The media has often taken note of the many highly successful Mormon business leaders. Mitt Romney, David Neeleman, Sheri Dew, Stephen Covey, Mary Crafts, and others demonstrate that something about Mormon beliefs encourages success in business. What is it?
Mormons, a nickname sometimes applied to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, have a strong pioneer heritage. Whether or not individual members have pioneer ancestors, they are taught from an early age the values those pioneers held. They note the work ethic, the willingness to sacrifice for the greater good, and the desire for self-sufficiency. They learn how Joseph Smith, the first Mormon prophet, received only a few years of formal schooling as a child, due to living in places that didn’t have schools. As an adult, however, he established an adult education program and was one of the most diligent students in the school.
These ethics lead many Mormons to achieve a high level of success in life. The church offers programs designed to help Mormons become successful, not to become wealthy, but simply to reach the full potential God gave them.
The women of the church operate a literacy program for both men and women. This program teaches people to read and write, but can also teach other forms of literacy, including English as a second language, or computer skills. Both men and women learn how to create an educational home environment for their children.
The Mormons have a lay church, which means there is no paid clergy. Members do all the work of the church through callings—unpaid volunteer work. These callings are changed often so each person has many opportunities to develop a wide range of skills. Through these callings, which begin at age twelve, teens and adults learn many leadership skills that can be later applied to careers. For instance, a twelve-year-old girl might be chosen to be the president of her church class. She will learn how to plan and conduct meetings. She will be taught to decide what her class needs most and then to create a plan to meet that need. She will learn how to evaluate the needs of each individual classmate and to formulate plans to meet them. She will end her leadership time having developed the habit of monitoring the needs of others—how to notice when someone is sad or lonely or hungry and will automatically reach out to help. She will learn to work with a variety of people, both peers and adults, who may be very different from her, and she will learn to respect them and to recognize how to value and utilize their skills and personalities. She will learn how to solve problems. She will be taught public speaking skills because the “sermons,” which Mormons call talks, are given by the members. Children speak in the children’s program for 2 and a half minutes, teenagers in the regular worship service for five minutes, and adults for fifteen to twenty minutes. Most people speak about once a year. They also teach classes, which enables them to learn to train. As an adult, she may find herself leading increasingly large groups of people spreading over several congregations.
All of this is very valuable and relates directly to successful careers, but it is the values which have the most impact on how Mormon beliefs impact business success. The thirteenth article of faith might hold the real key to what makes Mormons successful in the business world. In 1842, Joseph Smith was asked by a newspaper editor to outline the core beliefs of Mormonism. He created a list of thirteen beliefs that are today known as the Articles of Faith. The thirteenth says:
“We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.”
This is a basic code of conduct Mormons strive to live by. In a time when company after company is rocked by scandals caused by executives who push aside morality as being incompatible with business, there are Mormons who are succeeding because of their values, not in spite of them. They take care to obey the laws, to make moral choices even when those choices might seem less than ideal financially, and to treat employees with respect. The founder of Jet Blue, David Neeleman, is often found tagging baggage or serving meals. He might have learned that from holding church callings, where a person can be the bishop (a lay pastor) one day, and the assistant in the toddler nursery the next.
There are no promotions or demotions—only ways to serve, and no one, not even the prophet, is considered too important to sweep the floor after a meeting or to teach a preschooler. Mormon leaders are taught to look for what needs to be done and then to do it. A recent story about Mitt Romney reported that he was sent into an air conditioned garage to wait for a campaign photo shoot to begin on a hot day. When they went to retrieve him, they found him sweeping the floor and cleaning the garage. This is a typical Mormon action—see a need and fill it.
Mormons are taught to be self-sufficient. This means that as far as possible, they need to be prepared to take care of themselves. To this end, they work to become educated so they can obtain good employment and also master independent study skills so they can continue a life-long program of self-education. They learn to work hard and to plan for the future. Mormons are encouraged, for instance, to avoid debt and to put aside a year of food and income in case of unemployment. These principles transfer well to business, as employees or entrepreneurs are comfortable working hard and are able to look at the big picture in their business. They also learn to balance their lives, so they are not so focused on work they lose track of their families, faith, and community service. This leads to better adjusted leaders who are happier.
The Mormon health code, called the Word of Wisdom, teaches Mormons to avoid alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and tea. They are encouraged to eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This keeps them healthy and energetic, and ensures their careers aren’t derailed by alcohol or drugs. It gives them the energy to carry out a demanding work day.
Mormon beliefs teach a focus on family life. The stability created by an employee who is in a happy and committed family allows him to avoid the distractions personal relationship problems can create. It also ensures they will behave appropriately toward staff members of the opposite gender. Mormons believe in faithful and eternal marriages.
While no Mormon is perfect, Mormons are always working toward perfection and the values and the training they receive through their faith help to create effective leaders.
Learn more about Mormon Church leadership at the official site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently called by friends of other faiths as the “Mormon Church”).