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Is a Business a Democracy?

Today is Election Day, and a chance to reflect on our privilege as Americans. Too often we hear complaints about the candidates for office, or how badly the government is doing. But on this day, we should remember that many other countries have it far worse. In fact, our right to vote is a blessing that people risk their lives and livelihoods to have. Most of our families came to the United States for this very reason, and we owe it to ourselves to uphold democracy with pride and integrity.

There’s a lot of talk in politics about liberty these days. Often, it accompanies a vision of small government, allowing people to make their own choices. Whether or not you share this view, it’s important to consider what liberty means. Freedom, choice, autonomy … these are all basic principles on which our nation was founded. The right to vote can be seen as part of liberty. But is liberty the same as democracy? Does one guarantee the other?

Democracy is a process of government by consensus. It’s basically group decision-making. In order for democracy to work, everyone in the group must participate; everyone’s voice must be heard. Social people, or those known as “high B’s” in Culture Index, tend to like democracy. They prefer that everyone participate than to simply impose their personal opinions.

Liberty, by contrast, is solely about personal rights. That could be the right of a group, or the right to participate in democratic process. But liberty and democracy aren’t necessarily the same thing. Liberty without democracy looks a bit like the Wild West—no consensus decision making, every one for himself. Democracy without liberty isn’t a true democracy—it’s a more like those farcical elections we hear about in other countries, where people vote but the government ignores their ballots and the same leaders stay in power.

Business and politics are becoming closer every day—too close, if you listen to most people. But in some ways, the relationship is inevitable. Both are the engines that move our nation, and both rely on groups of people to make profound decisions which affect the future. The question is, should a business be a democracy? Or to put it another way, what is the role of individual liberty within a corporation?

As you know, one of U.S. Lawns’ Four Principles of Business is individual accountability. This sounds a lot like liberty, or personal freedom. And that’s because it is. We believe that to ignore a person’s autonomy and ability to make choices is to disrespect his or her humanity. People must be held accountable for their actions, yes. But they must be allowed to act according to their own, innate free will. Anything less is demeaning and an unethical business practice.

But just as liberty without democracy yields chaos, individual accountability must also be channeled into a group consensus. Your employees already make decisions as a group, whether you realize it or not. By either accepting or resisting the company culture and guidelines you set, they decide collectively whether you will succeed.

We believe that groups of humans are democratic by nature. They need both freedom and consensus to succeed. Your business is not an elected democracy, like the government, but both models have leaders who light the way—leaders, not dictators.

So, on this Election Day, be grateful for our nation’s leaders and your right to choose them. And at the same time, take pride in the very serious job you’ve been given to lead others. Maybe you have an employee committee that votes on important issues. (We have our Advisory Council, which you as owners select, to make sure your voices are heard.) Or maybe your staff simply exercises their individual liberty and accountability by the way they do (or don’t) perform on the job. Either way, it’s your responsibility to send the right message—just like those political ads we’re all sick of—and to motivate them in the direction, helping them to take ownership in the work as a group.

Today, we’re all proud to be citizens of a great nation. As a small business owner, you keep the American dream alive.

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