At age thirty-one Elder Lee became the youngest stake president in the church when he was set apart in 1930 to preside over the Pioneer Stake in Salt Lake City. His stake was a pocket of poverty and unemployment due to the hardships of the Great Depression. With his counselors, Charles Stanford Hyde and Paul Curtis Child, Lee confronted the suffering with ingenious leadership and organizational skills. His successful struggles to save his people from hunger and financial ruin led to his appointment in 1935 to organize a welfare program for the entire church.
In 1932, at the age of thirty-three, Harold B. Lee became a community leader when he was appointed to fill a vacancy in the Salt Lake City Commission. He was assigned to direct the Department of Streets and Public Improvements. A year later his political career was launched when he was elected to the same position. In subsequent years Utah citizens unsuccessfully sought to persuade him to run for governor or the United States Senate.