Gordon B. Hinckley as a Manager

In his address during the Priesthood Session of General Conference, Gordon B. Hinckley mentioned that he received letters from people suggesting topics that should be covered in conference. I think that may be the understatement of the year. I can only imagine what church headquarters gets in the mail. President Hinckley is nice to address a couple of such topics, but I am glad he ignores much of what I guess he gets. While he talked I was ‘impressed’ about what President Hinckley, and all church leaders, do – and how they do it. Allow me to explain my take.

I work as a mechanical engineer and project manager for a machine builder. I have the responsibility from time to time of managing engineers and manufacturing personnel in special projects. One of the problems with nearly all engineers is that they tend to be arrogant know-it-alls. There is at least one exception that you are aware of, but in general it seems true. Managing engineers is a little like managing a group of cats. They all seem to think they know what the customer wants more than the customer does. They think they know what the company needs more than company leaders do. And they all think they can manage the project better than the project manager.

In project management you have the big three – scope, schedule and cost. And you have a responsibility to meet all three the best you can. When you work with a multi-discipline team one of the things you get are one-dimensional purists who consider themselves experts in their field. Purists tend to be inflexible and ignore anything not related to their area. They push for features that help their area of interest while ignoring the project as a whole.

For example, the mechanical engineer may want to have a durable mechanism that will last for many years. Steel is strong and cheap, and reliability is a good thing. The controls engineer wants things light-weight and low inertia so that high accelerations and decelerations are possible. This takes time to do and may compromise durability. Both people have a point, and are ‘right’ in their own way. So what are you gonna do? Well, the project manager needs to look at the project as a whole, review the scope (which is like the Bible of the project), and make difficult decisions based on the available information. It is often like being in the center of the rope in a tug-of-war. You can’t please everybody, and ultimately your responsibility is to the company. You must represent their interests. The company is not running an engineers playground where they get to do whatever they want. The scope must be followed, the schedule needs to be met, and there is only so much money.

I imagine this is much like what President Hinckley and other church leaders feel like from time to time. They have been called to represent the Lord Jesus Christ and His church. They have not been called to stand up for everyone’s special interests, topics, and doctrines. They have the scriptures and words of previous prophets as the scope, they have a budget, and there is only so much time available. They can not please everybody, and ultimately they represent the Lord.

I am sure that there are many in the church that feel that they know what members need more than the Lord or his chosen leaders do. I am glad for the feeling I have that the leaders of the church listen to the spirit more than to the noise of the members. One way to look at conference talks that seem much the same as previous conference talks is that our leaders are not driven like the waves of the sea and blown about by every wind of doctrine.

There have been interesting thoughts about leaders and managers. It is easy to have a distaste for managers. It seems to me the church has a leader, and that leader is Jesus Christ. It is his church. If that is the case should our church ‘leaders’ not actually be church ‘managers’ instead? Should they not get their direction from the ‘scope’ of this big ‘project’ known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? That scope being the scriptures and revelation. Should our prophets, seers, and revelatory think of themselves as leaders or managers?


10 Responses to “Gordon B. Hinckley as a Manager”

  1. 1 Dave April 4, 2006 at 8:27 am

    Eric, nice comment. I think they see themselves as leaders, not managers. On the other hand, they probably spend much of their time managing.

    I think Pres. Hinckley’s use of the “I received a letter from a good sister of the Church who lives on the East Coast” style is a technique for bringing effective storytelling into his remarks, and for gearing his counsel to the level of the individual. It certainly goes over better than some of the Twelve who frame their remarks like this: “In our recent discussions on the Church Single Adults Committee, …”

  2. 2 Eric April 4, 2006 at 8:41 am


    Thanks for your comment. I hope that this is the case, that GBH is using a rhetorical style in mentioning letters. I would hate to have him stressing out over every letter that floats by.

  3. 3 Rusty April 4, 2006 at 11:43 am

    Nice thoughts Eric. I’ve struggled at times with the way our leaders lead us but what helps me the most is trying to always take a step back and look at the big picture and imagine myself in their shoes and I can’t say I’d do things much differently. They are wonderful, inspired, sincere and dedicated men who truly want us all to follow the Spirit and make good decisions and be happy.

  4. 4 RoastedTomatoes April 4, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve often wondered if Hugh Nibley wasn’t directing a criticism at leaders of our church in his famous essay on leaders and managers…

  5. 5 C Jones April 4, 2006 at 2:42 pm

    I love Hugh Nibley and appreciate that talk, but I know that I fault others less when I’ve had to walk in their shoes for a while.

  6. 6 Dave April 4, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Say, I’m not fond of the new color scheme. Black print on khaki green doesn’t offer much contrast.

  7. 7 Ryan April 4, 2006 at 3:07 pm


    usually the headline is light gray but sometimes randomly goes dark.. don’t know why

  8. 8 Ryan April 4, 2006 at 3:27 pm

    Now I see that you are referring to the section with the text of our posts. What’s wrong with your eyes man? It looks absolutely stunning!

    Did J. Stapley send you here to say that because I made fun of BCC’s pink tint to him awhile ago?

  9. 9 Eric April 4, 2006 at 5:35 pm


    Thank you, I completely agree.


    I have heard that before. I have read that talk many times, I think it is referring more to business, military, career stuff. But, one never knows with Hugh.

    C Jones:

    Everyone likes Hugh Nibley. I share an empathy for those who lead this church. I don’t think I would trade places with them.


    I have to agree, I’m not fond of the latest color scheme.

  10. 10 the vinester April 9, 2006 at 8:44 pm

    What bothers me about letters that inspire his talks is How many times have we been told not to write church headquarters several. Yet people still do.

    You have home teeachers, quorom presidents and bishops. Why do people still right to church headquarters to people they don’t know when they know there bishops. It inspires talks however There are things only The Prophet can do give him time to do them and let local leaders handle problems.

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