Like A Boss: A Critique of Nibley’s “Leaders to Managers”

“Talk to corporate! (Like a boss!) Approve memos! (Like a boss!)…”

A few years ago, I stumbled across one of Joanna Brooks’ many Ask Mormon Girl blog posts.[1] 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.”[2] I was reminded of Brooks’ post as I was reviewing Hugh Nibley’s well-known 1983 address-turned-article “Leaders to Managers.”[3] 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),[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7] 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.[8] 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.”[9] 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.”[10] Kellerman has detailed the various ways that leadership can go wrong in her book Bad Leadership.[11] 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.”[12] Despite the leadership industry’s lack of evidential impact, it continues to thrive “unmonitored and unregulated…and largely bereft of reliable metrics.”[13] This is perhaps one point that Nibley nailed: “Leadership can no more be taught than creativity or how to be a genius.”[14]

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.”[15] 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.”[16] 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.[17]

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).[18] 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.[19] 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.”[20]

Nibley goes as far as to say that Moroni represents “the most charismatic leader,” while Amalickiah is “the most skilled manager.”[21] 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.”[22] 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.”[23] 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.”[24] 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.[25] 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.”[26] 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.[27] 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.”[28] 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

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.”[29] 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?”).[30] 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.”[31] 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.[32] 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.[33] 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.”[34] 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.”[35] 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.”[36] 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.[37]

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.[38] 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.”[39] 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.[40] The so-called “profit motive” was called into question by Drucker, who saw its existence as “highly doubtful” and “irrelevant.”[41] 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.”[42] 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.”[43] 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.[44]

Management may not be the “escape from mediocrity” that Nibley craves.[45] 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).[46] 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.

16. Ibid.

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

Comments

Like A Boss: A Critique of Nibley’s “Leaders to Managers” — 62 Comments

  1. Interesting post, Walker. Skilled leaders and managers certainly do make the world go round, and we shouldn’t denigrate their work. In fact, I think we Humanities types who fancy ourselves “intellectuals” should probably get more involved in the world’s day-to-day management.

  2. I agree, Chris. Check out footnote #18. Management needs more than just business school grads (especially when we consider the dismal state of business school education: http://chronicle.com/article/Business-Education-Not-Always/127108/). Drucker noted that “management will increasingly be the discipline and the practice through which the “humanities” will again acquire recognition, impact, and relevance.” (Drucker, 2001, 13) We need more business grads cracking open the history and philosophy books and we need those in the humanities learning the economics, finances, and practical application of human management. We would all become more well-rounded managers and intellectuals alike.

  3. In his book, [i]Stalingrad,[/i] the historian Anthony Beevor wrote of the disastrous results of careless, big picture leadership.
    “Hitler in the [i]Wolfsschanze[/i] used to gaze at the operations map
    showing the huge areas notionally controlled by his forces.
    For a visionary who had achieved total power in a country possessing the best-trained army in the world, the sight induced a sense of invincibility. This armchair strategist never possessed the qualities for true generalship, because he ignored practical problems. During the brief campaigns in Poland, Scandinavia, France and the Balkans, resupply had at times been difficult, but never an insuperable problem.
    In Russia, however, logistics would be as decisive a factor as firepower, manpower, mobility and morale.
    Hitler’s fundamental irresponsibility- a psychologically interesting defiance of fate- had been to launch the most ambitious invasion in history while refusing to gear the German economy and industry for all-out war. In hindsight, it seems more like the act of a compulsive gambler, subconsciously striving to increase the odds. The horrific consequences for millions of people seemed only to strengthen his megalomania.”
    Beevor has more or less the same to say of Stalin.

  4. “We need more business grads cracking open the history and philosophy books”

    And we need more of them reading different books than the one or two currently in vogue.

    “we need those in the humanities learning the economics, finances, and practical application of human management.”

    That is one of the reasons why I enjoy your thoughts.

  5. I love Nibley but, yeah, he was a Berkley brat. I don’t think he ever stopped rebelling from his dad’s conservatism. It’s amazing how someone so smart could have such freaking huge blind spots.

  6. “This is largely because those who practice medicine, law, and business tend to be highly intelligent and (often out of professional necessity) curious.”

    There are more than a few lawyers who are outstanding amateur historians. As a lawyer you pretty much deal in complexeties and ambiguities every single day. Same goes for doctors and businessmen. I find it rather ironic that the literature student did not consider that more than one writer was first a doctor. Conan Doyle, Somerset Maugham, and Bulgakov are three examples that come to mind. By being exposed daily to suffering, and needing to inflict some degree of pain to alieviate such can train the mind to analyze and relate things dispassionately. They are also able to go beyond the surface of the problem, and find how it relates to everything else. All of these are fine qualities in a writer.

