A few years ago, I stumbled across one of Joanna Brooks’ many Ask Mormon Girl blog posts. The inquirer was desperately trying to cope with his feelings of loneliness as a literature student attending “wards filled with aspiring physicians, lawyers, and businessmen (and sometimes women).” He struggled to understand why Mormon culture “glorifies these professions as more appropriate tha[n] the fabled ‘life of the mind’.” In his view, his fellow “bookish” Mormons were “isolated and few.” He wondered if the “resistance to hierarchy and willingness to deal in contradictions and ambiguities” found among humanities scholars made them, in the eyes of most Mormons, “too unstable to be useful/productive.” At long last he despaired “that maybe Mormon culture isn’t a living human culture,” but a “conservative, insular, and intellectually uncurious” one instead.
While I can sympathize with some of the questioner’s complaints about Mormon culture, as a graduate student in business, I find many of them to be question-begging. This is largely because those who practice medicine, law, and business tend to be highly intelligent and (often out of professional necessity) curious. However, the intellectuals and scholars this young man seems to be seeking are, to use Dr. Brooks’ words, “New-York-Times-reading-complexity-craving-literature-philosophy-and-history-reading-liberals-like-me-and-you.” This appears to be a particular type of intellectual; an occupational intellectual whose trade is abstract ideas. As one insightful economist has pointed out, “Most of us do not think of brain surgeons or engineers as intellectuals, despite the demanding mental training that each goes through, and virtually no one regards even the most brilliant and successful financial wizard as an intellectual. At the core of the notion of an intellectual is the dealer in ideas, as such – not the personal application of ideas, as engineers apply complex scientific principles to create physical structures or mechanisms.” I was reminded of Brooks’ post as I was reviewing Hugh Nibley’s well-known 1983 address-turned-article “Leaders to Managers.” Just as intellectualism and scholarship were pitted against business, medicine, and law, Nibley pits the supposed mediocrity of management against the ideal of leadership. While Nibley may have had both church and university bureaucracies in mind at the time of his remarks (perhaps even correlated Mormon culture as a whole), he nonetheless engages in a kind of rhetorical irresponsibility when discussing the supposed differences between leadership and management as well as the nature of business. Not only do I believe Nibley is mistaken, but I believe his views are potentially damaging to the progress of Zion.
According to Nibley, “leaders are movers and shakers, original, inventive, unpredictable, imaginative, [and] full of surprises…” The lowly manager (what we usually refer to as our “boss”), on the other hand, is “safe, conservative, predictable, conforming…[and] dedicated to the establishment.” A leader “has a passion for equality,” while a manager finds the idea “repugnant and even counterproductive.” Nibley continues by declaring that “promotion, perks, privilege, and power are the name of the game” for managers, along with an “awe and reverence for rank.” This is perhaps why he equates “superiors” with managers and “the lower ranks” with leaders. Leadership has been a hot topic in academia over the past few decades. For example, Bernard Bass published the Handbook of Leadership in 1990, running over 1,000 pages with over 7,500 references (and he still missed some). The four-volume 2004 Encyclopedia of Leadership runs 2,120 pages and contains hundreds of articles by over 400 experts. There has been about 15,000 peer-reviewed articles on leadership written since 1975. As anyone acquainted with even a fraction of the literature knows, Nibley is not alone (or original) in his distinction between leaders and managers. It is a distinction that continues today among some leadership scholars. However, the problem with this dichotomy is that it glorifies “leadership” as some kind of moral trait, while making a caricature out of management and its role. Yet, one can have both good and bad leadership (likewise with management). The late Peter Drucker—known as the “father of management”—simply saw differences between effective and ineffective leaders, which are essentially the same differences between effective and ineffective managers. He was suspicious of mere “leadership qualities,” especially “charisma.” Drucker concluded that leadership is “mundane, unromantic, and boring. Its essence is performance…Leadership is a means. Leadership to what end is thus the crucial question.” This is why he labeled some as “misleaders”: a group that virtually matches Nibley’s description of managers. Those at the top of Drucker’s list of misleaders are some of the worst the twentieth century has to offer: Stalin, Hitler, and Mao. This list should be a chilling reminder that leaders can lead followers to numerous ends. “[T]he real problem is not so much that leaders have their dark side;” writes Harvard’s Barbara Kellerman, “rather it is that they—and everyone else—choose to pretend they don’t. Scholars should remind us that leadership is not a moral concept. Leaders are like the rest of us: trustworthy and deceitful, cowardly and brave, greedy and generous. To assume all good leaders are good people is to be willfully blind to the reality of the human condition, and it severely limits our scope for becoming more effective at leadership.” Kellerman has detailed the various ways that leadership can go wrong in her book Bad Leadership. Leaders can be (to borrow Kellerman’s list) incompetent, rigid, intemperate, callous, corrupt, insular, or just plain evil. One may lead a peaceful protest, while another leads a regime to massacre 6 million Jews. “The only definition of a leader,” explained Drucker, “is someone who has followers.” Despite the leadership industry’s lack of evidential impact, it continues to thrive “unmonitored and unregulated…and largely bereft of reliable metrics.” This is perhaps one point that Nibley nailed: “Leadership can no more be taught than creativity or how to be a genius.”
