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Power, Responsibility & Wisdom: Exploring the issues at the core of Ethical Decision-Making and Leadership

by Dr Bruce Lloyd, Emeritus Professor of Strategic Management, London South Bank University.


The objective is simple: ‘Better decision-making’. The only issue is that there are so many different views over what we mean by ‘better’. At the core of all decision- making is the need to balance Power with Responsibility, as the vehicle for resolving the ‘better’ question. This article explores why that is so difficult? It also argues that exploring the concept of Wisdom can provide invaluable insights into how to achieve the most effective balance between Power and Responsibility, which is central to what our values mean in practice, as well as how we incorporate ethics into our decision-making.

Wise decision-making also, inevitably, involves moral / ethical choices and this occurs every time we take a decision. Hence it is not surprising that we find that the comments we might define as Wisdom are essentially comments about the relationship between people, or their relationship with society, and the universe as a whole. These statements are generally globally recognised as relatively timeless and they are insights that help us provide meaning to the world about us. Yet how often it seems to be almost totally ignored in Futurist, Strategy, Knowledge Management, and even Ethics, literature. We also appear to spend more and more time focused on learning knowledge, or facts, that have a relatively short shelf life, and less and less time on knowledge that overlaps with Wisdom, that has a long shelf life. Why is that? What can we do about it?

Power and Responsibility

Western sociological and management/leadership literature is full of references to Power. How to get it? How to keep it? And How to prevent it being taken away? In parallel, but rarely in the same studies, there is also an enormous amount of literature on the concept of Responsibility.

While Power is the ability to make things happen, Responsibility is driven by attempting to answer the question: ‘In whose interest is the Power being used?’ Yet the two concepts of Power and Responsibility are simply different sides of the same coin; they are the Ying and Yang of our behaviour; they are how we balance our relations with ourselves with the interests of others, which is at the core of what we mean by our values. Power makes things happen, but it is the exercise of an appropriate balance between Power and Responsibility that helps ensure as many ‘good’ things happen as possible.

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