# 195: Management as Responsibility
Story behind the Passage
Today is another one of my Peter Drucker days. I know, maybe you get sick of him already but I can guarantee that I will most likely blog about him many more times. Drucker is the author that I know best. In fact, I have no idea how many management and leadership books I have swallowed since my teenage years and how that factors into practice. What I do know is that my practice would not be as efficient had I not read these books. But there is one thing that I never thought about that much from the management perspective. I rather thought about and studied it from the philosophical and political science perspective. That thing is: responsibility.
I talked to a dear colleague of mine today who described a workshop in which she deals with responsibility and how it affects the relationship between leaders and employees or colleagues. I then kept thinking about this with respect to management. Usually, I am all in for leadership but right now I am thinking even more about management again. For people who now wonder about the exact differences, I can only recommend the overview article by Abraham Zaleznik (Managers and Leaders: Are They Different? (hbr.org) and my own upcoming book. But I am not doing book marketing here. What I am simply saying is that management is on my mind because the decision-making and the responsibility for these decisions is not what concerns me most these days (even though it is essential and on my mind a lot), the doing part of management is what matters.
We are all seeing right now what happens if a state is not being managed well. Again, do not confuse that with the lack of leadership. If politicans shy away from decision-making and long-term strategy design, that is lack of leadership. If money does not get transferred to people who desperately need it, money that has been approved already, that is the lack of management — things are not getting done. Based on my personality, I have always been a fan of management because it is exciting and fun to get things done. And you realize, bit by bit, how you become better and better at this. You can measure it based on the results — qualitatively and quantitatively. The latter does matter in this case. Many things you get done are not the most complicated or brilliant things but the mere success of the final result depends on the simple fact that you get many of these things done faster.
When it comes to the issue of responsibility (remember the parts “respond” and “ability”), it is, of course, part of management as well. Every action you implement needs to be based on responsibility. What I wonder about now, however, is whether management itself, i.e., the act of taking action, is not a a responsibility in and of itself. And I do not so mean in corporate terms, of course. I mean in a social way. Yes, taking leadership to address and initially tackle a certain issue is great and necessary. But all this unfolds no value if the implementation is not carried out. And that is the big issue these days, not only, but especially, for social (change) projects.
“Effective leaders delegate, but they do not delegate the one thing that will set the standards. They do it.” The story Drucker uses about the generals is very powerful, of course. The military always offers a helpful terrain to evoke powerful images in the reader. We, people around the world — unfortunately — have some idea of what the military is, even if it might not stand the empirical test. In any case, armees are about going to war in the minds of most people and if people do not take responsibility by staying behind, by letting others die, this is very easy to understand.
Does that remind you of anybody in your own company or in your country?
The point is, if we now look more closely at the aspect of not delegating “the one thing that will set the standards,” this is where management becomes relevant again — and something else. So, the management part first means that whenever you take action — you use your hands, usually — some management component is involved. Just starting some creative mission is not that useful, even for artists and other creative minds it is not. You need to organize yourself in order to not take too many steps at a time. But then comes the interesting part. Merely managing does not do the trick either. The stress is on “the one thing.”
This one thing, from my perspective, transfers into “core service or product” creation. In other words, if you have a large graphic design agency and 80% of your sales rely on this, graphic design is this “one thing.” And no matter how many leadership responsibilities you have and take on you, this “one thing” needs to be done by you in tough times or whenever needed. This is the same for the general and for anybody else. Even though this can be delegated, as the story also shows, if you do delegate it you do not take leadership responsibility seriously.
One could say, who cares? Obviously, people do it all the time, especially top-executives. They fill their pocket with bonuses while their people “go to war” every day. This is what makes people so frustrated because their leaders are called leaders but they do not act that way. But now comes my issue about responsibility again: Is it not our social responsibility to take action and manage to change things if we see that things are not changing by themselves? Is it not our responsibility to take leadership first but then also do what Drucker is preaching, i.e., take action by implementing the “one thing that will set the standards.” The question is, obviously, what is this “thing” in the context of change?
As always, there is no general answer. I can only provide one answer that I have arrived at after going through many other different scenarios. This answer is: You pave alternative roads and you walk them. To translate that: You take responsibility in both cases. You take responsible leadership by creating the new vision. And then you take responsibility to implement it. The latter is connected to the former but in a different way. The first one is individual, in a way. People who follow you need to be able to trust you — in a holistic way. The latter one is social, I think. As soon as there is a route that promises to bring improvement, it would be a waste of resources to not walk the path for an entire society.
Basically, all this boils down to a very basic insight which I have always to live up to but it takes much strength and hard years to stick to it. If you feel that this is the thing you need to do, however, there really is no alternative. It still means that you take responsility at all times, no exceptions. Leadership above all is a decision as well. And, from my perspective, if you make this decision, there are no excuses for not taking responsibility in other cases, except, maybe, for some hobbies. This basic insight which I have to share in conclusion was what Engels shared about Hegel:
“Hegel was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity. To him freedom is the insight into necessity.”
1) What is the relationship between responsibility and management to you?
2) How do you think about the story about World War I?
3) Are you good at delegating? Why/not?