An unending conundrum… or not?

A DISCLAIMER: This blog is NOT about my personal views on the Republican or Democratic parties/candidates of the USA or any sort of campaign for or against any ONE idea or person. Rather, this is a blog in quest of seeking answers to some questions I have about our choices, the reasons behind the choices we make etc. So NO POLITICS please! This blog about my latest and greatest epiphany- for a change, has nothing to do with books that I have read in the recent past.

I must admit that what I am going to write about here and what has been going on in my mind recently has a lot to do with the ‘colorful’ 2012 Presidential election campaign here in the United States.

So, after a long-drawn internal-party war Mitt Romney has finally ended up as the Republican nominee all set to compete with the Democratic President Barack Obama.

All the while, whether it was the Democrats Romney was competing against, or his own party Republican opponents, he always has one challenge staring him in the eye: his religion - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly denoted as "Mormonism").

Now changing gears, France had just recently announced their verdict by selecting a “Socialist” candidate (François Hollande) as their new President. I could not help but wonder about the irony so stark: France elects a so-called “Socialist” to solve their economical problems (since they did not see their former “Right-winged” President Sarkozy as being “Right” for their dwindling economy.), while some American citizens condemn Barack Obama as a “Left-wing Socialist” and unsuitable to “save” the country from debt and job loss. :)

And the other thing that’s gotten me thinking in this regard is the social stand Europe chooses to take versus the USA with their politics and their leaders. There are umpteen examples from time to time on how European public has clearly proven that their Presidents’/Prime Ministers’/Chancellors’ private lives is completely delineated from how they can serve as efficient leaders.

Ok, so coming back to Uncle Sam’s situation: The exact opposite is true with the American public and their views that determine who gets to lead them.

So the billion dollar (euro) question: What makes some people great leaders and what metrics should be used to pick them?

  • Should we be “left brain” logical/analytical about it and base in on their business acumen, keen decision making skills, their view on micro/macro economics, skill-set to create jobs etc?


  • Should we be “right brain” intuitive/thoughtful about it and also base it on their life’s principles, goals, family values, their views on personal choices, marriage etc?

To keep this simple, it was easier to look at the current examples in hand that I see/read/hear about everyday here in the USA: Let’s take the Romney Vs Obama election campaigns for instance.

When I started thinking and reading up about this, one aspect kept coming up as a “disadvantage” to Governor Romney: his religion – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And very quickly my research showed that traits like these were “key” for the American public to elect their President. What better place to start my quest for an epiphany?

I could not put my finger to the bigger question I had put forth earlier until I satiated my other questions (in this particular example) on what Mormonism is, and why it is regarded as a negative in today’s American society etc.? And most importantly how does this cater to making an informed decision on one of our most important choices - Electing the President!?

And it was unbelievable what the facts pointed out and so my whole quest on the bigger issue switched directions and I started focusing and gathering all the information I can absorb on Mormons and Mormonism instead. Yes, I get distracted easily!

The first thing that struck me was: The Provo Missionary Training Center (MTC) and its curriculum that is encouraged to be taken up as part of the Latter day Saints’ youth members. This program can start as early as when they are 19 or 20 years of age. The more I dug in to the structure of this program, the more it started looking like a full-fledged MBA degree curriculum, devoid any alcohol consumption or other distractions with about 2 years of rigorous work with 12-15 hour days.

Is this disciplining your students or what? And definitely these youngsters fit the bill of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” rule. (Note: To learn more about the “10,000 hours rule” refer to Malcolm Gladwell’s book – The Outliers).

One very important point to note was, how so many skills were instilled as part of this program which (inadvertently) seemed to me like a “formula training” to make great leaders, thinkers, strategists etc.

Some examples of this would be, all those in the mission are forced to take up at least one assignment in a foreign country and to have to live there and “spread” Mormonism just like they are locals to that area. So this means, learning a new language, living under the same conditions as the locals, and selling an idealogy in a completely new language to people who were the least bit interested in it. If this is not practical training to real world sales/marketing/social media, I don’t know what is?

If you come to think of it, if such hard work and discipline is ingrained at such a young age, it’s highly unlikely that these members would turn out to be less successful than their peers who are working only half the time as them, of course  along with a lot of the “other” distractions.