Nibley did not completely disparage management. He rightly notes, “There is necessarily some of the manager in every leader (what better example than Brigham Young himself?), as there should be some of the leader in every manager…The Lord insisted that both states of mind are necessary, and that is important.” But this seems to be nothing more than a politician’s form of even-handedness, for Nibley obliterates this important recognition by stating that “so vast is the discrepancy between management and leadership that only a blind man would get them backwards.” Robert Sutton, Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford, finds such an analysis problematic:
[T]his distinction seems to be used as a reason for leaders to avoid the hard work of learning about the people that they lead, the technologies their companies use, and the customers they serve…”Big picture only” leaders often make decisions without considering the constraints that affect the cost and time required to implement them, and even when evidence begins mounting that it is impossible or unwise to implement their grand ideas, they often choose to push forward anyway…[T]he worst senior executives use the distinction between leadership and management as an excuse to avoid the details they really have to master to see the big picture and select the right strategies.
Big picture thinking is important. One must not lose sight of the ultimate goal while performing ordinary tasks in order to achieve it (this is why some experts suggest hiring from the humanities). But being “original and inventive” mean nothing if one cannot implement, that is, manage it. Zion as a vague, lofty abstraction sounds good on paper (or in scripture), but the steps that must be taken to transform it into a reality is something else entire. Ultimately, Sutton finds, “To do the right thing, a leader needs to understand what it takes to do things right, and to make sure they actually get done.”
Nibley goes as far as to say that Moroni represents “the most charismatic leader,” while Amalickiah is “the most skilled manager.” Oddly enough, Nibley describes Amalickiah as possessing a very “skillful oratory, for he was a charming (“flattering” is the word used by the Book of Mormon) and persuasive communicator.” Both are apparently charismatic leaders with conflicting agendas. To describe one as a leader and the other as a manager does disservice to both titles. Nibley goes even further with a rather absurd point: “It is at this time in Book of Mormon history that the word management makes its only appearances (three of them) in all the scriptures.” These three include Moroni’s changes among Nephite “management” (Alma 49:11), Korihor’s ideology (Alma 30:17), and the rise of the old Nephite coalition (Helaman 6:39). The ominous implication is that Amalickiah’s evil intentions are due to his association with management. Yet, these three instances should not raise any alarms. The 1828 Webster’s Dictionary defines “management” as “conduct; administration; manner of treating, directing or carrying on; as the management of a family or of a farm; the management of state affairs.” This definition fits the usage in Alma 49:11 and Helaman 6:39. Webster’s provides another definition that corresponds with Korihor’s “management of the creature” (Alma 30:17): “Cunning practice.” Furthermore, the term “management” between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries was largely rooted in the family and was commonly defined as exhibiting care, efficiency and industry, progressive improvement, and accounting and recording. Nothing about the text’s usage should make one view management as sinister.
The word “management” often brings to mind Frederick Taylor’s scientific management: a model based on centralized authority, top-down implementation via expert planners, and a near mechanical view of human nature. According to Princeton economist Thomas C. Leonard, Taylor’s scientific management was an ideological darling of his progressive contemporaries. In their view, Taylorism brought a scientific sophistication to the unruly and chaotic practice of business management. By shifting authority to the planning department, progressives believed they could design the workplace to produce more efficiently. The erosion of workforce autonomy began as Taylor applied his time and motion studies to various work activities, including the “science of shoveling.” This technocratic outlook reduced workers to nothing more than cogs in a well-oiled machine. “In the past, the man has been first,” declared Taylor, “in the future, the system must be first.” However, this mechanic’s vision of the organization has been seriously challenged in numerous studies since the 1930s. Despite its flaws, Elton Mayo’s research influenced the nature of organizational studies for years to come. Over the next several decades, academics began to move away from the mechanistic set-up of Taylorism and toward a more fluid, organic structure. It was discovered that such a model allowed for increased adaptation, creativity, and innovation. This emerging design was characterized by decentralization, employee autonomy and decision-making, minimal regulations, and multidirectional communication. Companies like Google and Zappos have taken this organizational approach, landing them in Fortune’s 2012 list “100 Best Companies to Work For.” When one has a Taylorist definition of management, it is easy to understand why the concept seems so repugnant. However, such a view is outdated and fails to take into account some of the greatest minds in management.
