I think is most extraordinary.

Sheri Dew
Yeah, he does. One of the things that is a lesson for anybody who has any kind of leadership responsibility, is that if you’re invited into the room, for whatever meeting it is, he wants to hear what you have to say.

Even if you’re the least, and I often I’ve been the least in the room. And if you don’t say anything, ‘Sheri, what do you think?’

And it’s everyone. He wants to hear from everybody. And so you see, I think that’s part of the reason we feel you leave feeling elevated because you feel like you’ve been included, and that you’ve kind of been respected frankly, by being invited. And then invited also to offer your opinion.

Boyd Matheson
Yeah, to be listened to in an amazing way. We know just in the first two years of, if you take out the year and a half of pandemic which is really restricted his pace, travel wise.

115,000 miles, 35 nations, six continents, and more meetings than I think anybody could count. The pace has been breakneck and yet he is looking at the future.

I remember his wife Wendy once noted that most people as they get older, they’re kind of looking back and reminiscing and looking back and he is forever, he’s become more infatuated with the future than ever before.

Sheri Dew
In fact, I’ve heard him say, and I’ve heard Sister Nelson say that when she’ll look back and say, ‘Well, remember when we did that back at the Rome Temple dedication, or when we were in such and such a country?’ He said, ‘Oh, let’s put that in our memory bins and go forward.’ And I’ve heard him say the same thing. ‘Well, that’s in our memory bins.’ We’re looking forward. It’s a very interesting and compelling hallmark he has as a leader.

Boyd Matheson
And that, that ability to not just be again, past or even today, it’s, you look at the change in the implementations, the modifications he’s made over the last three and a half years. And he’s always looking because it’s almost a personal thing for him in terms of, I have to personally continue to grow and improve and change, and the organization has to do the same.

Sheri Dew
So I’ll give you a little teeny example of that. a teeny little slice from his personal life.

Last night, kind of later on in the evening, I got a text from Sister Nelson, who said, ‘What do you think, most men turning 97 are doing on the eve of their 97th birthday? He downloaded a new piece of sheet music and, and spent time with piano learning it.’

My response to her was, well, let’s start with most men getting ready to turn 97 don’t know how to download a piece of sheet music, let alone are saying I want to learn a new number for who knows what reason.

But I think there is this insatiable or just maybe it’s just a natural instinct on his part, to keep doing new things and to keep learning new things.

Boyd Matheson
That’s so important. And before we let you go, because I know you’ve got places to go, you’ve got promises to keep as well. As you look back and look at some of those memory, bin items, anything jump out to you, maybe a wow moment or a surprise moment in his time as president of the church?

Sheri Dew
Wow, it’s hard to know where you’d even start on that you can talk about the temple dedication in Rome, which we were both there, Boyd.

And it was that was a remarkable experience. I think that maybe the thing I would say, and there are so many things we could say. But we’ve been we’ve both been in places in Brazil, where the audience was 40,000 people, we’ve been in soccer stadiums that were full.

We’ve seen that.

But we’ve also seen him in Vietnam, where it was a few hundred Saints and the same desire to be there, the same eagerness to understand what the peoples there are dealing with. The same love of the people.

I don’t think the size of the congregation has ever met much, just a desire to be with the people and try to communicate the love of the Lord to them.

And we’ve seen that so many times that it could almost become routine, except for it never feels routine. It always feels like we’re witnessing a very special interaction here, between the president of the church and members of the church, and friends of the church where beautiful moments are expressed.

I remember the time in New Zealand, where he met with the Imams representing the churches in Christchurch that have been bombed. And him reaching out to one of the men who’d spent a lot of time in the hospital and saying, will you give me the name of your doctor? I want to pray for both of you. There are those kinds of moments large and small, that speak to who President Russell M. Nelson is.

Boyd Matheson
And he hit something so important that it’s, of course, the membership of the church, and not just friends of the church, but people all around the world that we’ve seen, be touched or feel that love and that energy and that excitement that he brings, and again, doesn’t matter who it is where it is. He does bless the people. He is a world religious leader that so many great lessons, 97 years, and I think he’s still just warming up.

Sheri Dew
Let’s hope there are many more.

Boyd Matheson
The best is yet to come, Sheri Dew, thanks for joining us.

Sheri Dew
My pleasure. Thank you. Boyd.

Personal reflections about President Nelson

Boyd Matheson
I think that’s one of those lessons that stood out for me. I remember we were in South America, following his ministry tour there. And he was asked by someone was that hard for him to walk away and leave behind his medical practice, and hit — he didn’t pause for a nanosecond, and said, No, when I was called to be an apostle, I walked through the door and shut that door behind me and went on to what was next.

