7 Habits of Highly Effective MormonsBy: hawkgrrrl
Many have asked why so many Mormons are effective business leaders, even before Mitt Romney snagged the GOP nomination. The late Dr. Covey wrote the best-selling book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989. It has sold over 25 million copies in 38 different languages. This book also spawned two decades of leadership seminars globally considered to be best-in-class. Some have claimed or even feared these principles are essentially regurgitated Mormon doctrine.
Are they right? Let’s take a look at the 7 Habits to ascertain if 1) they reflect Mormon doctrine or culture, and 2) are unique to Mormon doctrine or culture.
The Seven Habits are designed to take you through the Maturity Continuum:
- Dependence. Essentially, this is the state most people live their lives in, an ineffective state. They are unable to solve problems for themselves or to take accountability for their own actions. They have a victim mentality. In Book of Mormon terms, these are people who are “acted upon.” (2 Nephi 2:14)
- Independence. At this stage, people quit looking for solutions outside themselves, and start to act rather than be acted upon. They don’t worry about things outside their control. They have a plan for their lives and are committed to making it happen. Their “lives have meaning, purpose and direction” (from the Relief Society theme).
- Interdependence. At this stage, we learn how to work with other independent individuals to achieve community level results. The possibilities are unlimited because there is abundance when everyone gives more than they take. I am reminded of familiar hymn: “As sisters in Zion we’ll all work together . . . ” It also sounds a bit like a really idealized version of the United Order, one that was never a reality because there were many who were dependent mixed in with those who were independent.
It also explains why so many Mormons dislike the idea of government welfare while paradoxically supporting a huge welfare program. Ezra Taft Benson said it this way:
“The Lord works from the inside out. The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ would take the slums out of people, and then they would take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature.”
Clearly there are Mormon parallels here. That doesn’t mean that Mormons are the only ones who preach spiritual and economic self-reliance, but we definitely preach it. A lot.
Underlying the Seven Habits are two management principles:
- First manage yourself. Is this Mormon doctrine? Sure. “Work out your own salvation with fear & trembling.” Is it unique? Not really. Airlines say the same thing: “Put on your own mask before assisting other passengers.” Jesus said: “Physician, heal thyself.” Mormon Match: C
- We don’t manage others. We explain the outcomes, and they manage themselves. Joseph Smith famously said: “We teach our people correct principles, and let them govern themselves.” Of course, that also sounds a lot like a founding American sentiment: “Government by the people, of the people, for the people.” Mormon Match: A
Let’s take a look at each of the habits in more depth.
Habit One: Be Proactive
This habit encourages us to use our resources and initiative, not to be victims waiting to be told what to do. Likewise we are cautioned to focus on our circle of influence (what we control) and stop obsessing over our circle of concern (what we can’t control).
As Mormons we are told to be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of our own free will. We are told to magnify our callings. We expect a very high level of self-reliance from a young age. Our children are asked to speak in front of the Primary and after age 12, in front of the entire congregation. We send our young adults on missions to work long days selling what most people don’t want to buy. We expect people to pay a full 10% in tithing, regardless of how much money they have. We want people to have a garden and a year’s supply of food and water on hand.
Almost all the things that make Mormonism enduring and effective are related to the self-reliance we build from infancy in our people.
Mormon Match: A
Habit Two: Begin with the End in Mind
There is a model in this habit familiar to readers of the Pearl of Great Price’s version of Genesis. Things are created twice: mentally (or spiritually) first, then physically. Of course, the idea that the thought precedes the action is hardly unique to Mormonism. Building a house requires blueprints. Murder requires pre-meditation.
Mormons do have an obsession with having the answers to life’s mysteries, though. We like to believe we know how the story of our life will go. We have a Plan of Happiness. Our teens get patriarchal blessings with life advice and promises of how things will turn out for them. In fact, one criticism of Mormons could be that we are so focused on the “end” that we don’t enjoy the present fully enough or that we have no tolerance when things go awry. We might be wise to listen to the young Indian hotelier Sonny in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”
Mormon Match: B+
Habit Three: Put First Things First
Prioritization is clearly a key to being effective. But is this a Mormon trait? Mormons are told to put family first, even before church. We teach it, even though sometimes we don’t do it very well, such as when ward and stake leaders get stuck in endless meetings, leaving little time or energy for their families. A quick search on this one showed me that many Christian denominations also put family before church. Additionally, I’m not convinced that prioritization is as emphasized as self-reliance.
Generally speaking, I think anyone would be hard pressed to call prioritization a uniquely Mormon trait.
