THE DRUCKER FORUM: Three Messages for Managers

8:51 AM Wednesday December 9, 2009
by Elizabeth Haas Edersheim
(Originally posted: HBR Blog)

I recently returned from the Peter Drucker Global Forum Vienna, Austria, an event held as part of the centennial celebration of Peter Drucker’s birth. Having studied and written about Drucker extensively, spent years infusing his thinking into my own management consulting work, and befriended him late in his life, I take three messages from the centennial celebrations.

1. Drucker’s work is widely accepted as foundational in creating a theory of management as the foundation of a functioning society, despite not being widely taught in business schools. Leading scholars consistently see him as a source of insight and inspiration, many of whom credit Peter Drucker not only as the creator of the discipline of management but as the basis for their own work. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said, “I can find everything I’ve written in Peter’s work, 25 years before I thought of it.” Professor Hideyuki Inoue of Keio University said, “Everything we know about knowledge worker productivity is built on the foundation Peter Drucker wrote about 50 years ago.” Phillip Kotler, Distinguished Professor of International Marketing at the Kellogg School said, “If I am the father of marketing, Peter Drucker is the grandfather.” Jim Collins was so bold as to state, “Peter Drucker contributed more to the triumph of freedom and free society over totalitarianism, as anyone in the 20th century, including, perhaps, Winston Churchill.” Jim went on to explain that Drucker used his pen to, “rewire the brains of those who wield the swords.” In fact, Churchill insisted that all his officers carry Drucker’s book, The End of Economic Man, in their backpacks so they could remember why they were fighting the war.

2. Drucker created a new mindset in the practitioners who studied him, not only improving their skills but changing their lives. For example, Timotheus Sattelberger, currently a member of the board of Deutsche Telekom, found himself in a job where his values were at odds with the Chairman’s, and he was miserable. After reading Drucker, he went to his boss and said, “This clown is leaving to find another circus. He will not work in this one anymore.” Sattelberger continued, “It was the best move of my life. I assumed responsibility for my values.” Similarly, Cheol-hui Park, the CEO of Korean startup Park Electronics, talked about how Peter Drucker gave him the courage to move home and create jobs in an emerging company.

3. The third message is becoming more pressing every day: Because the new world is already here, the old world must vanish. Nearly every speaker at the centennial events around the world echoed that message. The old world was described as Cartesian, as a reduction of society to economics, as scattershot tools and frameworks that have dominated the past half-century. We are in a new world. Craig Wynett, Chief Innovation Officer at Procter and Gamble emphasized the power and importance of creativity in this world when he spoke in Vienna at the Centennial celebration. He said we talk about innovation, but creativity is that weird guy that we sometimes talk to in the gym. We need to challenge our assumptions about creativity and contributions, CK Prahalad emphasized a second change in this world issuing a call for “a new social compact of business.

Drucker advocated a social compact by focusing on being effective managers. “Management Effectiveness” means having the perspective and judgment to do the right things, about leveraging the power of people and their creativity in doing so throughout the repeating cycle of vision, execution, and outcome. Far from blind execution of orders, effectiveness requires synthesizing information and stepping up to challenge conventional wisdom. Effectiveness is the wholeness of the decisions – it’s synthesizing and balancing multiple, often competing, objectives in a manner that enhances individuals and society with no negative impact. Effectiveness also means the ability to make mistakes and learn from them.

That is our challenge as practitioners and as academics. It is a new world.

Elizabeth Haas Edersheim conducts case-study-based research on critical leadership issues — often in collaboration with corporations and speaks frequently at management events.