And that’s such a good message.

We spend so much time around doors.

Doors are always dangerous in our, in our personal lives.

Sometimes I see this happen in organizations as well, you kind of hang around the door, and you’re not quite sure you want to go through the door, because you’re not quite sure you want to leave behind what is behind, you’re not quite sure you’re committed to it, or that you really want it or that you’re ready for it.

Sometimes I see people go through the door, but then they kind of just hang out by the door. And sometimes if that’s someone who’s dealing with an addiction or a challenge of some kind or a bad relationship, they hang around the door, and they’re constantly going in and out and back and forth.

A lesson from President Nelson: Keep moving forward

And that’s and that’s both exhausting, and a recipe for disaster. And so that’s, to me, one of the lessons that I’ve learned from the life of President Russell M. Nelson, is that when you get to a door in your life, go through it, close it behind you and go on to what is next.

And just keep moving forward. I love the fact that the older he has gotten, the more future-focused he has become.

And if you missed this last segment, Sheri Dew shared with us the fact that last night, President Nelson was downloading a piece of piano music, a piece of sheet music, because he wanted to learn something new at 97. And that perpetual learning is such an important part, I think of both staying young and active and vibrant. But in really making a difference and finding joy and value and meaning in our lives. I think that’s so important.

We alluded a little bit to the fact that the Present Nelson is extraordinary at capturing very small moments, whether that’s with an Imam in New Zealand, we talked earlier today about a meeting a large congregation of over 10,000.

And as he was getting ready to walk off the stage in the stand, he stopped and went back and personally thanked the guy who was playing the organ, and the woman who had been leading the music for that event. He’s always mindful of individuals.

Noticing the little things

In the midst of all of the rush. And all of the hurry that goes with those kinds of international tours, meeting with heads of state meeting with political leaders and business leaders and other faith leaders, there’s always time and there’s always space, and he always notices those individuals, those little things that make all the difference.

We remember so many different things along the way, I remember distinctly being in Fiji and we were at a rugby field and this crowd at the end of the event began to sing this Fijian farewell song that if you haven’t heard, you should go look it up.

It is so powerful. And he always recognizes those kinds of moments, and just how significant they can be.

We’ve discussed previously on this show, how even when he was a heart surgeon when he was really pioneering so many of those things relating to the heart and heart surgery, that he would regularly get together with other doctors who were likewise pioneering, experimenting, doing research, and they would share everything that they had learned.

And in today’s day where you’d say, ‘Well wait, those people are your competitors! You’re competing for the same funding the same resources, the same grants to develop and do that research.’ And his response was always, ‘No, no, no, no, they weren’t my competition. Our competition was death.  That’s what we were trying to be I wasn’t trying to beat anyone else to you know, get a patent or get a review in a medical journal or an award of some sort or another.

‘It was all we were all on the same team.’

President Nelson leads by invitation

And so this abundance mentality that President Nelson has always had, I think is so important. I think also he has this style of leadership that again this side by side, linking and locking arms is such a great visual again, especially in today’s world, where so many leaders are trying to get ahead of or above other people.

And his is a side-by-side leadership of linking and locking arms. And I’ve seen him do that with heads of state with leaders from other faith groups and organizations. It is this, we’re in this together feeling that comes through that. And I think it’s also important to note that, that President Nelson, of course, is a leader who leads not by just dictate and mandate, but by invitations.

And that’s something that we’ve seen so much.

Over the course of the last three and a half years, he has invited not just members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but of people around the world, to unite in prayer and fasting, to come together and express gratitude in a different way. He’s invited people to learn for themselves, and a host of other things. And he does that because he understands it, because he’s lived that, and seen the results of what happens when you respond to invitations to do to take action to do better, to be better, to look at people a little bit differently.

One of his hallmark addresses of the love of God and the laws of God, and that those things are in harmony. So many of those are and discussion just not either-or, it’s this and that, and being able to see people in just a little bit different way.

There’s a way to listen better

So I think over the course of his 97 years, I think President Russell M. Nelson has really shown not just members of the church that he leads, but people around the world, that there is a way to lean in. There’s a way to listen better. There’s a way to do more, to become more and to really leave a legacy worth leaving.

I’m Boyd Matheson. Thanks for joining us on Inside Sources today here on KSL NewsRadio. And as always, as you go out into the world, make sure you see something that inspires, say something that uplifts, and do something today that’ll make a difference.

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Lessons from the life of President Nelson: A conversation with Sheri Dew