After all, many of the traits and skills that make up the DNA of Mormon leadership — pragmatism, leading as part of a team known as a “council,” and doing one’s share of the dirty work — are universal values. Mormon leaders’ jobs are more about service than prestige. Church members who serve as lay leaders today — there is no paid hierarchy in the Mormon faith — will likely find themselves in less visible roles tomorrow. (After serving as a bishop for six years, and president of a mission for 3 years, I now teach Sunday School to 16-year-olds.)
But despite the fact that Romney’s Mormon leadership background could help to soften his image as a remote and wealthy businessman, he doesn’t seem to fully embrace it. Perhaps it says something striking about our national discomfort with religious diversity that a candidate would sooner pass as cold or corporate than draw too much attention to the religious experiences that underpin his leadership capacity.
As a Mormon, I understand some of Romney’s hesitancy here. I too worry that even when talking about church leadership experiences, Mormon practices could be taken out of context or misunderstood. But I worry more about what happens if someone competing for this nation’s highest office misses an opportunity to demonstrate how much one’s church provides a platform for leadership development. At an even broader level, I’m concerned about what happens if leaders in our country don’t take every opportunity to highlight the very experiences that shaped the best of who they are and what they have to offer.
Whether Romney wins the election or not, this ‘Mormon moment’ provides a chance for Romney to show real leadership — by embracing the idea that no asset, no set of personal values, no part of America that enriches our collective ability to move the country forward should ever be obscured.
Ulrich is a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a partner with the RBL Group. He is also the author of, among others,
The Why of Work.
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How the Mormon church teaches priesthood holders to lead
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