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Ever have one of those experiences where a boss or a leader says something so ridiculously impossible that it underscores the leader’s loss of touch with reality? It happened a lot to me in the Mormon church. I’ve already talked about the Language of Prayer talk by Oaks which was probably my first inkling that church leaders were not immune to idiocy.

Them’s good times.

Here’s another example:

Back when I was teaching Early Morning Seminary to the high school students in our area, and holding down a full-time job, I had one such experience. During a teacher in-service training meeting the CES Employee instructed us that according to “the brethren” the proper way to prepare a Seminary lesson was to read the day’s designated chapters of scripture no less than three times:

  1. Once to get a nice overview before we started preparing anything
  2. A second time as we developed the actual lesson plan
  3. Then, a final read through once we were done with the lesson to double-check that we covered “the spirit” of the scriptures, hadn’t left anything out and to get further revelation from the Lord.

Now, if you are a General Authority or a full-time church employee sitting at a desk in some Institute of Religion at a college campus somewhere and 100% of your time is dedicated to such things, that procedure makes perfect sense. You can take the time to read 6 Old Testament chapters 3 times at about an hour each and another hour or two to prepare the lesson. It’s your job. But if you are anyone else, a volunteer with a full-time job or a mother with kids at home, you are just starting to prepare your lesson the night before at 8:30 pm  after the kids are in bed, it sounds ridiculous.

Since Early Morning Seminary is .. well, early.. I tried to be in bed by 10:00. I was lucky to read the day’s scriptures once as I prepared the lesson. And I imagined myself a pretty good teacher at the time if I do say so myself. My reaction was to just carry on doing the best that I could while secretly wondering how the Church leaders could be so clueless.

At another meeting a month or two later our leader informed us that someone had set him straight with a reality check and that we could disregard the 3 time rule. I was already there.

This sort of thing happens in the business world all the time too. Having worked in sales I know both the power and weakness of setting high expectations. Sales is a numbers game. You need XXX number of leads to generate XX number of appointments which will result in X number of sales. So, good sales people will be self motivated to make those XXX calls. The problem is that those numbers are guildposts only. They aren’t magic, and they are rarely valid across industries or even across geography.

Take a Mormon mission, for example, which is essentially structured as an intense sales effort. In Brazil we needed about 20 discussions a week to generate 4-5 baptismal commitments per week to result in 1-3 baptisms per week. For me, that worked. By the end of my mission I had about 120 baptisms credited to my name.

But those numbers certainly didn’t work for missionaries in Korea or Sweden or the US. I doubt they could have gotten 20 appointments per week no matter how hard they tried. If I had been on a mission in Japan and the leaders had presented us with those number from my mission in Brazil I would have concluded they were clueless.

Sales organizations in the business world, likewise tend to be just like religions, in the sense that they believe their own numbers and projections regardless of environmental factors. It is often stated in sales meetings that hard work is the only thing keeping you from achieving targets. To that I say, “Yeah? Tell that to a typewriter salesman in the 90’s!” The assumption that hard work is the only variable and that all other factors are constants is what sales goals are made of. Granted, hard work is a variable, just not the only one.

Using my LDS mission example, I believe I recently lost my job because I was working in a territory where Brazil convert or “sales” goals were being applied to Sweden. Making XXX number of calls did not lead to XX appointments and therefore I didn’t achieve X number of sales. Selling educational software in a state where school districts are laying off teachers and discontinuing busing and food services…not an easy environment in which to get an appointment let alone a sale.

The bottom line is that I was operating the same as I had as a seminary teacher…carrying on doing the best that I could, looking for ways to improve but not beating myself up for not making someone else’s targets and goals that were established on paper in a different environment and geography…

Like all of life’s challenges I’m taking unemployment as an opportunity to improve myself and create new challenges and opportunities for myself. I just hope my optimism isn’t a sign of disconnection and cluelessness.