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Roger Connors

One Degree Changes

Thank you for that beautiful number and for the blessing of bringing the Spirit into this meeting. I’m so grateful to be here today, to be honored to speak with you. What a privilege it is that you have to attend this great institution. I attended a two-year junior college in my academic career and did not have the opportunity to attend an LDS institution at that time. I think it’s such a privilege to have this blessing. I feel like I am among friends as I participate here.

In fact, that’s what the Church does for everyone, I think, everywhere. I recall being on a business trip one time in Denmark. We were in Copenhagen and had just finished meeting with a management team, and my partner and I decided that we would just head off for the airport as quickly as we could. We got to the airport and found out that our flight had been delayed. It was canceled. We thought, “Well, we don’t have arrangements; we don’t have a place to stay. What are we going to do?” So we hopped in a taxi and found out they only spoke Danish, which we did not, and tried to figure out how to communicate we needed to go to a hotel. Finally, we figured that out, and they took us to a hotel. It wasn’t an American brand hotel, so it was a Danish hotel. We walked inside and walked up to the counter and had the same problem. We stood in front of this young lady and tried to explain that we needed a room that night. She said she spoke no English—she said, “No English”—and we just had no way to communicate.

Finally, we started using sign language. We did the, you know, “we need a place to stay or a place to sleep,” and we were getting nowhere. We looked down at one point in the conversation, and as we looked down, we saw a ring on her finger and on the ring were the initials “CTR.” We both looked at each other and said, “No way.” We immediately looked at her and said, “Choose the right,” in unison. She looked up, she smiled, and she said in English, “Choose the right.” It was fantastic. We had wonderful rooms that night. We learned that membership has its privileges. We were so blessed.

I’ve also found that wherever we go, we know that our Heavenly Father loves us, and we can trust Him and we can call upon Him, anytime, anywhere, in any place and at any time we need Him. I had one such occasion. I was a returned missionary, home from my mission for a short period of time. I had attended a junior college, as I mentioned, down in California and was trying to decide what I would do next. I had applied to BYU—that was back in the days when they would let anyone in—and had gotten accepted, but I hadn’t decided to go. I sat down with my bishop, and he said, “Well, Roger, you really need to go do this. This is the right step for you.”

I prayed about it and felt that it was the right step as well, but it was a week before school started. So I said, “Bishop, I have no friends, no place to stay. School starts in a week. What am I going to do?”

He said, “Well, figure it out.” So I knelt down and offered a prayer to my Heavenly Father and explained to Him what I was doing, why I was doing it, and the help I needed. And I loaded up my car, and it was an old Opal. It had plastic in the windows. The windows had broken, and I couldn’t afford to replace them. My rearview mirror was held up with a gum wrapper inside the car. So I put what little things I had inside the car, and I took the drive from Southern California to Provo, Utah. It was about a 14-hour drive for me.

I remember pulling up in Provo, driving down Center Street where it meets 900 East, and thinking to myself about 7:00 p.m. that night, “Okay, so now what? I’m here, but I have no place to stay. I don’t have any friends to call upon. What am I going to do?”

I reached an intersection and I saw this little apartment complex. It’s still there. It’s called Fairmount Square. And something said, “Go give it a try.” So I turned my little Opal into the Fairmount Square parking lot, and pulled in, and walked up to and knocked on the door of the manager’s apartment. She opened the door, and I remember her talking to me, and she said, “What can I help you with?”

I said, “I’m here to go to school, and I need a place to stay.”

She just looked at me and said, “Well, you’re a real planner, aren’t you? It starts in a week.”

I thought, “Well, this isn’t going well.”

She said, “I have one bed left in the apartment complex. Just one. If you go down and you meet the roommates and you’re agreeable, then you can have it.”

So she shut her door, and I walked down the hallway to try to find this apartment, with a little bit of fear and trepidation about my roommates—what they could be like and if they would want me to stay with them. I went up, and I knocked on the door.

When the door opened, brothers and sisters, on the other side of the door were three of my former missionary friends that served in my district from the Georgia Atlanta Mission when I served as a missionary. They looked at me and just started laughing. I do that to people—they see me and just start laughing. I’m not sure why.