Peter Drucker (1909-2005) is one of the most influential management thinkers of all time as well as “the most cited management writer in the textbooks, exceeding that of Abraham Maslow, Max Weber, and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth, both in terms of the number of textbooks and the number of references cited within each textbook.” His influence has been felt worldwide, particularly in Japan during the post-war boom and even recently with the release of the novel/film/anime Moshidora (short for “What If the Female Manager of a High School Baseball Team Read Drucker’s Management?”). His outlook on management was that of a liberal art—“‘liberal’ because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; ‘art’ because it is also concerned with practice and application. Managers draw on all the knowledges and insights of the humanities and the social sciences—on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on ethics—as well as on the physical sciences. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results.” If Zion is the goal of the saints, then management will and must play a key role. Modern Zion, it seems, will be far removed from the rather small, agrarian-based paradise that Nibley often purports it to be. The creation of a high-functioning, morality-and-equality-producing, high-living-standards-developing global network of local communities will rely much more on local management and knowledge workers than on a centralized authority. Stewardships, city building, and becoming “one heart and one mind” (Moses 7:18) will require organization and, consequently, management on multiple levels. Recent evidence shows that proper management—one focused on long-term goals with short-term performance benchmarks, incentives and training, and monitoring data for improvements—yields increases in organizations’ productivity and prosperity. Results—that dreaded word—are necessary and largely the focus of management. “To be sure, the fundamental task of management,” wrote Drucker, “remains the same: to make people capable of joint performance through common goals, common values, the right structure, and the training and development they need to perform and to respond to change.” Elsewhere, he explained, “Management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant. This is what organization is all about, and it is the reason that management is the critical, determining factor.” Drucker’s view of management is the reason Harvard’s (and fellow Mormon) Clayton M. Christensen can say that the “values that underpin Mormon leadership” are “the same ones espoused by Harvard Business School.” It is also worth noting that Mormons have played a major role in the development of modern management, from Christensen to Stephen Covey to John Zenger.
Finally, even though the words of an honors student are used to make his point, Nibley’s view of business as nothing more than a Cain-like ambition to “get gain” grossly misunderstands and distorts the nature of business. While this particular student may not wish “to help the Lord’s kingdom grow” with his financial success, I’m willing to bet most Mormon business students (including me) choose their major on the assumption that they will have to support a family. The April 2013 Salary Survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that technical majors such as engineering and computer sciences were the highest paid majors for the Class of 2013. Business majors were paid significantly more than education or humanities majors. Management was also one of the highest paid industries of 2013. Choosing a field that holds a higher potential for familial financial security is not something that should be frowned upon or judged harshly. Furthermore, Drucker recognized that the purpose of a business is simply “to create a customer…It is the customer who determines what a business is. It is the customer alone whose willingness to pay for a good or for a service converts economic resources into wealth, things into good.” While it may be easier to remember the spectacular business debacles like Enron, this is largely because they are rare occurrences compared to the majority of honest businesses and service providers. The so-called “profit motive” was called into question by Drucker, who saw its existence as “highly doubtful” and “irrelevant.” Yet, Drucker realized that profits are “crucial—for society even more than for the individual business…Profit is not the explanation, cause, or rationale of business behavior and business decisions, but the test of their validity. If archangels instead of businessmen sat in directors’ chairs, they would still have to be concerned with profitability, despite their total lack of personal interest in making profits.” This is why Nobel laureate Milton Friedman saw profits as “an end from the private point of view” and “a means from the social point of view.” Contrary to the view that high profits come by means of Gordon Gekko-like greed, evidence is mounting that conscious and purposeful business is actually correlated with higher profitability.
Management may not be the “escape from mediocrity” that Nibley craves. He may claim that “great deposits of art, science, or literature” could never spawn from the likes of managers and markets (though economic and historical evidence shows the market forces drove innovations in the arts). Yet, management is an intrinsic part of any organization, including Zion. Only when we have learned to manage ourselves, our families, and our institutions properly will be able to achieve our full potential as individuals and communities.
