Stephen R. Covey’s Conformity Model Sucks

Years ago, I was required to attend a 3-day Stephen R. Covey workshop (taught by one of his minions). It was a followup to his highly successful 7-Habits workshop. At the time, Stephen had just been named by Time as one of the world’s 50 most influential people and was a local celebrity. The training was boring; it consisted of an occasional 2-and-1/2-minute talk by the master on videotape, followed by sessions which were about as deep as my grandchildren’s wading pool. One thing that did catch my eye was an illustration. It consisted of an arrow with a large body (representing an organization). Inside the large arrow were several small arrows (representing employees or groups of employees). They were all pointing in the same exact direction (to the right). This was supposed to illustrate how a well-oiled organization should operate.

Covey's Idea of a Well-oiled Organization

Covey’s Idea of a Well-oiled Organization

I was tired of sitting and the arrow analogy made no sense to me. What organization in its right mind would want all of their little arrows (think employees) goose stepping in unison? Wasn’t the trainer describing an organization where most of the employees are brain dead? I thought maybe a little diversity of thought and opinion might be useful. My comment sent the construction portion of our Federal agency into hysterics. Suddenly everybody woke up from their trainer-induced stupor and tried to set me straight. They didn’t see how an organization with arrows pointing in even slightly different directions could function. Since I’m a planner and most of the objections came from construction types, I thought maybe that would explain the differences of opinion; construction groups by their very nature are top-down oriented.

The Covey-arrow illustration is the way many members of the LDS Church think it should operate, particularly the GAs.  Few members would argue that the Church has historically been a top-down organization.  This organizational model was recently highlighted in a LDS-essay titled:  “The Quest for a Common Moral Framework.”

In the words of Christian writer R. R. Reno, the stability [of a common moral framework], rooted in the sense that something greater than self is in control, “helps people lead happy, meaningful lives” and provides us with a cultural inheritance less in the pattern of unmoored individual sailboats heading freely to self-chosen destinations and more in the staid yet secure form of “trains [that] run on set schedules.”

The sailboat-and-train analogy is uncomfortably like the Covey arrow diagram.  Both advocate that we all march in lockstep.  Don’t question, just obey.  We are all taking the same route to the same place.  To me, this sounds terrible.  Dave Banack, writing at agrees with me:

The anonymous author or committee [of the LDS essay] rejects, as a model for the ideal society operating under a moral framework, the idea of “individual sailboats heading freely to self-chosen destinations” and instead argues for a world where “trains run on set schedules.” So the “common moral framework” that the [LDS] Newsroom has in mind is Mussolini’s fascist Italy. No thanks. I’ll take the sailboats.

So what’s the alternative?  My idea:  have leaders that provide a general direction and broadcast a coherent vision.  Diversity of opinion and thought makes for a stronger Church.  Instead of 15 men ideating, you have all the members.  Great ideas can come from the lower rungs of the ladder.  I would suggest an organizational chart that looks more like the one below.  Sailboats (or arrows) all headed in the same general direction, but with plenty of opportunities for individual thought and action.

This Model Leaves Room for Individual Thought and Action

This Model Leaves Room for Individual Thought and Action

On the above illustration, how would you characterize yourself?  Which arrow are you?  Do you want to sail the boat or board the train?  My conclusion:  Mormonism needs more sailors.

This entry was posted in anarchism, mormonism, Organizational Dynamics, Personal Essays, Philosophy, Religion and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Stephen R. Covey’s Conformity Model Sucks

  1. Susan says:

    Mormons need more female sailors.

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