And they said, “What are you doing here?”

And I said, “Well, I’m here to go to school, and I need a place to stay.”

Elder Duffman spoke up, and he said, “Well, come on in.”

Did you follow that story? I mean, did you follow it all the way? Did you follow it all the way from Southern California, 14 hours to Provo, Utah, to the one door where the Lord had prepared a place? We can trust Him. We can count on Him.

There is a scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants 84:80: “And any man [or woman] that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom”—under a condition—“and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed”—unfortunately—“and they shall not go hungry, neither athirst.”

That’s a promise. The Savior keeps His promises, and I found that to be true in more than one way. My wife and I were finishing our missionary service, as President Richards mentioned, in the Washington Kennewick Mission. We were so excited when we got our mission call. I don’t know if you know how it works when you are called to be a mission president. They call and ask you to serve, and then it’s several months before you actually learn where your assignment is. So you’re like every other missionary in the world, waiting for that letter to show up in the mail.

So after about five months, we got our packet, and we opened up our letter, and we read it to our family: “You are hereby called to serve, to preside in the Washington Kennewick Mission.” And the first thing I thought was, “I love forests. This is going to be great!” I told that to a friend of mine who is from the area, and he just started laughing again. I said, “Why are you laughing?” He said, “There aren’t any trees in the Washington Kennewick Mission.” And it is a desert. But it was a wonderful place, and we had a marvelous experience serving the Lord in that capacity.

But something happened. Two months before I was to come home, we found out of a sudden that I was diagnosed with Stage IV Lymphoma cancer. That means it had spread throughout my entire body. I had a tumor the size of a mini football in my abdomen and wasn’t aware of this. I felt like I was in great shape. I was running 110 miles an hour and was hit with that sudden surprise. Quite a surprise.

But remember the scripture. You won’t be darkened, and the Lord will help you. And so we went through treatment, and the treatment was effective, along with prayer and priesthood blessings. But the treatment was so demonstrable in terms of its impact on me that you couldn’t recognize who I was.  I started chemotherapy as well as steroid treatment. Now, I did receive a literal recognition of that scripture that a hair of your head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed (see D&C 84:80). All my friends noticed. And it became quite obvious what was happening.

I had a missionary reunion shortly after we began, and none of my missionaries recognized me when they came to the front door. It was really quite a remarkable time. Well, I took selfies before selfies were popular. As I went through the process, the Lord continued to bless me and to help me and to heal me. I’m so grateful for that blessing of help and healing.

As a consequence of the steroid treatment, I underwent ten rounds of surgeries and had both shoulders and both hips replaced. Do you remember the scripture? It says, “Neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a hair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst” (D&C 84:80).

Through all of that I had a choice, and the choice was to be healthy or sick. I was presented with this interesting dilemma. If I allowed myself to present myself as ill, then people treated me as though I were ill, and I was taken off the bench and out of the game. But if I approached it as through I were healthy and made that decision, then I was totally in the game and working. So I made a choice. My choice was to be well.

Now, you can’t will yourself that way, but you can certainly have the attitude of wanting it to work. What I had to give up was all the sympathy that came with being ill, all the statements that people would make like, “Oh, I’m sorry that is happening to you,” and “Boy, you should get a pass because of what you’re going through.” Rather than that, I made the choice to be well. I worked—I missed very little work for the period of time. I was so blessed because of that experience and opportunity to be able to have the attitude of being well.

Brothers and sisters, we can make plans, and we should. Have you heard the statement, “Plan your work, and work your plan, then watch your plan work”? I like to say, “Plan your work, then work your plan, then watch the Lord work His plan for you.” Things will happen that are unexpected. We can even do things that cause us to get off the plan that our Heavenly Father has.

In general conference, President Uchtdorf shared the story of a passenger jet— as you know, he likes telling airline stories. He told the story of a passenger jet that was flying from New Zealand to Antarctica. It was a sightseeing trip. It had 257 passengers on board. Something happened and someone changed the flight plan by simply two degrees. And because of those two degrees, the flight was 28 miles off course and crashed, killing all those on board.