Mormon Match: C
Habit Four: Think Win-Win
This is about finding common ground and looking for ways to work together rather than at cross-purposes. It’s about having what Covey called an abundance mentality, the idea that there is plenty of good stuff to go around for everyone. It means that life is not a competition. We can all succeed together. It sounds like Ezra Taft Benson’s 1989 talk “Beware of Pride”: “Pride is essentially competitive in nature . . . The central feature of pride is enmity–enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowman.” Is it uniquely Mormon? No, since C.S. Lewis said many of the exact same things (although Benson did not cite him).
You know who else had an abundance mentality? Juliet: “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”
Both “win-win” and “abundance mentality” seem to have originated with Covey. The concepts are not uniquely Mormon.
Mormon Match: C
Habit Five: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood
Of all the habits, this one says it all (since it’s a full sentence). Is it a Mormon concept? Are we taught to listen more than we speak or to try to understand others before we try to be understood? While it’s great advice, I don’t clearly see the match on this one. As missionaries, we learned about building relationships of trust, but that’s also not the same thing. In fact, the type of listening we are often encouraged to do is selective (which is cautioned against in Seven Habits), giving more weight to input from leaders or scriptures, and shutting out worldly influences.
Mormon Match: D
Habit Six: Synergy
On the surface, this habit is about creative problem solving. It’s about questioning the conventional or traditional approaches, turning them on their ear, and incorporating completely different perspectives. You could say Mormonism itself does this by opening up new possibilities and re-envisioning Christianity without the baggage of 2000 years and countless sects and creeds. Joseph Smith said we should treasure up the good of other faiths, and in some ways this resulted in Mormonism being a synergistic approach to Christianity with an open canon and new revelation.
A religion focused on personal revelation should expect some outside the box thinking. And yet, I’m not sure most Mormons have figured this one out.
Mormon Match: C+
Habit Seven: Sharpen the Saw
This Habit is about recharging and finding balance between our various personal aspects: mental, emotional, social and spiritual needs.
I swear we did this exact same exercise in seminary. Word for word. In the mid-80s, well before the book was published.
Mormon Match: A+
Are the Seven Habits laced with principles that have Mormon parallels? Yes. Are those principles unique to Mormonism? Mostly not, although Mormonism may do a better job at articulating these specific points. And yet, practice of these habits is not religious in nature nor contradictory to other religious views, despite what a handful of crackpots and conspiracy theorists might say. Nor are Mormons so effective from their inherent Mormon-ness that Covey’s ideas are rote for us.
Since Mormons are not fabulous practitioners of their own doctrine (like most members of any faith), is there something cultural about Mormonism that creates business savvy?
What explains the Mormons’ success? . . . Mormonism–the only global religion to have been invented in the past 200 years–is in some ways more business-friendly than its more ancient rivals.
Mormons revere organization. They believe that God created the world out of chaos, rather than out of nothing. They also believe that men and women are capable of “eternal progression” towards “Godhood”, so long as they conduct themselves like busy little bees. The church is probably the best-organized in the world and certainly the most cost-effective. The president and his 12 advisers sit at the top like the board of a multinational. Below them, the church depends on a throng of lay volunteers. Church members begin to perform in public at the age of three. They become “deacons” at 12 and are given more demanding jobs as they grow older. The faithful are expected to give 10% of their pre-tax income to the church. No one knows how much money it has, but unofficial estimates are in the billions. . . .
. . . Missionary work provides young Mormons with a fluency in foreign languages that is rare in America. Mr Neeleman, for example, was born in Brazil and returned there as a youngster to do missionary work. His feel for the local culture, and fluent Portuguese, make it easier for him to adapt what he learned about running airlines in America to the Brazilian market.
Missionary work also teaches young Mormons to persevere despite harsh odds. They must sell a product for which there is almost no demand: an idiosyncratic version of Christianity that teaches that Christ made a post-resurrection visit to the United States, that the Garden of Eden may have been in Missouri and that drinking alcohol is a sin. After that, selling airline seats or life insurance must be a doodle.
There are many who dislike the corporate nature of the church, and I confess that I’ve been in plenty of meetings at church that felt more like a business meeting than a spiritual one. But perhaps that corporate nature is what makes Mormons comfortable within business organizations, more natural at figuring out organizational dynamics, and more optimistic about our ability to get things done. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the benefits of belonging to a corporate church that reveres organizational dynamics.
Dr. Covey takes principles that are intended for personal spiritual edification and applies them to a work context or to an organization at large. And he also does the reverse. Personally, I would have like to have had him on the Correlation Committee, cranking out new manuals. And if there are some who feel that Seven Habits is cult propaganda, that’s all the more effectiveness for us. (Oh wait, that wasn’t being very “win-win.”)