When It Isn’t Just Business

Here is a recent article from the Drucker Exchange (the Dx), an online resource that hosts an ongoing conversation about bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance and build on the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management. To learn more about the Dx and the Institute as well as to check out their resources and sign up for a free subscription to its online newsletter, please click here.

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Ever since Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble partnered up and launched an ill-fated private detective business, negotiating personal relationships within a work setting has proven tricky. The latest evidence comes in the form of a resignation by Liam Fox, Britain’s defense secretary. Fox resigned, according to today’s Wall Street Journal, “amid an intensifying controversy” over a friend who was alleged to have acted as an unofficial adviser.

“Mr. Fox’s relationship with Adam Werritty has been under intense scrutiny in recent days,” the Journal reported, “after the defense minister acknowledged that his former housemate and best man at his wedding attended several official meetings and used a business card that described himself as an adviser—a role he doesn’t hold.” Fox, for his part, conceded that he’d allowed his personal and business interests “to become blurred.”

Peter Drucker well understood the power of workplaces to create a sense of community—and to foster friendship. “Work, since time immemorial, has been the means to satisfy man’s need for belonging to a group and for a meaningful relationship to others of his kind,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Challenges. “A man can work very well with somebody whom he never sees away from the job, and for whom he feels neither friendship nor warmth nor liking. . . . But the fellow worker can also be a close friend with whom one spends as many hours away from work as possible, with whom one goes hunting or fishing, spends one’s vacation, spends one’s evenings, and shares much of one’s life.”

Where Drucker drew the line, however, was in the realm of superiors becoming too chummy with subordinates. “Men who build first-class executive teams are not usually close to their immediate colleagues and subordinates,” Drucker noted in The Effective Executive. “Picking people for what they can do rather than on personal likes or dislikes, they seek performance, not conformance. To insure this outcome, they keep a distance between themselves and their close colleagues.”

The quintessential example of an executive who maintained such a distance was Alfred Sloan, the longtime head of General Motors. “Sloan had no friends within the GM group,” Drucker wrote. “He never invited them to his home. Unless it was a business meeting with a clear business agenda, he did not even sit down to a meal with any of them. He never accepted an invitation to any of their homes, even on business trips to their hometowns.” To be a chief executive, Sloan felt, was “incompatible with friendship and social relations.”


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