The Pros and Cons of LDS Culture on Developing Leadership Skills

I have been thinking a lot about leadership lately, and I am wondering if the culture of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints helps or hurts when it comes to developing leadership skills.  I think there are things to say on both sides of this.  I would like to lay out my initial thoughts on this, and invite you to comment as well.  I will start with what I think are the pros, and then move on to the cons.

Pros

Public Speaking.  Dale Carnegie felt that public speaking was a fundamental skill for leadership and human relations.  The leadership courses he organized center around public speaking.  The LDS church provides many opportunities for its members to practice public speaking – whether it is giving talks in our worship services, teaching lessons, serving on committees, etc., we Mormons have some good opportunities here.  Definite plus.

Callings.  There are a lot of presidents in this church.  There are all kinds of classes, programs, quorums, etc., that all have their presidents, councilors,  and secretaries.  Many members have the opportunity to lead small groups of people.  These efforts will include planning meetings, having agendas, making assignments, communicating, and working and serving other people.  Definite plus.

Motivating others.  Working in a volunteer church or organization involves some pure leadership.  Since there is no pay, and no promotions (wink, wink), one must rely on other sources of motivation.  Can you get people motivated to do home teaching, missionary work, temple work, service projects, when there is no financial incentive to do so?  Sure, testimony and the spirit are at work at this as well, but a leader that can motivate without financial incentives behind her is something special.  Potential plus.

General People Skills.  We are a social group in a lot of ways.  Participating in the Mormon church gives one the opportunity to listen to others, help solve personal/family problems, show concern and understanding for others.  Definite plus.

Cons

Chain of Command.  At local levels, I would suggest that the church is more managed than it is lead.  Do what you are told and follow the manual is a clear message.  We should not be questioning our leaders, ignoring policies, or making waves.  We have grown up to rely on structure, instructions and presiding authority.  Again, this seems more like management by the numbers rather than leadership.  Possible negative.

Black and white thinking.  From my experience there are many Mormons who see things in black or white/right or wrong.  Many of us tend to make everything a moral issue.  I would think that this might hamper our ability to negotiate and compromise with others.  I know there are exceptions to this, but I think this would describe many of us.  Definite con.

Lack of Ambition.  I am not talking about work ethic here, I am talking about the desire to be in charge of others.  I think the church may do more to promote good followers rather than good leaders.  Many of us have seen up close what it is like to be the bishop or the president of some organization.  We have seen that these positions are often not what they are cracked up to be, and result in a lot of headaches.  And since many of us feel we should not seek out leadership callings in church, perhaps we should not seek out leadership opportunities at work either.  We might expect to wait for the leadership calling to come our way, other that go out and get it.

So what think ye about the pros and cons of leadership skills one gets from LDS culture?

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9 Responses to “The Pros and Cons of LDS Culture on Developing Leadership Skills”


  1. 1 jks November 28, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    I agree with a lot of your pros. As a SAHM, church gives me a lot of opportunities to be
    CREATIVTY – I enjoy substitute teaching in primary. I hate to think of kids being completely bored at church. I want to teach them the gospel but not torture them in the process.
    PROBLEM SOLVING – You often have to quickly think of Plan B when you are a volunteer organization. If you are a nursing mother with a calling you have to have a plan B. If someone doesn’t show up, you have to step in last minute. Whether you are the President or not, many people are willing to step up and take care of many different problems that need to be solved.
    PLANNING – Who? What? Where? How? All of these things need to be planned and then carried out efficiently. A good LDS volunteer learns from the experience and thinks “Next time I will………”
    MEETINGS – Sure, there are badly run meetings. But some leaders are awesome and meetings accomplish things!

    The only Cons are that sometimes people need better training. Either they aren’t naturally skilled or haven’t learned or they can’t learn on their own and have no good examples to emulate, etc. So you can have many people practicing poor leadership skills over and over and others following their example. You could say that the church needs to train people better but most people don’t want to be trained, or those who need it most are the ones who won’t show up or aren’t able to actually change.

  2. 2 Eric Nielson November 28, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    Thanks jks. Excellent points.

  3. 3 Paul November 28, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    As for your cons, they are all real-life issues: most business leaders must deal with a chain of command (unless a self-funded entreprenuer, I suppose, and even then, there are still regulators to worry about). Leadership within constraints is nothing new, and often requires greater skill than unfettered conditions.

    I would argue that some of the most passionate leaders have black-and-white thinking — others would call it laser-like focus on the leader’s goal to the exclusion of other things. Successful politicians get elected this way. Successful corporate turnarounds occur when a leader’s vision becomes so codified that the firm can only go in one direction.

    As for ambition, I think that the church does teach us not to aspire for position. Most “natural men” tend toward seeking power (cf: D&C 121), so at best there is some tempering. That said, it seems that those who seek leadership opportunities outside the church are often the ones called within the church to lead, as well. Perhaps in this case it’s because they bring that skill to church rather than getting it there.

  4. 4 Eric Nielson November 28, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    Paul:

    I largely agree with you. The cons were a bit of a stretch, but I wanted to throw some out there for discussion anyway.

  5. 5 Angie November 28, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    I agree with all of your points. A couple of additional thoughts:

    1) Theoretically, at least, leadership in the church is all about service.

    2) Leadership in the church does not have monetary rewards.

    3) The BYU admissions website states that over 90% of admitted students were in quorum or class presidencies. The fact that website quoted this statistic really rubbed me wrong. Why was this seen as an asset to admissions, when those presidency assignments are not supposed to be given only to upwardly-mobile BYU applicants with high ACT scores.

  6. 6 Eric Nielson November 28, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Thanks Angie. Great points.

  7. 7 jks November 28, 2011 at 11:44 pm

    Angie – The fact is that in 6 years of a youth program you are going to be called into a quorum or class presidency unless you are in a very strange ward.
    Really it is a way to show that most BYU kids attended church regularly at least part of their teenage years.

  8. 8 gundek November 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm

    “There are a lot of presidents in this church.”

    An honest question. Are these presidents empowered to lead?

  9. 9 Eric Nielson November 29, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I think that mostly they manage at the local levels. I think there is often some creativity available in how they manage. Also there is a ‘rubber meets the road’ aspect to local efforts. There is a lot of lattitude for how to help people, and who to help. So while local leaders do not declare doctrine or revelation, they do help and serve each other in meaningful ways.


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