Above All, Do No Harm

Peter Drucker always had mixed feelings about corporate whistle-blowing, likening the practice to “informing” and maintaining that its encouragement can break down fundamental bonds between supervisor and employee. “Whistle-blowing,” he asserted, “is ethically quite ambiguous.”

Still, there is little doubt that Drucker would have had few qualms about the actions taken by former GlaxoSmithKline quality-assurance manager Cheryl Eckard, who last week won $96 million in what is believed to be the largest award ever given to an individual U.S. whistleblower. The award is part of the $750 million that the company is paying to settle government fraud charges that it knowingly manufactured and sold adulterated drugs. Eckard said she was fired in 2003 after repeatedly alerting higher-ups to the problems.

[EXPAND More]For even Drucker, despite his misgivings about whistle-blowing, recognized that certain lines were clear. “To be sure,” he wrote, “there are misdeeds of the superior or of the employing organization which so grossly violate propriety and laws that the subordinate . . . cannot remain silent.”

Indeed, in this case, GlaxoSmithKline officials seem to have patently violated what Drucker thought should be “the first responsibility” of any professional: Primum non nocere – Above all, do no harm.

For us, the difficult question is this: How, in a corporate culture that seems so focused on short-term profits, can we inspire executives to actually live up to this standard? How can we get leaders to first and foremost, do no harm?[/EXPAND]


Above all, do no harm