    “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 love the term “intelligentsia.” It covers a broader array of people that the term “intellectual.”I trace my love of Russian literature to my pediatrician who came from a St. Petersburg family of Jewish intellectuals and doctors (her father had been falsely convicted in the Doctors’ Plot). She is a very insightful *reader* of literature, and encouraged my own reading with lots of discussion, never resorting to the excesses of literary theory.

  7. I agree with your preference for “intelligentsia.” Thomas Sowell (the economist I quote) has to spend the first chapter of his book explaining what he means by “intellectual” (I tried to clarify by putting “occupational intellectual”). Peter Drucker’s willingness to draw on multiple forms of knowledge is one of the reasons he has become one of my intellectual heroes. As Jack Beatty notes in his biography of Drucker,

    “Learning is his mind’s pleasure, a gift to share with his readers, not an invitation to pomposity. The Druckers raised an intellectual, not an academic. For sixty years Drucker has taken on a new subject every three or four years and read up on it to the capacious limits of his curiosity. One year it might be Japanese art, which he taught on the side for six years at Pomona College; another year it could be sixteenth-century finance; yet another the history of technology or of work–or of American statesmen or of British rule in India. He recommends intellectual omnivorousness as a form of self-renewal.” (Beatty, The World According to Peter Drucker, 7)

  8. In p. 265-6 of his “Doctrines of the Kingdom,” Hyrum L. Andrus hinted at the managerial complexity that even the agrarian vision of Zion entailed.

    “Second, the Central United Order Board could foster and direct intelligently the growth and expansion of the system. By instituting reclamation projects funded by the central storehouse, for instance, new areas could be developed in which cities of Zion could be built and new stewardships be made available in an expanding society.

    Third, centralization of the economic order made it possible for the movement and transfer of stewardships within the entire system. A steward who wanted to move from one area to another could turn in his stewardship in one city and take out a stewardship in another. The administrative details of the transfer would be coordinated through the central storehouse.

    Fourth, in addition to the above benefits, the administration of the Central United Order Board made it possible to achieve all the objectives and blessings of a planned society while retaining the basic essentials of a free economic order—individual freedom, dignity, and incentive to progress. For example, in coordinating the over-all program of allocating stewardships, attention could be given to the needs of the market so that surpluses would not be created in some commodities and deficiencies in others. Again, by conducting studies to determine the changing needs of the market, the central board could keep the several communities advised on current demands and opportunities so that the stewards in the several communities could plan their production accordingly.”

  9. Good leadership and good management go hand in hand and an organization will not do well in the long run without both. A really great leader can get his or her followers to charge hell with a bucket of water, but hell will win that one every time. A really good manager can organize everything to the nth degree, have all of the tools and water to quench the fires of hell, but, if unable to get the folllowers to use those tools, hell still wins.

    I have seen both extremes. The best ones I have seen are those who have developed both qualities in balance and know when and how to lead and manage and when and to what degree those qualities are needed.

    I think that Nibley’s rant was against a perceived promotion of those with great managerial abilities and confusing those abilities with leadership.

    Glenn

  10. @Allen: I only discovered Drucker a few months ago and have gone through a couple books and multiple articles by him as well as a biography and multiple articles about him. His view of the organization is almost theological in nature (one article saw German theological roots in his views). We need more of that in modern business.

  11. When I was going through the USAF Officer Training School Our grade sheet required excellence in both leadership and management. The fundamental dichotomy was task oriented. Leadership is figuring out where to go, management is knowing how to get there.

  12. There may very well be some distinctions between leadership and management. But when you strip away Nibley’s rhetoric, his distinction is simply “leader good, manager bad.” It’s stupid and below him.

  13. Graduates from the more abstract disciplines are only really fulfilled and happy when they are griping about something and feel like “nobody understands me.”

    Don’t be fooled. The inquiring literature student wasn’t really unhappy. She sees herself as the eccentric tragic heroine, and it would be a grave wrong for us to take away her uniqueness and sense of romantic isolation by surrounding her with more people like her.

  14. It seems a little rich to offer such pyschobabble analysis whilst getting the gender wrong.

  15. Of course, it’s OK if you don’t. I didn’t really consider my first comment to be particularly serious in bent anyway, so it’s probably not worth a lot of effort.

  16. The Academy of Management Review had a recent issue (Oct. 2012) on Understanding and Creating Caring and Compassionate Organizations. Thought it was worth mentioning.

  17. “When you have anything relevant to say in response, let me know.”

    Thank you for that, a smile is always beneficial.

