Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Leadership Hustle

Previously: My Favorite Anti-Mormon

Around the middle of the 20th century, about the time N. Eldon Tanner was leapfrogged into Church leadership due to his talent for raising money, the LDS Church began a gradual shift in the type of men selected for leadership roles. As the old theologians died off, they were often replaced by men with backgrounds in business, law, and finance. These former executives may not have been accomplished scriptorians like their predecessors, but they had other skills the Church needed at the time.

This was the era of The Organization Man, when terms like "effective leadership" and "fast track to management" were buzzwords heard in the corporate boardrooms where many of these future Church leaders were plucked from. And the leadership track was working in those venues, no doubt about it. Train your employees in the art of effective leadership, and your entire company will prosper.

You won't get an argument from me on that. In the business world, effective management training at all levels is essential for the success of any company. I've been there, done that, and had a small share of success.  I'm pro free enterprise, so I understand how important it is for any large company to have someone -often several someones- trained to inspire the employees below them to stay motivated. Effective leadership in business is the key to getting things done properly and efficiently. Leaders instill vision. No vision, and your business goes stagnant.

The only problem with the leadership track is that not every management technique that works in the corporate world can properly be adapted to a church.  Where there are leaders there must be followers, and in most companies even the leaders are following leaders of their own, each manager accountable to a manager above him, all the way up to the CEO.

But the church was never intended to operate under a top down paradigm. There isn't supposed to be anyone in the church "below" anyone else, so who is the leader supposed to be leading? All are alike unto God, our scriptures teach us, and no man is authorized to manage, direct, or impose his will on another.

The Church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be a level field where no man holds title or position above another (Alma 1:26). Jesus Himself defines His church as a community of like-minded individuals with a common bond, i.e. all have repented of their sins and come unto Him (D&C 10:67). That community of believers is the church. So if the church has a leader, that leader is Jesus Christ and him alone. There is no accommodation in scripture for members of the body of Christ to follow anyone except their heavenly King. Scripture emphatically and repeatedly warns against it.

In Joseph Smith's day there were callings in the church, to be sure, but none ranked above the other in importance the way they do today.  The LDS church in the Kirtland/Missouri/Nauvoo era was patterned after the primitive Christian church, where Paul tells us Jesus called some of the members to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). But these were not management positions. These callings implied a responsibility to serve their brothers and sisters, not to manage and direct them.

If you doubt things are different in our day, you need only consult this statement that was issued by the Church PR department. [1]
The Church is led by 15 apostles. The most senior apostle is the president of the Church, and he selects two other apostles as counselors. These three function as the First Presidency, which is the highest governing body of the Church. Twelve others form the Quorum of the Twelve — the second-highest governing body of the Church. Together, the First Presidency and the Twelve oversee the entire Church. (emphasis mine.)
[1 ] If you wonder why a church needs a PR department, you're beginning to ask the right questions. 

The prophet Joseph was once asked how he governed such a disparate group of people. He seemed to think the question was a foolish one, because he answered, "I teach them correct principles and they govern themselves."

Setting aside for a moment that Joseph Smith would have rejected the notion that church members would require a first presidency to act as overseer to them, when we read that statement from the PR department we should be asking another question: why are the Twelve Apostles declared to be "the second highest governing body of the Church" at all, seeing as how our founding prophet strictly prohibited them from getting anywhere near church government?
"The Twelve will have no right to go into Zion or any of its stakes and there undertake to regulate the affairs thereof where there is a standing High Council. But it is their duty to go abroad and regulate all matters relative to the different branches of the church." (Joseph Smith, Kirtland Council Minutes, quoted in William Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt, Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism's Original Quorum of the Twelve, pg 85-86)
The modern institution that calls itself "The Church"(TM) proudly furnishes a corporate flow chart showing the president of the church at the top, flanked by his two counselors, with a considerable list of officers and managers below them.


Do you notice anything missing from that chart? How about the High Council? Where did they go?

Answer: After the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum, Brigham Young threatened members of that body with excommunication if they would not defer to his wishes, and eventually abolished it altogether because the High Council stood in the way of his ambition to lead the church.

If there was an entity actually authorized to govern the affairs of the church, it wasn't the First Presidency, and it wasn't the Twelve Apostles. It was the High Council, which acted both as a court to settle disputes, and a decision-making body over Church affairs:
October 21, 1839; Monday.  The High Council met according to adjournment of the 20th inst Oct 21st 1839 -1st. Shall Joseph Smith Jun go to Washington D.C. or not- Answer It is voted as follows viz 5 voted to have him go and 2 voted for him not to go. (John Dinger, The Nauvoo City Council and High Council Minutes, pg 342)
This is instructive because it reminds us that even the prophet himself had to go before the council to seek approval in some matters; he was not some Grand Poobah in the church with carte blanc authority to do as he wished. (You may recall if you read my post on tithing that Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon went before the High Council to request a salary, which was ultimately denied.)

