Managing with Citizenship, Managing with Courage

Patriotism is not enough… There has to be citizenship as well. Citizenship is the willingness to contribute to one’s country. It is the willingness to live for one’s country.
Peter Drucker

A light went out last week, and it roused me.

In the village where I live, nestled against the mountains east of Los Angeles, darkness has fallen over the main street. Among the few retail shops still illuminated is a liquor and convenience store that doubles as an extension of the town square.

“Foot traffic is way down, but volume is way up!,” the owner half laughed, half observed to me. I noted that something about the checkout counter looked different, dimmer.

“We pulled the lotto tickets. Most of my regulars live paycheck to paycheck. This is no time for them to be wasting their money.”

I might’ve been tempted to call that paternalism, except I know from years of banter how the owner loves to dish about the failings of the nanny state.

Something’s amiss amidst the pandemic, and it’s not limited to my neighborhood.

Of course, you already know the bad news behind these headlines: Entire industries have ground to a halt, and small businesses in particular may not survive. Nonprofits are getting hammered by higher demand and lower revenue. Domestic violence and child abuse are rising. Unemployment is exploding. And income insecurity, already rife in the U.S., is spreading faster than the coronavirus itself.

Woven through the beauty and ugliness of it all are the managers, listening to customers, supporting employees, finding new strategies, worrying about today and thinking about tomorrow. Not one of them caused the pandemic, but the most effective ones will start by taking responsibility for whatever comes next.

“Every hospital in the world, every school in the world, every business in the world has to believe that what it is doing is the essential contribution to its community and society—the contribution on which all the others in the community depend in the last analysis,” Peter Drucker wrote.

“The last analysis”—what a phrase! For Drucker, that always meant the health of society, for a healthy organization cannot exist in a sick society.

In a world turned upside down, Drucker’s three eternal priorities become the immediate ones, too—whether your span of control is the lottery machine next to your cash register or 1% of U.S. GDP. Everyone needs:

  • a meaningful and useful life, 
  • a rational chance of equal opportunity, and 
  • trustworthy institutions. 

That’s how Drucker defined a healthy, functioning society.

Giant employers and sports-league billionaires are giving workers and local businesses a rational chance of equal opportunity. The National Institutes of Health and airline CEOs are giving employees and customers trustworthy institutions. The big foundations and a local liquor store owner alike are nudging their customers toward greater meaning and usefulness.

Any or all of them may fall short or end up doing the wrong thing for the right reason. But each has stood up for citizenship, spotted a threat to the health of our society, set as a priority addressing the threat, made a plan, converted the plan to action and taken accountability for the result.

And so they are managing with courage. These days, there is no higher calling.

Zach First, Executive Director
Drucker Institute, Claremont Graduate University