How has Mormonism shaped Mitt Romney's leadership style?

Published: Monday, May 14 2012 6:21 p.m. MDT

Mitt Romney, center, talks with son, Ben, and wife, Ann, after an LDS Church meeting in Park City in 2002.

Shaun Stahle

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Combining the resources of both its "On Faith" and "On Leadership" online blogs, the Washington Post has launched a multi-part series of stories by LDS writers and academics aimed at explaining how Mitt Romney's leadership style has been shaped by his experiences as a lay leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In one article, Dave Ulrich, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a former LDS bishop and mission president, says he thinks Romney should find "a way to open a bigger window into his (LDS) church service."

"To be clear, he does not and should not use his presidential candidacy as a platform for Mormon evangelism — defining, defending or preaching his church's beliefs," Ulrich said. "He should not be a spokesperson for Mormon dogma. But he should share how his Mormon experiences have influenced him as a leader."

According to Ulrich, "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."

"Perhaps it says something 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," Ulrich writes.

The author of a second article in the series, Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen, suggests that the underpinning values of leadership in the LDS Church are "the same ones espoused by Harvard Business School."

Christensen cites as an example the Harvard Business School case method of learning, which teaches students to ask, "What great question yielded that answer?" rather than simply focusing on facts and answers.

"If this HBS case method took a religious form, it would look a lot like Mormonism," Christensen said. "Our founding prophet organized the LDS Church around answers to questions that he asked of God. ... The reason why much of Christianity went off the rails in the Middle Ages is that their leaders concluded that God had already given us all the answers. This, for them, obviated any ongoing need for questions, prophets or revelations. For Mormons, ongoing revelation from God is our lifeblood."

In the third article in the series, LDS attorney and blogger Steve Evans talks about the impact and influence of Romney's full-time missionary service on his life and philosophies. As a former missionary to France himself, Evans observes "missions are a crucible in which Mormon youth refine their faith."

Although Romney is often described as someone who is out of touch and who has never had to live a normal, hard-working life, Evans writes that "during his time in France, Romney led a simple and poor existence."

"He had a reputation for working hard, for setting and achieving high goals for handing out leaflets or distributing copies of Le Livre de Mormon," Evans says. "And while the other 62 years of his life may have watered down the memories of his time in France, Mitt Romney likely spent most of his mission with the indigent, the elderly, the mentally ill and the desperate. These are the key demographics for door-to-door missionaries, and as a full-time student of Jesus Christ, Romney would have learned a great deal about caring for the needy."

Matthew Bowman, assistant professor of religion at Hampden-Sydney College and the author of "The Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith," writes about "how the Mormon Church teaches priesthood holders to lead" in his article in the Post series.

Bowman says men who hold the LDS priesthood "are taught from their youth that they bear responsibilities for their congregation, its physical and spiritual well-being, and trained to take their part in the administration of their church."

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