There is to be no hierarchy in the church if the church is run properly. Back then, unlike today, the Twelve apostles did not give instructions to the Seventies, and the First Presidency did not hold rank over the Quorum of the Twelve or the Quorum of Seventy. All offices were completely independent of each other. The Lord wanted it that way because the Lord understands the proclivity of men to overstep their boundaries.

In the 1840's Church affairs were governed by the High Council, and priesthood authority came not through the president but through the Patriarch. Today, however, both offices have been quietly (some would say secretly) abolished without any revelation received on the matter. That's too bad, because those two offices were the least threatening to the well-being of the members. But those offices were a stumbling block to those desiring control over the church, so it's easy to see why they had to go. Today the church that Jesus Christ set up through His prophet has been supplanted with the corporate leadership model.

In November of 1923, under the advice of attorneys, Church President Heber J. Grant converted the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from an independent religious society founded under the laws of God, into a legally recognized corporation chartered under the laws of the United States government. The advantage of incorporation was that the Church could now legally operate free from the constraints imposed by scripture. President Grant even legally changed the name of the church from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to The Corporation of the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, conveniently neglecting to mention the name change to the members, as well as forgetting the Lord's warning in 3rd Nephi that "if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man."

But no matter. This was a new era, a time when the Church would soon be boasting of becoming a worldwide church,  And a worldwide church would need dynamic new leaders to help it meet the challenges of the 20th Century. That meant adopting worldly programs if necessary to meet those needs.

Bring 'Em Young
In volume 2, at page 818 of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism, we are told that "leadership training of LDS boys and girls begins at a very young age." Why it would be necessary to have twelve-year-olds preside over each other as Deacons and Beehives was something I never grasped the importance of at the time, and I still don't. I was a counselor to the Deacon's Quorum President back in the day, and all three of us -president and counselors- felt the callings were a meaningless joke, since our teacher -excuse me, I think I meant to say "Deacon's Quorum Advisor,"- held all the knowledge and all the power over us and every other pubescent goof-off in the room.  I'm convinced today that these titles are nothing but a ploy to get the boys and girls acclimated to the leadership track at an early age.

The word "Priesthood," which actually has nothing whatever to do with managing or governing, has now come to be synonymous with "Leadership." And leadership implies management and governing skills.  Before long every young man who was ordained to the priesthood was taught that the way to "magnify his priesthood" -a phrase with no discernible meaning- was to aspire to leadership within the church.

To be fair, all of us were taught that it was not appropriate to "aspire" to church leadership. That would be unseemly.  But those offering us that caveat were speaking out of both sides of their mouths, because even as we were being taught to be humble and docile and look not to the ways of the outside world, we were encouraged to read books on leadership by general authorities that were based completely on their former successes in the outside world.

Foremost among these general authorities was Sterling W. Sill, a highly successful former insurance executive who published over thirty self-help books while he held office in the church, and nearly all of them meant to turn young priesthood holders into effective leaders. His books had such titles as The Law of Success, The Way of Success, How To Personally Profit From The Law of Success, and his hefty three volume magnum opus, Leadership, a set that was required reading for any young priesthood holder who hoped to make it to the celestial kingdom.

The year before I left on my mission, apostle Paul Dunn came out with a huge Church bestseller titled The Ten Most Wanted Men. Every Mormon man who aspired to personal greatness read that book. It described the type of future leader "most wanted" by the Church (and perhaps some future employer), and taught the reader the steps necessary to cultivate those qualities within himself. Such a leader would be "The man who can counsel others," "The man who knows how to delegate," "The man who knows how to call others to leadership opportunities," and so on. Given what we later found out about the author, it should come as no surprise that the list did not include "The man who is scrupulously honest."

In the face of all these books, lesson plans, and fireside talks encouraging us to excel as leaders, it was not always easy to comport oneself with the requisite humility when finally given a calling. Anyone who served a mission in the 1970's as I did knew that being called to be a District Leader, Zone leader, or Assistant to the President was a grand promotion that set you apart and above your fellows in the field. You couldn't help but be proud of your new calling. It's the first thing the young Elder wrote home about. And when he returned home it was often the thing he listed at the top of his resume under "EXPERIENCE."

