When democracy depends on our leadership attitude!


Didier Marlier

January 28, 2017

From Disruption to Engagement

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 “Tyranny is the only alternative to strong, performing autonomous institutions. Tyranny substitutes one absolute boss for the pluralism of competing institutions. It substitutes terror for responsibility. It does indeed do away with the institutions, but only by submerging all of them in the one all-embracing bureaucracy of the apparat. It does produce goods and services, though only fitfully, wastefully, at a low level, and at an enormous cost in suffering, humiliation, and frustration. To make our institutions perform responsibly, autonomously, and on a high level of achievement is thus the only safeguard of freedom and dignity in the pluralist society of institutions. But it is managers and management that make institutions perform. Performing, responsible management is the alternative to tyranny and our only protection against it.”

These words do not come from Che Guevara but from the father of modern Management Consultancy, Peter Drucker, in one of his books “Management: Theory, Responsibilities and Practice” (1974). Drucker was quoted recently by Laurent Choain (Chief People & Communication Officer at Mazars, the world’s 5th largest accounting firm) during an Alumni meeting of NEOMA (the sole triply accredited Business School in Paris). During that same VIP Day, Bernard Ramanantsoa, the mythical ex-Dean of HEC Paris challenged the audience to take a strong and courageous stand against the direction in which business is heading… Is Bernard Ramanantsoa a leftist agitator? When, just before the Christmas break, I met with Gerd Leonhard, now one of the most influential and visionary “Business Futurist” in the world and Jens Hansen, ex CEO Europe of Axalient, part of our discussion was about which civilian society and political system will be able to cope with the 50% unemployment rate which Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence, 3D printing and other disruptive inventions are going to leave us with? A society of 50% unemployment rate will of course not be sustainable.

Even the highly conservative and not very avant garde World Economic Forum of Davos chose for its 2017 edition the theme of “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”. The five key takeaways from its leader, Klaus Schwab (translated from a French article and summarized by me) are:

  1. We, leaders, need to react to the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Technological progress may help us solve certain urgent problems but is creating a monumental gap between those taking part to and those excluded from that revolution.
  2. We, leaders, need to establish a dynamic World Governance system: We will not solve the challenges of the future in  isolationist way.
  3. We, leaders, need to restore growth…
  4. We, leaders, need to redesign capitalism…
  5. We, leaders need to respond to the Identity Crisis that the Disruption Economy and globalization create.

Richard Edelman is the founder and CEO of the world’s largest P.R. firm. This is what he said on the “implosion of Trust”, a few days ago (shared by Gerd Leonhard):

If you need a preview of what that “implosion of trust” means, consider a country like Brazil. It sadly and dramatically has become a trial bench for what may lay ahead of us. The country of my heart has been hit by two crises: The global economical crisis, going on since 2008, finally caught up with the country when raw material prices started to drop and orders from China drastically declined. But that is nothing exceptional: the whole World is struggling. The worse crisis for Brazil is the one of Trust and Confidence in the country’s so called “elite” (part of what Brazilians also like to refer to as “The A class”), both the political elite (even actual President Michel Temer is under suspicion, even more so since Supreme Court Judge, Teori Zavascki, in charge of the major anticorruption case just died in a plane crash, on January 19th 2017) and the business elite. Brazilians discovered with anger that politicians were not the only ones colluding in the corruption scandal: Some of the country largest and until then most respected firms (such as Odebrecht which now considers changing its name…) were the corruptors.

A deep sense of loss and disillusion have hit the country… Who can we trust? Because people suddenly lose their faith and respect in the “elite”, there are now a rising number of people regretting the “good old days of military dictatorship”… This offers a scary picture of what happens when an “elite” maintains large chunks of the population in non-education or ignorance (remember activist and Body Shop founder, Anita Roddick’s instant response to Margareth Thatcher’s decision of cutting down on the country’s education budget? Overnight, all Body Shop trucks and vans had been repainted by volunteers and carried the Dereck Bok famous slogan: “If you think Education is expensive, try Ignorance!”)  Consistently people will vote for the wrong people. Looking at what happened in UK, USA and who knows maybe soon France, the parallel is worrying.

This is why, I chose to share this extract of Peter Drucker’s book: We, Business Leaders have far more than an EBITDA, market share or cost reduction target to fulfil. We will not be allowed to escape for much longer, our responsibilities of… leaders. Three areas request our full attention:

  • Our Responsibility: Where will the “Disruption Economy” and its ever faster pace of technological change take Humanity and our Planet? What new societal model do we plan to design when the progress of technology will make 20, 30, 50% or more of our jobs redundant?
  • Our People Development: How can we contribute actively to educate and develop our people so that they can make appropriate democratic choices? There is no democracy when vote is in the hand of suffering ignorants, manipulated by demagogues.
  • Our Example and Leadership Legacy: How can we restore the faith of our people in the integrity of their leaders?

“Performing, responsible management is the alternative to tyranny and our only protection against it.” These words of Peter Drucker will inspire me and illuminate my path. Democracy, through educating our people, encouraging them to make their own and wise decisions, leading by example and being responsible leaders, thinking ahead and preparing for the tsunami of the Disruption Economy, is what we, Business Leaders can do to reinforce our threatened democracies.


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