In Peter Drucker’s 1992 article “Reflections of a Social Ecologist,” he closed with a statement about the importance of responsibility to the discipline of social ecology and to his work as a social ecologist:
“Today, there is a great deal of talk about ’empowering’ people. This is a term I have never used and never will use. Fundamental to the discipline of social ecology is not a belief in power, but the belief in responsibility, in authority grounded in competence and compassion.”
The heaviest burden laid on humankind is the responsibility for one’s actions. This is the fundamental concept underlying Drucker’s work on the management of society’s institutions. For if freedom is to be enjoyed in society, there must be responsible behavior at the personal level and organizational level. Leadership gains its authority and its legitimacy by acting responsibly. And for responsibility to have meaning it must be anchored in concepts of “right and wrong.” Otherwise responsibility is meaningless. There is simply no way to determine responsible behavior.
[EXPAND More]At the heart of Management by Objectives, Drucker’s overall philosophy of management, is the concept of responsibility. To enjoy maximum freedom in our organizations and society we must engage in responsible behavior by pursuing goals and objectives that we internalize as individuals and are accepted by our superiors as congruent with organizational goals. Without responsible behavior by individuals and organizations, we will not have freedom but anarchy, which in turn will bring restraints limiting individual freedom. We have again witnessed the lack of responsibly by individuals and organizations in the economic meltdown of 2008. The result: more regulations and more restraints and limits on individual freedom. Regulations in themselves will not work without responsible behavior because moral rules must be subordinate to moral attitudes. Freedom means operating within the rules of the game and seeking results that are intended, desirable and legitimate.
Recently, I was seated on a plane. Next to me was a young, recently widowed woman and we began to chat. She was seeking advice for her new future. We spoke a little about religion, freedom and responsibility. This young woman found solace in the structure of her religion. On the other side of this woman was an older woman, about 80 years old, who overheard our conversation and joined in. She said, “I don’t believe in God, and it gives me a lot of freedom; I do not feel guilty about anything because I am not responsible to anyone but myself.” The young woman thought it troubling to live without restraint. The young woman defined right and wrong by the precepts of her religion and the older woman defined it by herself. She said it was tremendously “freeing” not to be responsible to anyone but to herself.
I think Drucker’s view was closer to the views of the young woman, but he struggled to determine truth and the right way of demonstrating responsibility and legitimacy of authority. And so, it is for that reason that human freedom is the heaviest responsibility laid on you and me.