Peter Drucker: His Legacy to Modern Management (Part I)

Nov 19, 05

This Month

With the passing away of Dr. Peter F. Drucker, we lost a colossus to whom we in the management world owe significant debt. He leaves behind a great legacy to Modern Management.

As an author he published more than thirty four books and countless essays. This newsletter briefly touches upon of some of his ideas that have benefited managers and executives worldwide.

I hope it will inspire you to read more his books. If you enjoy any of his book, be sure to follow his advice, “Don’t tell me you enjoyed this; tell me what you will do differently on Monday morning.”

With several of his books around me while writing this newsletter, it was extremely difficult to stop reading and carry on writing!

Warm wishes,


Part I: The knowledge worker of today; the new capitalist!

The biggest challenge for knowledge workers; a word first coined by Peter Drucker is to stay relevant. Knowledge, unlike skills makes itself obsolete and changes very rapidly.

The knowledge we start with when starting our careers is not adequate for a fifty years work span! It will become increasingly important to reinvent ourselves, find ways of staying relevant, keeping our interests and energies high and continuing to be effective. As Drucker says, “If you haven’t learned how to learn, you’ll have a hard time. Knowing how to learn is partly curiosity. But it’s also a discipline.”

The following guidelines are some of the ways in which he believes Knowledge workers can continue to be effective executives; a characteristic that is very learnable. “I have not come across a single ‘natural’: an executive who was born effective. All the effective ones had to learn how to be effective. And all of them then had to practice effectiveness until it became a habit. Effectiveness can be learned – and also it has to be learned.”

Peter Drucker’s premise is that truly managing other people is by no means proven. On the other hand, one can always manage oneself. Executives who do not manage themselves can hardly be effective in managing others.

1. Manage Your Time
Peter Drucker recommends that executives create a time log to record where the time is actually spent.

i. Examine activities that can be eliminated completely.
ii. Review activities that could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better.
iii. Look at activities where you waste the time of others.

2. Build on your strengths:
Peter Drucker believes that effective executives build on strengths. They look for what people can do and not at minimizing their weaknesses. His belief is that if we choose to look at “what a person can do, is capable of” then his or her weaknesses become secondary.

He shares an instance of how President Lincoln chose to appoint General Grant as his Commander in Chief. General Grant, known for his fondness of the bottle, was selected for his tested ability to win battles and not his sobriety, that is, for the absence of a weakness.

He also feels that people don’t value what comes easy to them. “What comes easy one tends to disparage,” he observes. “If it comes easy, value it. One thinks that what comes hard is more valuable because you have to work at it. People don’t work on their strengths. Don’t work on perfecting your strengths but on removing the unnecessary limits, like a deficiency in knowledge – like a foreign or technical language – or bad habits.”

3. Effective Decision Making:
“Effective executives know that the trickiest decision is that between the right and the wrong compromise and have learned to tell one from the other.”

Peter Drucker lays down some principles for effective decision making. The following are some of the elements as discussed by him in his books:

i. The first question any decision maker should ask is, “Is it a generic situation or an exception.” He states that all events but the truly unique which are rare by nature require a generic solution. They require a rule, a policy, a principle.
ii. Effective decision makers look for signs that something unusual is happening; they always ask: “Does the explanation explain the observed events and does it explain all of them?” he always writes out what the solution is expected to happen to make happen and then tests regularly to see if this really happens.
iii. Another aspect to consider while making a decision is to understand what the decision has to accomplish. What are the conditions that it has to satisfy?
iv. Effective Decision makers encourage dissent, alternative points of view and perspective.
v. Finally, decision makers need to always ask: “Is a decision really necessary?”

He believes that every decision is like a surgery. He believes that one does not make unnecessary decisions any more than a good surgeon does unnecessary surgery. I wonder how many of us actually think of decision making that way!

4. Continuous Learning:
“To know ones strengths, to know how to improve them and to know what one cannot do – these are the keys to continuous learning.”

He believes that if “You don’t know anything unless you teach it” Drucker himself has taught American history, Japanese art, religion, and statistics. He believes that, “To teach what you don’t yet know helps you learn more than just a new set of facts; you practice the discipline of learning to learn, since new subjects require learning new concepts.”

Another activity that Drucker suggests is that we write down the results we expect from a key decision made or an activity performed. If we go back to these decisions nine months or a year later to check expectations versus actual results, it can show what we do well and what habits we need to change. Drucker himself had been following this method for over fifty years!

It is also important to recognize what kind of learner you are; whether you are a reader or a listener and believes that very few people know which they are. “While most of us tend to think of ourselves as both, our strength really lies in only one of those two skills.” He asks us to “Think about which activity gives you more rewards. In which are you most effective? If it’s talking, you’re a listener. If it’s contemplating, you’re a reader.”

Further Reading

Interview with Peter Drucker by Harriet Rubin
The blog has several tributes by well known personalities; gurus in their own right in the week of November 17th, 2005.

Suggestion of the Month

I would like to emphasize here two take away ideas of Peter Drucker’s from the main body of the newsletter:

i. Creating a time log to know how and where your time is spent.
ii. When a taking decision, put down what you expect to happen. Review it after nine months or a year later against the actual results. Use this to understand your strengths and to identify habits to change.


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