  18. @Seth R: While I felt the questioner was being a bit elitist, I don’t know anything about him beyond what he wrote to Brooks. No need to jump to conclusions or be rude to Allen. I’m not bashing humanities scholars. I’m simply asking for the same courtesy.

    As for relevant comments from Allen, he’s made a number of them on this post alone.

  19. Nice discussion, Walker. Nibley’s animus against business seems more than a bit dated. Maybe it reflects the horror of an earlier generation of professors at the prospect of “business school” becoming part of that more rarefied institution, the “University.” Once upon a time, large businesses would hire liberal arts grads and give them on-the-job training as needed to be productive inside a corporation or firm. Now the same businesses either hire business or accounting undergrads, or any undergrad with an MBA. Times have changed, and the entire context of Nibley’s view is outdated. (Not that his “let’s all be farmers, mechanics, or professors” view was ever practical or realistic.)

  20. Pingback: Walker Wright Critiques Nibley’s “Leaders to Managers” | Difficult Run

  21. Allen has been fine in the discussion.

    I just didn’t find his attempt to dismiss my question with an irrelevant ad hominem about gender mistake amusing.

  22. “I just didn’t find his attempt to dismiss my question with an irrelevant ad hominem about gender mistake amusing.”

    It is very hard to take seriously a psychological analysis which gets basic, fundamental issues such as gender completely wrong. Also, was there a question in there?

  23. Well, today is a fresh perspective, and it suddenly seems incredibly dumb to be arguing over a comment that wasn’t serious to begin with. So why am I even defending it?

    Yes, Alan is right – I got the gender wrong.

  24. I find this piece to be of little value. What is it actually trying to establish? He certainly does not prove HN “wrong” in any meaningful way. Does HN engage in rhetorical flourishes? Sure. So what? Is that not a common style in commencement speeches (and many other places, like political pulpits)?

    Yes, there is a “debate” (what distinctions do not get debated in academic circles?), but Walker seems to miss the main point of HN in context (audience, purpose, etc.), not to mention what happens in management schools (by whatever name), and to focus on some kind of hair-splitting. In fact, the distinction remains important and common in business schools and ed schools. Several major ed schools changed the name of dept of Admin to Leadership over past decade. I have traced the use of titles like “Where have all the leaders gone?” for decades. It remains alive and well — for sufficient reason.

    Of course there is no bright, sharp line — where in social science is there? But ldrshp as setting direction, etc., vs admin or management as getting org to work more efficiently, is a worthwhile idea; and the two concepts, while overlapping sets, do have distinct central tendencies.

  25. It is not an issue of who uses rhetorical flourishes, it is an issue of false dichotomies and the damage they can cause. Personally, I find this one of the more valuable blog posts written recently.

  26. But a “false dichotomy” has not been established. And its widespread use by specialists in management and leadership attest to its usefulness.

  27. A longer response will have to wait since I’m on my iPod, but a few things for Allen Lambert:

    1. Thanks for dropping by and for the critique.
    2. I acknowledge that the mgmt/leadership divide continues among scholars (I link to a recent HBR article to demonstrate this).
    3. Nibley’s dichotomy basically boils down to “leader good, manager bad.” This is most definitely a false dichotomy.

    I hope this last one will help clear it up a bit. I shall return in a few days when I have my laptop again.

  28. Also, even with a mgmt/leadership distinction, Nibley seems to be making a case of moral, effective leadership vs. immoral, ineffective mgmt, but he simply calls it leadership vs. mgmt. I think this is incorrect and needs to be clarified. Kotter, an expert in leadership, distinguishes between the two in footnote #7. However, as I say there, he is more nuanced than Nibley.

    Nibley also seems to think that leadership is inherently moral. It’s not, as I tried to point out with Kellerman’s work.

    And I’m not clueless about mgmt departments. My undergrad was Organizational Behavior and HR Management. I’m working on my MBA in Strategic Management.

  29. I do not agree that HN reduces simply to your formula of ldr = good mgnmt = bad. I do not even think that a relevant way to look at his purpose, articulation, and context.

    If your only message is that HN exaggerated in the way you reduce it, then what have you added to either the lit on L/M or to understanding HN? Your claim is hardly new.

    I have been researching and writing on ldrshp and management since 1965 and knew HN (both in and out of class, personal letters, and familiarity with his corpus).

  30. If you don’t think my view of Nibley’s “purpose, articulation, and context” is warranted, I’d be glad to hear your take. I understand it was originally a commencement speech, but it was published in Dialogue. If it had remained a speech, I doubt I would care. However, his view of mgmt and business in this article seems similar to the views expressed in Approaching Zion (which I also have problems with). Even still, I’d be more than happy to hear what you think is a relevant way of reading Nibley in this speech/article.