President Uchtdorf goes on to teach, “Small errors and minor drifts away from the doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ can bring sorrowful consequences into our lives. It is therefore of critical importance that we become self-disciplined enough to make early and decisive corrections to get back on the right track and not wait or hope that errors will somehow correct themselves” (“A Matter of a Few Degrees,” Apr. 2008 General Conference).

Sister Connors reminded me of a story that Elder Hamilton of the Seventy shared in general conference. He said he knew the very hour his family became inactive in the Church. He said that his father was 13 years old at the time; he said his father can recall this. In those days we attended church in the morning for Sunday School and sacrament meeting was in the evening or the afternoon. So “on a beautiful spring day, after returning home from Sunday . . . services, his mother turned to his father and asked simply, ‘Well, dear, do you think we should go to sacrament meeting this afternoon, or should we take the family for a ride in the country?’” (“Continually Holding Fast,” Oct. 2013 General Conference).

They opted for a ride in the country, and they never came back. And generations were affected by that simple decision, that simple two-degree shift in direction.

In both cases they were minor adjustments, minor changes. My belief is that one-degree changes can have a positive impact on our lives. A simple, small change maintained over time can result in a large, positive transformational impact on whatever we are trying to do.

For example, lately I have been thinking about my reading and wanted to increase and improve my ability to read books. In my business, it’s a good thing to be up on things. Things have been busy, hard to do. So I made the decision, a one-degree change, to read 15 minutes a day, consistently, day after day, over time. What that has allowed me to do is read 22 books in the last 12 months. It has entirely changed my ability to consume the material I need to consume in the business I am in.

My wife and I made the decision many years ago to walk thirty minutes every day. We’ve kept to that pretty strictly and enjoy that time together. Not only has it had a transformational impact on my health, as you can well see, but also had a transformational impact on our relationship as husband and wife. It’s a great time for us to be together. We don’t really call it a walk; we call it a talk because it’s our opportunity to be together and speak to one another.

A more significant decision, a one-degree decision I made in my life was to get in that car, that Opal, and load up my things, and drive up to school and finish my education. Transformational. As I look at all of the things I have done in my life, there are a few decisions I have made that have been truly transformational. One of those has been my education and what I have decided to do. One-degree changes--- that’s what we’re talking about.

Here’s the question I would ask you: what one-degree change could do right now that would have a positive impact, a transformational impact, on your life? What one thing? Just one. Don’t overcomplicate it with a long list. Don’t try to articulate all the transformational things you want to have happen in your life. What’s that one shift, that one-degree shift, that if you did consistently over time would impact you in a significant way?

Here are some thoughts about what it could be:

·         To complete your degree by a certain date.

·         To be totally committed and accountable to follow through.

·         To date only those who have the same standards as you.

·         To attend the full three-hour block of Church meetings on Sunday.

·         To fast a full 24 hours every fast Sunday.

·         To endure to the end.

One-degree shifts can have transformational impact as in no other way. But there are two keys to this. The first is to pick the right one-degree change. What is it that I or you or we could do that would result in the transformational impact we are looking for in our lives—things we want to accomplish, goals we want to obtain, objectives we want to achieve? What are those? What are the course corrections that would lead to blessings in our life that can be obtained in no other way?

I’d like to help you understand a little bit about that and what you can do because one of the things you are working against is this notion of belief bias. That’s what I call it. It’s called conformation bias in behavioral science. It’s our propensity to prove that our view of the world is correct and to kind of shut out other inputs. So let’s go on—let’s give this a try. I’m going to ask you to participate with me for just a minute. I’m going to show you a slide, and on the slide is a collage. It’s a collage of pictures. I’m going to give you approximately four seconds, and in those four seconds, I want you to identify as many different objects as you can. Don’t tell anyone else; just note it to yourself. You can write down a little note, or just mentally note it. But identify as many objects as you possibly can in four seconds. Everyone ready? Okay, here we go.

[Slides are displayed.]

