Drucker on Mubarak

Today’s dramatic resignation of Hosni Mubarak as president of Egypt wouldn’t have surprised Peter Drucker.

The Austrian-born Drucker—who fled the Nazis and whose first major book, 1939’s The End of Economic Man, traced the rise of fascism in Europe—knew firsthand that Mubarak’s brand of leadership is never sustainable. “Illegitimate power, even if wielded by the best and the wisest, can never depend upon anything but the submission to force,” Drucker wrote in 2003 in A Functioning Society. “Even the best tyrant is still a tyrant.”

But Drucker’s observations about power and authority extended far beyond the geopolitical. He took many of the lessons he learned from that sphere and applied them to the way individual organizations should be managed. Just as with national leaders, he believed, executives must recognize the limits of their authority and exercise it through legitimate means.

[EXPAND More]“Power and authority are two different things,” Drucker wrote in his 1973 classic Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “Management has no power. Management has only responsibility. And it needs and must have the authority to discharge its responsibilities—but not one whit more.”

Later in the book, Drucker added: “We long ago learned that it’s the job of the business manager to convert public needs into business opportunities. It’s his task to anticipate, identify and satisfy the needs of market and individual, the needs of consumer and employee.

“But these are still inadequate grounds of legitimacy,” Drucker continued. “They explain business activity rationally, but they do not supply it with the justification for authority.”

For Drucker, there was only one such justification: “to make human strength productive.”

What do you think about the nature of power and authority in organizations? And what other management lessons might be gleaned from the events in Egypt?[/EXPAND]

Photo Credit: Mohammed Abed, AFP/Getty Images