    You’re correct: the claim that Nibley’s economic/business views are simplistic and one-dimensional is nothing new. The debate over leadership vs. mgmt is nothing new. However, I personally have never read a critique/commentary on the views presented by Nibley in this specific piece. I’m not sure how well acquainted the average Mormon or even contributors/readers of this blog are with mgmt/ldrship literature. But plenty are familiar with and highly respect Nibley (as they should). I wanted to point out where I thought Nibley gets carried away in this case.

    I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Nibley. All I’m left with are his writings, including this. To me, his reduction seems very “leader good, manager bad” (apparently, it is a “fatal shift” to go from the former to the latter). I find this problematic, especially in a church with many business managers.

  31. Nibley, as Walker has pointed out, doesn’t really explain how Amalickiah’s persuasive ability to win over a large amount of followers makes him but a skillful manager and not a “most charismatic leader.”

  32. You are trying to turn a molehill into a mountain, to swat at a gnat with a hammer.

    Being published in a Mormon oriented journal does not make the HN speech an academic exercise. It was a fun speech, a piece of rhetoric for a particular setting, pure and simple. It would be the rare Mormon who would give so much analytical attention, or care. Do you analyze every speech by BY or LeGrand Richards or Pres Monson, etc., with such a critical eye and use of an academic standard? To what purpose? For whose benefit?

  33. “It would be the rare Mormon who would give so much analytical attention, or care.”

    Hardly something of which to be proud.

    “It was a fun speech, a piece of rhetoric for a particular setting, pure and simple.”

    So, HN’s own fatal shift?

  34. I’m really more interested in what you disagree with, Allen. I found the speech to paint management in a very negative, if not sinister light. I think this is not only wrong, but inappropriate even for a commencement speech. If your complaint is that I’m taking it too seriously, fine. But to me, it was the equivalent of getting up there and saying humanities majors are unproductive members of society: both wrong and inappropriate in a university setting.

  35. I specified what I disagreed with. Read more carefully. You are not even in the same universe with your analogy.

  36. You said you don’t agree with my understanding of Nibley, but you haven’t explained why beyond saying my analogy sucks, I can’t read carefully, and my post is of little value. You briefly mentioned the mgmt/ldrship divide in academia, yet I both clarified my position and demonstrated that I had acknowledged the academic distinction in my post.

    I’m really interested in understanding how I’m universes away from the true point of Nibley’s remarks. When you paint a picture of managers as Amalickiah or businessmen as Cain, I admit that fail to take that as anything but negative.

  37. Pingback: Celebrations of Learned Men: Nibley, Schoolmen, and the Denial of Revelation | Worlds Without End

  38. Pingback: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Business and Theology | Times & Seasons

  39. I can understand why an MBA student or business professional would write this. One of the few respected voiced of the LDS Church who has articulated disapproval about issues that touch on their choice of profession and livelihood, and the natural reaction is either to rebut or interrogate his position. I am grateful that this has been done in such an informative and thought-provoking way. Walker presents a sharp, critical, and well articulated reassessment of Nibley’s perspective on business.

    That said, I couldn’t disagree more heartily with the “meta” perspective that informs his critique. Nibley’s view is fundamentally antithetical to free-market capitalism, so there really is no point to rebutting his views as though he were only a few ticks away from his critics on this one. Nibley was a self-avowed socialist, and he viewed early Mormon economics through that lens. So, it simply does not do, and, in fact, it is more than a little misleading (if unintentionally so), to attack this one piece of his on the point of theories of leadership and management without taking his economic philosophy into account.

    Simply put, Nibley sees capitalism and divine economics as fundamentally irreconcilable. He sees capitalism as unavoidably corrupt, abusive, and destructive for many, while a small number of people benefit in wildly disproportionate ways. Most of us are not willing to accept what Nibley is saying because we (and by “we” I am speaking primarily of white first-worlders) are usually the short-term beneficiaries of our system of imperial exploitation. We don’t want to face the ways in which our nation and culture has killed and gotten gain. Nibley, speaking in what I think was an authentically prophetic voice, did not flinch at what he felt was his obligation to call people to repentance.

    It is especially important to remember that Nibley had a front row perspective on the transformation of the LDS Church into an organization that is structured as a giant corporation and adopts corporate culture enthusiastically as its own. Very few have stopped to ponder the implications of these decisions and weigh in on whether embracing such a structure and culture was ultimately compatible with scripture and LDS doctrine–Christ, really. The transformation simply occurred. Nibley is one of the few voices that ever raised public criticism in a way that has inspired guys like Walker to respond.