Okay, so we’ll try to do this in an organized way. What did you see? How many of you saw the pizza? [Audience members raise their hands.] How many of you didn’t see the pizza? How many of you are ready for a pizza? [Audience members raise their hands.] Okay, just checking. The Olympic symbol. How many of you saw the Olympic symbol? [Audience members raise their hands.] Okay, maybe a third. How many didn’t see the Olympic symbol? [Audience members raise their hands.] Most of the room. A panda bear. How many saw the panda bear? [Audience members raise their hands.] How many didn’t see the panda bear? [Audience members raise their hands.] Okay, most saw the panda bear. How about over here? What did you see? [An audience member responds.] A watch? How many saw the watch? [Audience members raise their hands.] How many didn’t see the watch? [Audience members raise their hands.] About half and half. How about the blue elephant? How many saw the blue elephant? [Audience members raise their hands.] Yeah, there’s no blue elephant; that was just a test to see if you were cheating.

Let me show it to you one more time. That’s the picture. So why is it? What’s going on here? Why do some of us see some things and others of us see something different? You could say it’s where you’re sitting in the room, but you’re all sitting in about the same place. The slide’s up high enough, except for those in the very front—you might not see the whole thing. But what is that? It’s called selective perception. You are attuned to recognize certain things you are familiar with.

It’s how advertising works, right? The whole idea of advertising is that you can be predisposed to recognize a brand or a logo or a product when you walk into a grocery store and see them on the shelves. If you see it enough, you will recognize it. We see what we look for. Did you hear that? We see what we look for. That is good and bad.

I remember one time I was sitting with a friend, and his young teenage daughter walked in. She started talking about this band—now, you’re going to know who this band is; at the time I didn’t. The band was named Weezer. Do you know Weezer? Well, at the time I had never heard of Weezer. I had in my mind a bunch of old people sitting around trying to sing. She walked in and started talking about Weezer, and I left their house with that on my mind. I got in my car, and as I was driving down the road, I looked at the bumper of a car in front of me and saw a bumper sticker. And on the bumper sticker, guess what it said? It said “Weezer.” I walked into a store, and on the window of the store there was a poster, and it was advertising a Weezer song. I turned on the radio, and through a sequence of songs, I heard Weezer as a band being announced. And finally, I walked into my daughter’s room and asked what she was doing. She said, “I’m listening to music.” I said, “What are you listening to?” Guess what she said? “Weezer.”

So what happened? What happened? Did it all of a sudden start occurring, or had it always been occurring and I just couldn’t see it? Selective perception works against us when we are trying to identify the one-degree change. It’s hard for us to see what we need, but if we can turn to people we trust and ask for their input, we can get amazing insight that allows us to see the whole picture and not just that which we know.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, when we fast and pray, the Holy Spirit will reveal all things to our minds and hearts. He testifies of truth. And if there were a truth we want to understand, it would be that one thing we could do that would allow us to make the slightest shift that, if over time followed consistently, would be a transformational change leading to the blessings that we are looking for.

So, number one: identify and pick the right one-degree change.

Number two: hold yourself accountable to follow through and do it. The best way to do that is to tell someone what you are doing. Declare it. Find someone you trust who you can report to proactively. You can go to them and say, “Here’s what I’m doing. Here is the progress I am making.” When you declare yourself, you close all the back doors and you give yourself the opportunity to take accountability to accomplish something important.

I think both of these—choosing the right one-degree change and holding yourself accountable—are keys. Remember, the gates of history swing on small hinges. There aren’t great things that have to be done in order to accomplish great things. Often, it’s the small and simple things.

Mark Twain—I love some of his quotes, and this is one I particularly like—he said, “The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” Then he explained: “The secret to getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming task into small, manageable tasks, starting at the first one.”

I believe that our efforts to go before the Lord and ask for His help and then establish a direction will bring upon us the divine blessings of personal power—the power of faith, the power of righteousness that allows us to accomplish the things we’re doing. And then watch for the divine hand of the Lord to help you do it.

I’ve got to tell you this quick story. This is a friend of mine, Monte Deere. He was our bishop in Alpine, and he was called to be a mission president in Spain (that’s where he’s serving today). He had the most interesting experience. In Spain, in the ward he was living in, was a woman from Iran. She only spoke Farsi—she didn’t speak Spanish; she didn’t speak English, just Farsi. President Deere had no one in the mission who could teach her. He’d been praying and thinking about what he could do to solve this problem and give her what she needed, but he was coming up short.