The amazing facts did not end there: I read an article called “God’s MBAs” in the Business Week (A very interesting read by the way) and a pattern is identified and questions are raised about how and why so many people from this particular sect (Mormons) hold such high-esteemed offices all over the United States and outside?

Yes, agreed that patterns can always be identified if we go looking for a particular trait. But the facts that came out seem more than just a coincidence. And the heights they have reached is not just “any” position or role, but some of the most highly regarded, esteemed, sought after ones.

Here’s a list of the Mormons and their achievements - in and outside the United States.

Mitt Romney – Former head of Bain Capital, rescued the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics from a corruption scandal, spent four years as the governor of Massachusetts, and Presidential nominee for the 2012 elections.

Jon Huntsman Jr. - A former Utah governor who negotiated dozens of free-trade agreements as a U.S. trade representative and served as ambassador to China from 2009-2011.

David Neeleman - Founder  of JetBlue.

Eric Varvel  - Chief Executive Officer of the global Investment Bank of Credit Suisse.

Stephen Covey  - Self-help mogul, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Kim Clark - Former dean of Harvard Business School and

Gary Crittenden - Served as CFO for Citigroup, American Express, and Sears Roebuck.

And these are just the TOP executives to mention a few, there are many more of them in great positions of influence and impact at Marriott International, American Express, American Motors, Dell Computers, Lufthansa, Fisher-Price, Life Re, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Madison Square Garden, La Quinta Properties, PricewaterhouseCooper, Stanley Black & Decker and the head of human resources at Citigroup is Mormon.

One very interesting trivia: In 2010 Goldman Sachs hired 31 grads from BYU, the same number it hired from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

I hope you get the point here… I am slowly starting to look at this whole Mormon thing as  HUGE plus in a candidate – whether President or an employee I’d want to interview.

Another thing that has been my pet-peeve on this topic: Mormons are preached to abstain from alcohol and caffeine…the more I think about this, the more I am convinced that even this seems like a great idea to be part of a curriculum. I mean there’s no harm in a few pegs here and there, especially when you work 16 hours a day! But if you analyze this without any bias, here’s what I conclude:

Note: Before you read further, you have to be absolutely sober while reading the following to get the point I am about to make. ;)

What good comes of alcohol anyway? I mean, of course there is the aspect of getting “high” but otherwise it just seems like a silly and utterly worthless (especially the hang-over) indulgence! So if this is also taken care of – in the name of religion, productivity only goes higher – isn’t it?

By all this, I am not saying Joseph Smith (founder of Mormonism) had all these entrepreneurial traits in mind while he created The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it seems like all of these values inculcated as part of this religion's belief system seems to miraculously aid in becoming some of the greatest leaders in the world - as proven by all these Mormons.

I think I’ve dented this topic enough and so here I rest my case. Personally I am not speaking for or against Mormons or Mormonism here. That’s not the point of the blog at all. The bigger reason to delve in to all this – is to find out what metrics we use to assess the people we want to be lead by and are these truly accurate, intelligent ways to do so?

After all this research on Mormonism, it seems like if this is what some of us use to gauge our leaders and actually use it against them, aren’t we thoroughly misguided? And in the end aren’t we the biggest victims of this all?

To answer the bigger question: As always, I think there should be a middle ground while choosing a person to either lead or even work for/with us.

The candidate’s personal views, principles, values and ideologies definitely tell us a lot about them. But should we give a lot of weight to that while making our key decisions like whether they’ll be good Presidents, CEOs or just Joe-the plumber - seems absurd to me.

Ok here it is -The epiphany moment: What would be ideal along with all these personal traits listed all through this write up is, to see if he/she can be not just good – but GREAT at their jobs – like say ruling a super-power, running a successful establishment or just make sure our pipes don’t burst and cause us more misery than we started with in the first place! :)

P.S: For all those who are wondering about the pictures:

Mitt Romney - absolutely relevant to this blog.

Ryan Gosling - I'll admit I have not mentioned him in this blog at all, but I had to stir some interest/curiosity with a pretty face... and to my defense his picture is not completely irrelevant - he had a Mormon upbringing :)