    Why is that? I think the answer is simple. Business has become the first god to which most people give their unquestioned loyalty. And, it does not matter how many people suffer because of the abuses of the prevailing system, the hegemony of the culture of business and finance reign supreme (even after the near destruction of the world economy). Nibley has to be wrong, or he has to be madman, not to see how salvation is to be achieved, how the Zion he dreamt of can only be realized, through the very mechanisms he so thoroughly abhorred (for reasons that Walker has conveniently left altogether opaque).

    Again, I think this is a fabulous piece of writing. And I do not impugn the talents, intelligence, and good intentions of the author. At the same time, I fundamentally repudiate the culture that informs his views. I think it is ultimately destructive and exploitative. So, I defend Nibley as having been right in ways that nitpicking over the definition of management can’t begin to address.

    Caesar may no longer kill his millions with legions so that he may be great. He just leverages the economies of entire nations and leaves the people starving, working their fingers to the bone, and suffering in agony for the short duration of their pitiful lives. He tells them that we can’t afford to hospitalize them while he eats chocolate laced with gold and asks for tax breaks. It is a way of life that is so blatantly and obviously anti-Christ that no one should question the factual observation, and yet to suggest as much in an LDS chapel will almost inevitably render one a social pariah.

    It fills me with horror to think that some “leaders” from the LDS community stand on the forefront of this apocalyptically monstrous enterprise, and we are by and large blissfully unaware of its impact. Professor Christensen is a fine example. His book on innovation in higher education is methodologically problematic, and is likely hastening the demise of the liberal education that was intended to inform the electorate. Meanwhile he tells us to disregard the distinction between Mormon priesthood and corporate leadership. Thanks, but no. I think we have been doing that far too long already.

  40. Trevor, I am a socialist. When I was a little kid, one of our family friends was an old man, the son of two prominent Russian Jewish revolutionaries. Later I attended school near the site of the first hydro-electric power plant in Israel. It was built by Pinchas Rutenberg, another prominent Russian Jewish socialist revolutionary (albeit anti-Bolshevik). As part of the Jewish national effort in Mandate Palestine, Rutenberg founded an electrical company, and set about building a power plant. Rutenberg was an inspiring leader, but just as importantly, he was an inspired manager. Where he one but not the other,it is doubtful whether the company would have succeeded, let alone become the leading force in the industry there. For example, when in 1931 a flood hit which caused considerable damage to the plant and threatened to set back significantly the opening of the plant, his workers volunteered to repair the plant for free. Rutenberg, however, exerted every effort to ensure that his employees were paid for their labour.

    So, as a socialist, I have some good examples of where leadership and management go hand in hand. My criticism of Nibley isn’t based on an American conservative-capitalist outlook. Rather, I don’t accept his rhetoric or the dichotomy of good leaders vs. evil managers. There are good leaders and good managers and people who are good both, just as there are poor managers and poor leaders. Leadership and management are not moral categories. From my conversations with Walker, I would say that his biggest issue here is that the mechanics (specifically management) are dismissed as antithecal to a particular, IE, building Zion. Whatever one’s approach to the venture, Zion won’t build itself, nor can it attain its goals by a laissez-faire approach. resources are limited, and management is the skill which prevents them from being squandered aimlessly.

  41. Allen,

    Thanks for the fascinating personal history. I don’t know what it has to do with the merits of the contextualization, or lack thereof, of Walker’s piece, but it is very interesting. I also understand from your response that you agree with Walker. What you do not do is anything more than restate Walker’s position in different words, as though I did not understand Walker. (Correction: you do say that Zion does not build itself.) What I am trying to convey here is some of the context I see behind Nibley’s position. For Nibley this was a clash of cultures. From his perspective, these terms were not neutral. They already had moral values attached. I think it is fine to disagree with that, especially if one desires to accommodate one’s self to the culture that Nibley rejected, but it is important to know that this is what one is doing. The fact that Walker positions himself as a business student and does not address the context from which Nibley is speaking is noteworthy. I don’t think it is indicative of an personal failing on his part. What it suggests to me, rather, is that he is writing in an environment where there is no question about the basic moral acceptability of the enterprise.

    I would go further and throw this out there: Saying that you are a socialist and nevertheless agree Walker on this indicates, to me, that you are fine with throwing out the context that makes Nibley’s work meaningful. This is exactly the context I was trying to reintroduce. Whether you agree with me or not is unimportant. Unfortunately, the whole post would have passed without any comment on that context were it not for the fact that I brought it up. And, I don’t thing one can say that this context is of negligible importance.