1. Joanna Brooks, “AMG: The Great Mormon Novel Part 2; or, no, seriously, why does Mormonism seem so allergic to scholarship?” Ask Mormon Girl (July 12, 2010): http://askmormongirl.wordpress.com/2010/07/12/amg-the-great-mormon-novel-part-2-or-no-seriously-why-does-mormonism-seem-so-allergic-to-scholarship/
2. Thomas Sowell, Intellectuals and Society (New York: Basic Books, 2009), 2-3.
3. Hugh Nibley, “Leaders to Managers: The Fatal Shift,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 16:4 (Winter 1983): 12-21.
4. For example, see Jason Nelson-Seawright, “Hugh Nibley: Mormon Dissident,” By Common Consent (April 6, 2007) and its comments: http://bycommonconsent.com/2007/04/06/hugh-nibley-mormon-dissident/
5. Nibley, 1983: 15.
6. Jeffrey Pfeffer, Robert I. Sutton, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006), 187.
7. For example, see John Kotter, “Management Is (Still) Not Leadership,” HBR Blog Network (Jan. 9, 2013): http://blogs.hbr.org/kotter/2013/01/management-is-still-not-leadership.html. Kotter’s distinction is more nuanced that Nibley’s black-and-white version.
8. Business author and former Stanford professor Jim Collin’s five-year research project produced a five-tier hierarchy of leadership displaying varying degrees of effectiveness. See Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t (New York: HarperBusiness, 2001).
9. Peter F. Drucker, The Essential Drucker (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 268.
10. Barbara Kellerman, “Leadership—Warts and All,” Harvard Business Review 82:1 (Jan. 2004): 45.
11. Barbara Kellerman, Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004).
12. Peter Drucker, “Your Leadership is Unique,” Leadership Journal 17:4 (Fall 1996): http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1996/fall/6l4054.html
13. Barbara Kellerman, “Cut Off at the Pass: The Limits of Leadership in the 21st Century,” Brookings Paper: Governance Studies (August 2012): 11.
14. Nibley, 1983: 15.
15. Ibid.: 16.
17. Robert Sutton, “True Leaders Are Also Managers,” HBR Blog Network (Aug. 11, 2010): http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/08/true_leaders_are_also_managers.html
18. See Tony Golsby-Smith, “Want Innovative Thinking? Hire from the Humanities,” HBR Blog Network (March 31, 2011): http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/03/want_innovative_thinking_hire.html
19. While the Doctrine & Covenants provide some concrete details on how one version of a frontier-based Zion was to operate, most scriptural references yield little to no useful specifications.
20. Sutton, 2010. A Bloomberg article similarly stated, “We’re overled and undermanaged.” See “The Best Leadership is Good Management,” Bloomberg Businessweek (Aug. 6, 2009): http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/09_33/b4143068890733.htm
21. Nibley, 1983: 16.
22. Ibid.: 18. Nibley’s disdain for managers is on par with his distaste for rhetoricians. See his “Victoriosa Loquacitas: The Rise of Rhetoric and the Decline of Everything Else,” Western Speech 20:2 (Spring 1956): 57-82. Yet, rhetoric played a substantial part in producing the Industrial Revolution and the modern economy. See Deirdre McCloskey, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
23. Nibley, 1983: 18.
24. “Management,” 1828 Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language: http://1828.mshaffer.com/d/word/management
25. See Thibault Le Texier, “The First Systematized Uses of the Term “Management” in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,” Journal of Management History 19:2 (2013): 189-224.
26. See Thomas C. Leonard, “American Economic Reform in the Progressive Era: Its Foundational Beliefs and Their Relation to Eugenics,” History of Political Economy 41:1 (2009): 109-141.
27. See Jeffrey Muldoon, “The Hawthorne Legacy: A Reassessment of the Impact of the Hawthorne Studies on Management Scholarship, 1930-1958,” Journal of Management History 18:1 (2012): 105-119; Walter Kiechel III, “The Management Century,” Harvard Business Review 90:11 (Nov. 2012): 63-75.
28. Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” of 2012: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/best-companies/2012/full_list/
29. Patricia G. McLaren, Albert J. Mills, Gabrielle Durepos, “Disseminating Drucker: Knowledge, Tropes and the North American Management Textbook,” Journal of Management History 15:4 (2009): 391.