A missionary who served in his mission was corresponding with President Deere via email.  He needed some advice so President Deere offered to talk with this missionary over the phone. He said, “Send me your phone number, and I’ll give you a call.” So the missionary did that.

Well, President Deere, being true to his word, picked up the phone and gave him a call. When the phone rang, he was shocked to find a woman answering the phone. He didn’t know what had happened. He said, “Hi, my name is President Deere. I’m in the Spain Malaga Mission, and I’m looking for Elder so-and-so.”

She said, “Well, President, you have the wrong number, but you caught the sister missionaries here in San Diego.”

He said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” They chatted for a while and thought it was just the most amazing coincidence.

He was about to hang up the phone when the sister missionary said this: “President, can my companion ask you a question?”

He said sure, so her companion got on the line. She said, “President Deere, I’m on a special mission here in Southern California. I teach people in Farsi. You wouldn’t happen to have anyone in your mission that needs to be taught in Farsi, would you?”

President Deere was shocked. He said, “What do you mean? How do you do that?”

She said, “We do it over Facebook. We have a conversation in Farsi, and we teach.”

He said, “Well, I have exactly who you need to talk to.” They got together and a few weeks later, this woman was baptized.

My belief about these stories is that Heavenly Father will bless your efforts as you commit yourself to a course and direction. Remember the brother of Jared? Remember the problem he had? How are we going to light the barges? How will we do that? The Lord didn’t tell him what to do; the brother of Jared had to go and figure it out for himself. He said, “Well, I’m going to get these sixteen stones, and I’m going to present them to the Lord, and I’m going to ask Him to make them translucent so they will light the barges.” Who would have thought? But the brother of Jared approached the Lord, and he said, “I believe you can do all things—all things that are asked. Here are these sixteen stones. If you will just touch them with your finger, they will be translucent and they will light the barges” (see Ether 3:4, 6). The Lord did as the brother of Jared asked, and He touched each stone and lighted the way. And the brother of Jared had so much faith that he then saw the Lord Himself. (See Ether 2–3.)

I believe our faith will make a difference as we identify these things we need to change and do for transformational impact.

One last quick story. I’ve just got to share this with you. My family is the most important thing to me, besides my faith. But everything matters when it comes to my family. I try diligently to be a good father and a good husband. It’s my most important goal outside of being a faithful disciple of Christ. Well, my son, during a period of time in our lives as he was growing up—my youngest son was in school, in elementary school, and things weren’t going well. He was doing fine with his grades, but he had no friends. Every time he came home, he would talk about how the bullies and others were making fun of him and how it was harmful and hurtful to him. We could see it was just devastating for this son.

We were fasting and praying and looking for ways to solve the problem. We didn’t know what to do. Then one day, my wife—Sister Connors—came to me, and said, “We should go to school. We can go with him at lunch and see what’s happening.” So I changed my appointments, made different plans, and I showed up at the school for lunch. My son was shocked. He couldn’t believe I was standing there.

He said, “Dad, what’s wrong?”

I said, “Nothing’s wrong. I just came to have lunch with you.”

And then he got this big smile on his face, and he said, “Great!” So we stood in line with our little trays, and we got our little hot dogs and little carrots. And we sat down together in the group, and we ate our lunch. And as we were eating lunch, I noticed out of the corner of my eye what looked like the biggest kid in the schoolyard walk up and sit down at the table. I could see my son immediately tense up, and I realized at that moment that this was the school bully. So we began talking, and the bully asked, “So, what are you doing?” and “Why are you here?” I was just talking pleasantly with him, and as we visited for a minute, I noticed he had nothing to eat. So I said, “Would you like to share my lunch?” And he said sure, so I gave him a little carrot and a little hot dog, and we each had our lunch.

We raised our hands when we were done, and they came over to look at our table—you know how this goes in elementary school—and they dismissed us once we cleaned it up. I was ready to say goodbye to Seth and leave but he said, “Well, Dad, you can’t go. We’re not done.”