    The idea that Zion must be built within the current cultural paradigm or not be built at all is a false dilemma. Zion, first and foremost, is to be “of one heart and one mind.” From what I can tell of Walker’s post, this entails tweaking the corporate machine in just the right way in order to achieve a well-oiled organizational structure under enlightened managers.

    My guess is that Nibley would have put a greater priority on conversion to Christ than tweaking the machine. In any case, an active attempt to achieve Zion, which is what most LDS people believe they are doing as they repent and partake of the sacrament, does not require accepting the gospel of Stephen R. Covey and Professor Christensen. Indeed, the word “manager” itself is not required. Christ-centered leadership, on the other hand, is indispensable.

    Anyhow, my conclusion is this: it is important to recognize the different kinds of cultural translation and appropriation that are going on here. One cannot make an a-contextual critique of Nibley’s position and simply assert that “managers” (a term that carries a caravan of cultural baggage) are necessary to build Zion. There are too many issues left untouched in doing this, and I would contend that the fact that people engage in this kind of thing suggests there is something amiss. Revisiting Nibley with the issues more fully unpacked would help us understand what is wrong.

  42. Thanks for the response, Trevor. But frankly, it is more of an anti-capitalist rant than a response to my post. Just because Nibley’s views of managers/leaders were shaped by a larger economic ideology doesn’t mean one can’t criticize a specific point. Both socialist and capitalist economies and organizations have managers and leaders. It’s not unique to the kind of crony capitalism you describe. It is also apparent from some of your comments that you accept some of Nibley’s generalizations: all “management” and “corporations” are the same aka evil (e.g. “imperial exploitation,” “anti-Christ,” etc.). But corporations are not inherently good or evil. Leaders are not inherently good or evil. Managers are not inherently good or evil. One doesn’t have to make business “their choice of profession and livelihood” and “first god” whom they worship with “unquestioned loyalty” to see this.

    You can “defend Nibley as having been right in ways that nitpicking over the definition of management can’t begin to address,” but right about what? Some broad social and economic ideology? I’m not reviewing “Approaching Zion.” I’m reviewing “Leaders to Managers.” Don’t think true Christians should participate in the market economy? Fine. You’re still going to need managers in a marketless utopia; competent managers with vision and leaders who know what they’re doing. The mechanics still have to be attended to. (And the “mechanisms” are left “opaque” because not all organizations and departments perform the same tasks or serve the same functions. Goes back to understanding that not all corporations and management are the same.) If Nibely’s intention was to address the “cultural baggage” associated with management, then his article is simply sloppy. Nibley is just as capable of being blinded by ideology as any “MBA student or business professional.” (Much of what we do in life is a form of management. The knee-jerk reaction to the term is ideologically driven.)

    I’m glad you think my post was a “fabulous piece of writing” that was “informative and thought-provoking.” But you nullify the compliment by telling me my education is informed by an immoral culture and that I’ve replaced the God of Israel with the God of Covey and Christensen. That seems a bit much.

    Speaking of context, this WWE post by Allen and me might help provide some: http://www.withoutend.org/all-spiritual-worship-corporeality-hasidism-mormonism/

  43. I was kind of an avid Nibley fan as an undergrad at BYU. Ate up his books and really bought into his material about the “false priesthood” of academia, the murder of the living things of the earth by industrialists, Brigham Young’s utopian social planning, leaders vs. managers, the evil of money… all that. Loved it, breathed it. It informed my ideology for a long time.

    And I sort of internalized a bit of that contempt for money and mammon. I spoke confidently about doing something good for the world and not selling out to evil capitalism and all that. I was a real fanboy.

    I’d like to go back and punch that kid in the face. He lost my family a LOT of opportunities and made paying bills VERY difficult. My family has suffered a lot for taking Nibley too seriously (and no – I don’t “blame” this on Nibley).

    Ironically, these are troubles that afflicted Nibley’s family. My mom and dad’s home ward is close to where Nibley’s was and we have had friends and relatives of the Nibleys in our acquaintance.

    Let’s just say that Nibley’s idealism wasn’t any picnic for his own family either.

  44. “Thanks for the fascinating personal history. I don’t know what it has to do with the merits of the contextualization, or lack thereof, of Walker’s piece, but it is very interesting. I also understand from your response that you agree with Walker. What you do not do is anything more than restate Walker’s position in different words, as though I did not understand Walker. (Correction: you do say that Zion does not build itself.) What I am trying to convey here is some of the context I see behind Nibley’s position. For Nibley this was a clash of cultures. From his perspective, these terms were not neutral. They already had moral values attached. I think it is fine to disagree with that, especially if one desires to accommodate one’s self to the culture that Nibley rejected, but it is important to know that this is what one is doing. The fact that Walker positions himself as a business student and does not address the context from which Nibley is speaking is noteworthy. I don’t think it is indicative of an personal failing on his part. What it suggests to me, rather, is that he is writing in an environment where there is no question about the basic moral acceptability of the enterprise.”