30. See Chuck Ueno, “Peter Drucker’s Influence in Japan,” People and Strategy 32:4 (2009): 8-9; “Drucker in the Dug-Out,” The Economist (July 1, 2010): http://www.economist.com/node/16481583. While the Clarke Professor of Social Sciences and Management at Claremont Graduate School, Drucker also lectured in Oriental Art at Pomona College and was appointed to the Board of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.
31. Drucker, 2001, 13.
32. See Nate Oman, “Zion and the Limits of Intellectual Agrarianism,” Times & Seasons (June 7, 2010): http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2010/06/zion-and-the-limits-of-intellectual-agrarianism/; Sam Brunson, “The Approaching Zion Project: Our Glory or Our Condemnation,” Times & Seasons (May 8, 2013): http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2013/05/the-approaching-zion-project-our-glory-or-our-condemnation/
33. Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun, John Van Reenan, “Does Management Really Work?” Harvard Business Review 90:11 (Nov. 2012): 76-82.
34. Drucker, 2001, 4.
35. Ibid., 10.
36. Clayton M. Christensen, “If Harvard Business School Were a Religion, it Could be Mormonism,” The Washington Post (May 11, 2012): http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-05-11/national/35455387_1_mormon-leadership-wrong-question-lds-church
37. Greg McKeown, “How Mormons Have Shaped Modern Management,” HBR Blog Network (Oct. 7, 2012): http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/10/how_mormons_have_shaped_modern.html; Caroline Winter, “God’s MBAs: Why Mormon Missions Produce Leaders,” Bloomberg Businessweek (June 9, 2011): http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/11_25/b4233058977933.htm
38. NACE Salary Survey: April 2013 Executive Summary: http://www.naceweb.org/uploadedFiles/NACEWeb/Research/Salary_Survey/Reports/salary-survey-april-2013-executive-summary.pdf. See also Alex Tabarrok, “College Has Been Oversold,” Marginal Revolution (Nov. 2, 2011): http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2011/11/college-has-been-oversold.html
39. Peter F. Drucker, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices (New York: HarperCollins, 1974), 61.
40. Neuroeconomist Paul j. Zak made this point in his 2009 ReasonTV interview: http://reason.com/reasontv/2009/09/08/neuroeconomist-paul-zak
41. Drucker, 1974, 60. While monetary incentives are powerful motivating factors, they are not the only ones or even the most potent. See Daniel H. Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (New York: Riverhead Books, 2009); Teresa Amabile, Steven Kramer, The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011); Dan Ariely, “What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?” TEDX Talk (Oct. 2012): http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_ariely_what_makes_us_feel_good_about_our_work.html
42. Drucker, 1974, 60 (italics mine).
43. Milton Friedman, “Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business,” Reason (Oct. 2005): http://reason.com/archives/2005/10/01/rethinking-the-social-responsi/2
44. Rajendra S. Sisodia, “Doing Business in the Age of Conscious Capitalism,” Journal of Indian Business Review 1:2-3 (2009): 188-192; Rajendra S. Sisodia, “Conscious Capitalism: A Better Way to Win,” California Management Review 53:3 (Spring 2011): 98-108; Rajendra S. Sisodia, John P. Mackey, “Conscious Capitalism – Unleashing Human Energy and Creativity for the Greater Good,” GDR Creative Intelligence 43 (Spring 2012): 6-11; Marc Orlitzky, Frank L. Schmidt, Sara L. Rynes, “Corporate Social and Financial Performance: A Meta-analysis,” Organization Studies 24:3 (2003): 403-441; Sandra Waddock, Neil Smith, “Corporate Responsibility Audits: Doing Well by Doing Good,” MIT Sloan Management Review 41:2 (Winter 2000): 75-83; Ruben Hernandez-Murillo, Christopher J. Martinek, “Corporate Social Responsibility Can Be Profitable,” The Regional Economist (April 2009): http://www.stlouisfed.org/publications/re/articles/?id=1258; Richard Levick, “Corporate Social Responsibility for Profit,” Forbes (Jan. 11, 2012): http://www.forbes.com/sites/richardlevick/2012/01/11/corporate-social-responsibility-for-profit/
45. Nibley, 1983: 16.
46. See Federico Etro, Laura Pagani, “The Market for Paintings in the Venetian Republic from Renaissance to Rococo,” Journal of Cultural Economics, in press (2013): http://www.intertic.org/Policy%20Papers/JCE.pdf; Federico Etro, “Innovations by Painters Between Renaissance and Rococo: Towards an Economic Theory of Art History,” VoxEU.org (Nov. 30, 2012): http://www.voxeu.org/article/innovations-painters-between-renaissance-and-rococ-towards-economic-theory-art-history