I said, “What do you mean, we’re not done?”

He said, “Now we go play soccer.”

I said, “Great! Well, have a good time.”

He said, “No, Dad. You’ve got to come with us.”

I said, “Well, Seth, I played baseball when I was a little kid. I didn’t play soccer.”

He said, “You’ve got to come.”

So I walked down with him to the soccer field, fourth graders against the fifth graders. They gave me my little jersey to wear—it was kind of up around my neck—and we had our numbers, and we walked on the field. Then the smartest kid in the class stood up, and I said, “What do you want me to do?” And what he said next is how you know he was the smartest kid in the class—He shouted out: “Just stand in front of the goal with your arms like this [Gestures to indicate how].” And that’s what I did. And the goal was about the size of this right here [gestures to indicate size], and my job the whole game was to stand there like that.

So I’m standing there trying not to let everyone down, and the bully comes up to me and starts talking a little bit more. We’re chatting, and we’re beginning to make a little bit of a friendship, beginning to know what this is all about. As we’re talking, we hear this shouting coming from the far end of the field. “Kick the ball! Kick the ball!” I looked up, and I realized they were shouting at me. The ball was coming down the middle of the field to me. I played baseball; I didn’t play soccer. But I knew what I needed to do. So I said, “Heavenly Father, if there was ever a time, it’s right now.” I pulled my leg back, and I let her rip.

Brothers and sisters, that ball went a perfect trajectory from my net into the net on the other side of the field. You could see the angels flying away after it all happened. My son was amazed. His eyes were this big. My eyes were this big And then someone shouted out, “Whose dad is that?” And it was the school bully who walked up, and he said, “Well, that’s Seth’s dad.”

We walked off the field victorious, one to nothing. The fourth graders finally won a game, and my son Seth stood on one side of the doorway and I stood on the other side of the doorway, and every member of the class that walked through gave us high fives as they walked into class. And then my son turned to me, he looked at me, and he said, “Dad, thank you for coming.”

As I walked off the campus that day, I received a revelation. I’ll never forget it. The Lord said, “If you will take care of mine, I will take care of yours.” It’s always been true. It’s always been true. Put the kingdom of God first, and His righteousness, and all of these things—all of these things—will be added unto you (see Matthew 6:33; Luke 12:31). I testify that He lives, that He loves us, that He’ll help us, that we can achieve transformational, amazing things in our lives with simple changes that impact us forever. I so testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


Introduction: President J. Lawrence Richards

Let me introduce to you Brother Connors. He is the CEO and co-founder of Partners and Leadership, which is an international management, consulting, and training company. He has co-authored four New York Times bestseller books on the subject of workplace accountability and culture change. He serves as a personal leadership coach for Fortune 500 CEOs and executives, and his business clients include all thirteen of the most admired pharmaceutical companies in the world, and almost half of those companies listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and nearly half of the Fortune 50 largest companies in the US. He holds an MBA with distinction from the Marriott School of Management at BYU, and a bachelor of science from the School of Accountancy at BYU. Roger has conducted workshops and consulting engagements throughout the world. He is highly respected as a facilitator of senior executive groups and management teams.

Let me tell you about the books he has authored that have been on the bestseller list. The first book was entitled The Oz Principle: Getting Results through Individual and Organizational Accountability, ranked year after year as one of the top five bestselling books in leadership and performance. He also co-authored The New York Times bestseller The Wisdom of Oz: Using Personal Accountability to Succeed in Everything You Do.

Brother Connors has served as a stake president and a mission president in the Washington Kennewick Mission. I learned that that’s the only place in Washington where there is a desert, and he presided over that. He and his wife, Gwen, were expecting to see trees; they had dust storms instead. He has also been a branch president at the MTC. He and his wife, Gwen, are the parents of five children and two grandchildren, and they live in Alpine, Utah.

The College, brothers and sisters, has been a wonderful beneficiary of his organization. We have used it here, and I have used much of his material in many Church settings. You will be blessed today for what you hear and what you feel. After sitting next to him, I would also say that when he decides to retire, he should try out for the Tabernacle Choir. He has a wonderful singing voice.


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