    What is the relevance? One, I’m not unacquainted with what old-school socialists believed and lived for. Many of them were my childhood heroes, so I’m not approaching this from a conservative, corporate America POV. Second, there were (and are) socialist managers, so introducing the context of Nibley’s political leanings does not redeem Nibley’s piece from its flaws. I’m reminded of another example from Israel. Haroeh (the Shepherd) was a small zionist/socialist group of the early 20th century which dreamed of becoming Jewish pastoral nomads like Abraham. They were enthusiastic, dedicated, and idealistic (being of one heart and one mind as we would put it was considered paramount), but severely lacked management skills. They badly botched nearly all of their efforts from raising their own flocks to watching those of others to founding agricultural communes, so for the greater part of the organisation’s history the members were more destitute than even many Arabs were. They nearly starved to death on more than one occasion and due to their mismanagement the whole venture ultimately collapsed in a series of disgraceful episodes.

  45. First, I think I will address Seth R, since his succinct post cuts to the heart of the matter. Seth essentially says, “I used to buy into that Nibley stuff, until I found out that it made living in the real world difficult; I hear it also made life in the Nibley household difficult to live in. Now I have grown out of that nonsense.”

    Now let us replace “Nibley stuff” with “admonitions of Christ.”

    If the value of something were determined by its convenience, then none of us would even have this blog to comment on. Maybe people’s pioneer ancestors should have been smart enough to settle down in eastern cities and forget pushing a handcart across the plains to live like paupers in Brigham’s Deseret.

  46. Greetings, Walker:

    Obviously my post was a response to yours, or you would have dismissed it in a couple of sentences. Instead, you seek to justify the fact that you have elided the ideological and historical context of Nibley’s views. This context is actually crucial for understanding why Nibley wrote what he wrote, and what he meant by what he wrote. I agree with you that one can critique a certain point, but I also think it is valuable to elucidate some of the ideological assumptions the various sides of the discussion bring to the table, including yours. Otherwise, the critique looks like you taking down a straw man.

    My praise for this piece was genuine. That does not oblige me to agree with it, or to agree with the ideological position that informs it. At the same time, I see no reason for you to take personally the true statement that your education is informed by an immoral culture. Show me the person whose education isn’t thus informed. My education is extensively informed by the views of people who were considered immoral by the first Christians.

    The point of my post is to call for an interrogation of the terms in which the debate is framed. You did a wonderful job of representing your ideological position in a thoughtful manner. Now I would like to see people get beneath the hood and tinker around a bit. Are words like “manager” neutral and capable of being slotted into any situation as you seem to argue? I think not, but then I have not really had the opportunity to see a debate about this topic in an LDS context. The fact that no such debate really exists speaks volumes.

    Please try not to take my post too personally. I understand why it hits close to home, but I am not aiming my critique at you so much as an entire LDS subculture (one that is really the prevailing culture). The LDS community tried to exclude Babylon for a reason. They seemed to understand, better than we do, that participation in an ideological-economic system is not a neutral act. In our world, where we assign everything to its particular box ruled over by specialists, we are good at kidding ourselves. In this world, manager is an entirely utilitarian concept that has no good or bad about it. People think I am strange for even questioning that assertion.

  47. Now let us replace “Nibley stuff” with “admonitions of Christ.”

    Oh no you didn’t!

    So Nibley’s position (and yours, by implication) is just automatically, and without question, equated with what Jesus wants.

    Sorry, but we call that begging the question.

    I mean did you think I did not adopt Nibley’s in the first place precisely because I thought his words were highly similar to “the admonitions of Christ”? And do you think I simply abandoned PARTS of it later because I basically had no more use for “the admonitions of Christ?”

    Your response is not a response at all. It’s merely a self-important and self-serving piece of grandstanding that survives off infatilizing opposing views and blatant question-begging.

  48. Trevor,

    I appreciate the response. You have a point that it is difficult to wrestle with cultural baggage that comes with the term “manager” and that Nibley’s ideology informs us to how he is using it. But it is exactly because his ideology informs his use of the term that I feel the need to respond. Because of his anti-capitalist views, he is lumping all managers into the “bad” category and praising the abstract of “leadership.” This is why a major part of my focus is that managers are *not* inherently good or evil just as leaders are *not* inherently good or evil. Yes, even corporate managers and leaders working in the capitalist machine. I think it is an unjustified assumption based purely on ideology. In a sense, I hope to redeem the word “manager” from Nibley’s simplistic narrative. I think it is a false narrative. As Allen has pointed out, management is just as important to socialist societies and it is to capitalist ones. In fact, I was just reading an article by economist Nathan Smith on the economics of monasticism. He describes these institutions as socialist, but cites research explaining that “13% of the monasteries broke up due to mismanagement, including lack of discipline, insolvency or recruitment problems.” And these are institutions with participants that are motivated by worship, not profit.

