Monday, October 26, 2015

Peter Drucker on integrity in leadership

Peter Drucker:

The proof of the sincerity and seriousness of a management is uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character. This, above all, has to be symbolized in management’s “people” decisions. For it is character through which leadership is exercised; it is character that sets the example and is imitated. Character is not something one can fool people about. The people with whom a person works, and especially subordinates, know in a few weeks whether he or she has integrity or not. They may forgive a person for a great deal: incompetence, ignorance, insecurity, or bad manners. But they will not forgive a lack of integrity in that person. Nor will they forgive higher management for choosing him.

This is particularly true of the people at the head of an enterprise. For the spirit of an organization is created from the top. If an organization is great in spirit, it is because the spirit of its top people is great. If it decays, it does so because the top rots; as the proverb has it, “Trees die from the top.” No one should ever be appointed to a senior position unless top management is willing to have his or her character serve as the model for subordinates.

From The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done (New York: HarperCollins, 2004).
I thought of this passage as my university seeks to fill administrative positions on very short notice: who will lead?

With necessary changes in terminology, one might apply Drucker’s thinking to elections, with integrity of character as a primary consideration for a voter. I for one would find it impossible to vote for a candidate who did not evince some core element of integrity, however consonant with my views that candidate’s views might be.

I don’t make a habit of reading books on management. I caught on to Peter Drucker after noticing the beautifully designed little book Managing Onself (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2008) on the front table in Brookline Booksmith. It’s a wonderful book for younger and older readers. Its core message: we must figure out our strengths and values and ways of working, and be who we are.

Other Drucker-related posts
Drucker and income disparity in higher education
On figuring out where one belongs

[I’ve borrowed my summary of Managing Oneself from another post. And if it doesn’t go without saying: Drucker assumes of course an enlightened managment. The “model for subordinates” would work with integrity rather than, say, blind obedience or sycophancy.]

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