President Bob Klitgaard
Peter Drucker based his teaching on values. Performance and character were central to his advice to leaders and managers. Core values, he taught, make sense in hardheaded business terms, but the purity of our hearts matters for other, more important reasons.
Peter Drucker was an integrator. He had the journalist’s flair for the key to the story, the historian’s ability to see context in space and time. He loved art and his lectures often digressed to places and times and creations far away, yet close to the timely point he was making. Peter read economics and sociology, political science and psychology, literature and science and he taught us all how transdisciplinary work can contribute to a particular discipline - in his case, to management.
Peter Drucker peered into the future. As Joseph Maciarello points out, Drucker was an observer whose motto was from Goethe’s Faust: “Born to see; meant to look.” Peter had an almost uncanny ability to perceive deep trends and hidden fissures. He saw connections that others ignored.
Peter Drucker’s teachings are pragmatic. He is valued so much by practitioners because his ideas work. Kees de Kluyver relates that Peter once told a class that he would only teach ideas that could be implemented and make a difference the next day. Peter exaggerated here - some of his most important ideas involve large strategic choices, whole ways of conceiving one’s business, which would take months or more to infuse. But, once infused, they work.
Consider, then, this combination: values, integration, prophecy and the practical test of time. Does this sound like the usual academic, or even a great academic? Not likely - nor, for that matter, like a great business leader or public servant. The combination occasionally surfaces in a spiritual leader, someone who reminds us who we are and who we should be, who shows us that the diffuse disciplines and ideas around us are part of a whole, who focuses us on the future and whose teachings work in our lives.
Peter Drucker gave us these gifts in a particular time - the 20th century - with a particular message that identified management as an antidote to totalitarianism, to amorphous materialism, to dehumanizing bureaucracy. It falls to all of us now to carry this legacy into the 21st century in what we do and in how we live.
And here Peter’s legacy is also personal advice. Focus on people, he taught. Focus on what only you can do.
On my desk I keep the last two pages of a 12-page letter Peter Drucker wrote to Bob Buford some 15 years ago. The letter’s first 10 pages gave advice related to the institution Bob was initiating. Those last two pages contained advice about Bob’s role as leader. Peter wrote about Bob’s being “the maker of policy and the designer.” He also mentioned quality control. “But as I tried to stress, your first role - or perhaps one of the two first ones - is the personal one. It is the relationship with people, the development of mutual confidence, the identification of people, the creation of a community. This is something only you can do.” Peter went on. “It is not something that can be measured or can be easily defined.
But it is not only a key function. It is one only you can perform.”
If these are some aspects of Peter Drucker’s legacy, how might we carry it forward in new ways to new audiences? It does not mean being a Drucker clone - and anyway that is impossible. Instead, we should find and support people who “get” Drucker - an emphasis on values and people, the integration of disciplines, peering into the future and practicality - even if those people pursue the legacy in different ways and on different issues than Peter did.