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New Zealand Institute of Management

Issue date: 
Tuesday, 10 November 1987
The Hon and the Rt Rev Sir Paul Reeves, GCMG, GCVO, QSO

Nobody taught me how to be Governor-General and that may be fairly obvious. Before I took up this office I received advice, mostly through the media, I boned up on my constitutional responsibilities, I went to England to meet various people, on my return I was sworn in and I started.

From then on I have chugged along motivated by my little vision of what the office of Governor-General could offer. For me that means encouraging people to tap their own strengths and to communicate clearly with each other across a whole range of issues that threaten to divide us. Last week that meant supporting personally the Women's Refuge Trust, the Industrial Design Council, the launching of a book about the Treaty of Waitangi, the Principal Nurses' Association meeting in Nelson, the pupils of the Wellington Activity Centre. I must also confess that today I have been present at Waikanae at the naming of two kiwis. One is Kiwi Te Kanawa and the other is Kiwi Te James.

I am not frequently exercising executive power though I am making decisions. The Governor-General for better or worse exercises that real but intangible element called influence.

I am not sure that I am a manager. The dictionary definition of management is "the manner of directing or using anything, to manipulate, to contrive". Your pamphlet quotes Peter Drucker: "Management is professional; a function, a discipline, a task to be done: And Managers are the professionals who practice this discipline, carry out the functions and discharge the tasks." I read that statement a couple of times. I suspected it was profound but its profundity escaped me. I found it a puzzling statement which led me nowhere. Nietzsche, the German Philosopher, said "He who has a why to live with, can bear almost any how". On that basis, my response to Drucker's statement is to ask why do people practice this discipline, why do they carry out the functions and why do they discharge the tasks?

The ethical question why? has never been popular. The things we do and the endeavours we carry out are regarded as value free, neutral, purely objective. Hence business is for business' sake, sport is for sport's sake, art is for art's sake.

We become specialists, knowing, in the worlds of A. N. Whitehead, "more and more about less and less". In the process we run the risk of losing any sense of responsibility to any wider perspective. Thus Albert Speer, the architect, could build beautiful buildings for Hitler; Enrico Fermi, a scientist, at the site of the first nuclear device test brushed aside the enquiring reporter "Don't trouble me with your moral scruples, this is such beautiful physics."

Determinism is a viewpoint which challenges the relevance of all this talk about ethics. Determinism says I have no free will, I am who I am and I do what I do because of my genetic makeup and my social environment. I am no longer a petty thief but a genetically determined kleptomaniac. I am a murderer because of a chromosomal imbalance. Hitler could not help doing what he did just as Mother Teresa cannot help doing what she does. They have no say in it. Determinism goes hand in hand with diminished responsibility.

But the pendulum is swinging back and people see it is possible to make decisions and bring about change for the betterment of society. We are a society which knows a lot. But where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Of course we must have competence. Engineers, lawyers, managers must be good at what they do. But no science or business can be wholly disentangled from the personality and values of the scientist or businessman. We are all people who struggle with questions: What is right? Wrong? Our moral duty? What are our obligations?

Consequently many professions want to bridge the gap between what is factual and what is valuable. They are concerned with the question why as well as the question how.

I understand the National Council of the New Zealand Institute of Management has approved a set of guidelines for good management practice. I hope they are widely distributed to members. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, psychotherapists also have Codes of Ethics. They are a declaration of intention by the profession that its members will act responsibly and for the benefit of society. They usually have some mechanism for ejecting those who don't measure up. Perhaps this Institute might learn from the way other professions handle Codes of Ethics or in your instance guidelines for good practice.

Ethics is not etiquette. It is not being nice to Granny. It is more than sound advice from the scoutmaster. It is not a fig leaf to confer respectability on naked aggression.

On the contrary, a Code of Ethics will help your members:

  1. to explore the value structure built into the profession;
  2. to learn to respond in a disciplined and appropriate way to the moral challenges they may face;
  3. to learn to tolerate disagreement, respect ambiguity and understand the value of compromise.

A Code of Ethics may not stop unethical practices but not to have one is to signal nothing better lies ahead of us. To have such a Code would reassure the public your members are accountable to each other.

H. G. Wells said: "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." I don't completely agree with him but if it is true most managers in New Zealand have had no training to be managers then your Institute has a big educational role.

My main point, however, is that your profession as well as being skilled and competent must also be ethically based and your guidelines for good management practice deserve your close attention.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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