“There are always a great many ‘unfree’ institutions in a free society, a great many inequalities in an equal society, and a great many sinners among the saints. But as long as the decisive social power that we call ruler-ship is based upon the claim of freedom, equality or saintliness, and is exercised through institutions that are designed toward the fulfillment of these ideal purposes, society can function as a free, equal or saintly society. For its institutional structure is one of legitimate power.”
—Peter F. Drucker
John J. Tarrant, in his otherwise thoughtful 1976 book, Drucker: the Man Who Invented Corporate Society, made a statement about Peter Drucker’s work that has always bothered me. Tarrant said that establishing legitimate authority in ruler-ship was always a topic Drucker returned to but never completely solved.
Tarrant understood that Drucker secularized the writings of Friedrich Julius Stahl, Professor of Constitutional and Ecclesiastical Law at the University of Berlin. Stahl maintained that legitimate authority of rulers in Germany depended upon alignment of their practices with the moral teachings of the Lutheran Church. Tarrant concluded, therefore, that finding a basis for legitimate authority in secular leadership eluded Drucker in his work. I strongly disagree.
Leadership, to be legitimate in authority, must conform to society’s norms of right and wrong. In America, for example, we subscribe to the precepts in our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words summarize our working philosophy as a nation.
As long as those leading our institutions provide room for freedom and equality of opportunity to all—along with the right to rise in status according to one’s capacities used in a responsible way—then these leaders will be legitimate in the eyes of society.
Virtuous leaders, who seek both the intellectual and moral development of their employees, are legitimate in Drucker’s approach to leadership and management. Unlike his friend and colleague, Robert Greenleaf, Drucker never wrote about Servant Leadership by name. But the very principles embodied in Servant Leadership are found throughout Drucker’s writing. Servant Leadership is a sure way to establish legitimate authority in organizations.