7 Habits of Highly Effective Mormons

By: hawkgrrrl
September 4, 2012

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 seaMy 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.”)


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8 Responses to 7 Habits of Highly Effective Mormons

  1. Jon on September 4, 2012 at 7:09 AM

    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 this is why I didn’t survive in the business world and had to come home to work. Also, probably why I dislike going to some meetings at church.


    Interesting comparison’s. I agree that many of the values are Christian in general.


    I think habit 1 is a good reason not to vote anymore, there are many other worthwhile things that can contribute to a better society than voting.

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  2. Bonnie on September 4, 2012 at 9:30 AM

    Great post. I don’t know why I had never made the connection between organization inside and outside the church before. I agree, this idea of order underlies everything about the plan and it makes sense to me that teaching how to be organized in church (spiritually as well as physically) would contribute to success elsewhere. I have to admit, I had previously made assumptions about moral certitudes or ethics being the primary factor that helps many succeed in business. You make a really good case for a mindset of order being the primary factor. Interesting.

    I don’t know that I agree that the values must be unique to Mormonism to be a perfect match. As far as I’m concerned, Mormonism is just the latest iteration of a truth that has cycled the world many times before, so it stands to reason it’s out there in many forms. That Covey managed to incorporate universal values that also exist within ideal Mormon systems is a triumph of universals and a wonderful way to connect to the world around us. So, I guess the grades lose me.

    I really like your point about the corporate church. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for awhile – this tension between the charismatic early church and the corporate benefits of the mature church – we need both, I think. You make a good case for the eternal nature of organizational behavior.

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  3. Paul on September 4, 2012 at 11:17 AM

    HG, thanks for this. I actually had written Covey off years ago as a repackager and remarketer of Gospel Truth, but I see that perhaps that’s not all he did.

    It’s interesting to me how few people (in and out of the church) actually master the princples he advocates, since on the face of them they are quite rooted in common sense.

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  4. Heber13 on September 4, 2012 at 4:04 PM

    Good post.

    First manage yourself. …Jesus said: ”Physician, heal thyself.”

    Also, Christ taught: Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matt 7:5)

    That teaching fits nicely with the inside-out management style.

    I also think we preach a lot about “synergy” by comparing our group to the fold of sheep, that are safer together than wandering or lost all alone. I would bump that grading up to a B as a fit for Mormon teaching, in my opinion.

    Perhaps the “corporate” style also comes from the fact we have “lay clergy” – a service organization, where men and women do things best they can, and many have experience and education on doing things very corporate like. It wasn’t as corporate when we were all farmers or pioneers. Back then, the style was more Lead/Follow and Sow/Reap.

    I know when I’m doing my callings with the Cub scouts, I plan my meetings with agendas…because that is how I do it every day at work.

    But is that uniquely mormon? Probably not. I go to other scout troups or cub meetings, and they are more trained and more organized than the LDS troops, IMO.

    For me, the biggest parallel with what I see Covey taught and what I think he took from gospel principles is that between stimulus and response, WE HAVE A CHOICE. We can be a part of working out our own salvation. We can choose to be a busy beehive to work for success, and have faith in the habits that lead to Celestial Success.

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  5. Chris on September 4, 2012 at 6:40 PM

    Thanks for the well-written post,HG. Stphen R. Covey’s principles are based on most major religions and the teachings of brilliant philosophers and are not exclusively LDS.

    Regarding habit #1, this concept is found in the Old Testament times when Joshua said, “Choose you this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house we will serve the Lord” and is also a powerful part of the Adam and Eve narrative.

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  6. prometheus on September 4, 2012 at 6:56 PM

    Not too much time to comment tonight, but it is very interesting to listen to Covey talk in his videos. His language and cadences definitely sound Mormon at times.

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  7. whizzbang on September 5, 2012 at 4:32 PM

    Two points I have. the first is I wouldn’t want any Mormon thinking that if the failed in the business world or are failing in business that they aren’t good Mormons. Secondly, since the advent of blackberries, ipods, tablets and basic handheld technology Franklin Covey has become unheard of and eclipsed by all that stuff.Do people still use the planners anymore? I haven’t heard a whisper about Covey since I went out on my mission in 1998, like whatever happened to that guy? Yet the church continues to grow and doesn’t talk about leadership much anymore. It has moved on from that fad

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  8. Cory Raven on March 26, 2013 at 6:53 PM

    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. Your words..! Ummm not true..! The Raelian Movement started in 1974..!

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