And what was the function of these mission leaders? Very similar to the function of a leader in the the world of commerce. The District Leader had the responsibility of calling the missionaries in his district to get a report on the numbers for that week: how many hours did you tract, how many Books of Mormon did you place, how many referrals did you get from the members, how many discussions taught, and how many baptisms (if any)?

The District Leader would then phone his leader, the Zone Leader, and report all the numbers he got from the missionaries in his district. Then the Zone Leader would phone his leaders, the Assistants to the President, who compiled all the totals and submitted them to their leader, the Mission President. The Mission President then reported those totals to his leader, who was some member of the Quorum of Seventy back in Salt Lake. And so it went all the way up to the Quorum of the Twelve.

The bottom-line question in any corporate business is "how many products did we sell?" In the boardroom of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, that question translated as, "how many baptisms did we get?"

If the total number of baptisms in my mission are lower this quarter than they were the previous one, my mission president knows he's going to be leaned on by corporate to get those numbers up. So he'll bring in the AP's and tell them they have to do better; the AP's in turn will lean on the ZL's to do better; the ZL's will lean on the the DL to do better; and the DL will ride my butt to get out and do more tracting.

And that's what passes for "leadership" among Mormon missionaries.

I'm sorry to say that as a missionary my focus was not on how many people I had helped bring to Christ, but on how many people I could persuade to join my church. The leadership training we received as missionaries was virtually identical to the training Sterling Sill gave to his insurance salesmen back when he was at New York Life: it's a numbers game. The more people you approach, and the more people who say no, the greater the odds that ultimately you'll come across a prospect who says yes. You just have to be willing to make it through dozens or hundreds of "no's" before you finally get that sale. So the secret to becoming a successful missionary is you stay out there and keep knocking on doors until you get a fish on the end of your line.

I won't say my mission was a waste of time because it wasn't. About half the people I helped to convert remained faithful in the gospel. But I recall the many times I met people who knew Christ better than I did, but who had no interest in joining my church. I could have found common ground with so many of these good people, and I would have most certainly been edified by accepting their hand of friendship and engaging in fruitful discussions about God's love, with no pressure to get them to change.

But I failed to do that. My role as a missionary, as I understood it, was to get people to join my church, and every moment wasted talking with an already converted Christian who held no interest in joining was time that could be better spent searching for that elusive "golden contact." So my companion and I might teach one or two discussions to these committed Christians, but when it became obvious we just weren't going to close the sale, we would, in the lingo of missionaries, "dump them" and not go back.

Some of the leadership training I got through the church came in handy in my later professional life. But that's the sad irony, isn't it? If my goal was to find success in Mammon, I could have (and did) study these methods on my own. The Church should have been focusing on saving souls rather than training up an army of future business leaders. So although I did come out of it with management skills that served me in my professional life, in the end even that brand of success wore thin.

Because the sad truth is that leadership, even as taught within the Church of Christ, by its very nature carries with it the responsibility of imposing your will on others in ways that are sometimes harsh and unfeeling. If you aspire to leadership, hurting other people comes with the territory. Sometimes I was forced to fire someone who worked for me, not always because I wanted to, or even needed to, but because I had some leader of my own back at company headquarters who demanded it of me. Depriving other people of their livelihood was a function of leadership I did not much care for, so I eventually took up a line of work where the only person who ever got fired was me.

After all is said and done, the only self-help book that really made an impression on me in my youth was Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, which I don't think ever made it onto the Deseret/Bookcraft list of essential reading. That book taught me to treat everyone I meet with kindness, while some of the leadership techniques touted in books by church authorities preached kindness on the one hand, but subtle manipulation on the other.

I often wonder, had I not been constantly exposed to years of indoctrination into the importance of leadership within the church, if I might have sooner come to the realization that modern church leaders possess neither the gifts nor the authority God gave to Joseph Smith. Why had it never occurred to me to ask myself why I should look to their teachings the way I looked to the teachings of Joseph Smith, since none of them had ever had an audience with God the way Joseph Smith had?

These were men who purported to be the successors of the prophet Joseph Smith in every way, yet none of them ever received or conveyed a single revelation from God as Joseph Smith had. I looked to them as if every utterance from their mouths was divine. I put these undeserving men on pedestals and made them my idols for no other reason than they held high callings and station and leadership titles in the Church. I should have been more circumspect, but I blindly followed these men because they were my leaders and they told me to.

Today I follow Jesus Christ and no other. Leaders are for suckers.