    If Nibley was simply using “manager” as proxy for “capitalism,” well then you’re correct: I didn’t really address that. But I hope that my critique of his simplistic use of the word will demonstrate that Nibley’s approach is a poor one.

  49. Hey, Seth R-

    You are the one who has told us that inconvenience is a good reason for disbelieving something. I merely used “admonitions of Christ” to illustrate what a dubious basis for disbelief that is. I did so because I assume you do believe in the admonitions of Christ, not because I am equating Nibley’s teachings with the admonitions of Christ, although I can confidently claim that Nibley likely believed that he was advocating for the doctrines of Christ. So, yes, I did. And I would do it again.

  50. Dear Walker,

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. First of all, let me grant that the act of “managing” something is not in itself an evil thing. In other words, attending to the smooth operation of any group activity is not inherently bad. Past that, much depends upon the activity one is engaging in. If it can be determined that an activity leads to an undesirable outcome in terms of one’s highest values, then it is fair to say that opprobrium attaches to it. Of course, all of this assumes a certain shared set of assumptions. In this case, I claim a shared set of assumptions in the scriptures, doctrine, and history of Mormonism.

    Since I do not see contemporary capitalism as being in harmony with the economic principles outlined in the scriptures, and I see that its outcome contributes to the misery of millions of people, I do judge it to be a bad system as it is currently practiced. Not theoretically, but as it is actually practiced today.

    If the LDS community had not embraced Babylon, as Brigham Young had feared, then there would be little debate about the question. Since, however, the LDS community has decided to play the game of trying to straddle the fence, that behavior is now held as sacrosanct. No one asks whether it is a good system; they only try to make it into something it is not by tweaking the system.

    Maybe that is all that can be done. Maybe the revelations simply don’t work. Maybe it is entirely unreasonable to expect that the ideal Christian society as portrayed in the Book of Mormon is beyond people’s ability to attain now. I do not recall, however, capitalism, which did not exist in the Book of Mormon, as being one of the revealed roads to Zion. Still, I would not ignorantly assume that you haven’t given such issues a great deal of thought, and that you don’t have good answers for them.

    I am skeptical. And, I fear the general illiteracy of the past that pervades our conversations of these issues. Ideology creates the past for those who embrace it. Perhaps it did for Nibley too. On the other hand, I daresay that the method of repenting, taking on the name of Christ, and sharing all things in common appears to be a lot closer to the teaching of Christ than modern capitalism does.

    Oh, it may not appear to be practical, but the current mess we are in is lightyears from anything approaching Zion, and I have a difficult time thinking that the solution is to pray for an army of LDS “managers” to fix the world, or to become one of those enlightened managers. I would prefer Nibley’s simplistic narrative over one that seems to me to be deluded. One in which being a better capitalist system lands people in a Zion society.

    In any case, I think it would be impossible to divorce the concept of management from the prevailing corporate-capitalist ideology, and I am concerned that this piece, as well written and thought-provoking as it was, seemed to take the definition of the term for granted as one that was neutral or obviously good. Using a simplified version of Nibley’s ideas (i.e., one that is devoid of context) in order to prove the point does not do justice to either Nibley or the deeper questions that should inform the discussion.

    When I read “management” in an article where an LDS business professor is quoted as saying that the principles of the LDS priesthood and those of Harvard Business School are essentially interchangeable, big red flags pop up in my mind. It would be one thing if either institution had come anywhere close to living up to Christian ideals, but since neither has, especially the latter, I am left wondering exactly how you construe management, and why Nibley would have been wrong to disagree with you.

  51. What I had more in mind Trevor was the parable of the servants and the talents. And how people often use idealistic notions as a way of hiding from the reality of the needs people have, and working to address those needs.

    A lot of Nibley was good in theory, but wound up being nothing more than high-minded escapism in the end. It doesn’t have to be for everyone, but I’m afraid that for many people who embrace idealism like this, it probably is precisely that -

    An excuse for skiving off work and adult responsibility.

  52. Seth R,

    That is totally hilarious. I have no idea where you got the notion that Nibley promoted “high-minded escapism” or excuses for “skiving off.” Perhaps you have a narrow definition of what it means to be anxiously engaged in a good cause. More’s the pity.