A Year with Peter Drucker: A book review by Bob Morris

Year w:DruckerA Year with Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness
Joseph A. Maciariello
HarperBusiness/An imprint of HarperCollins (2014)

How would you like to have Peter Drucker as your personal advisor for the next twelve months?

What we have in this remarkable volume are 52 entries — one per week during the thematic framework of a calendar year — subdivided into 13 major business topic categories. As Joseph Maciariello explains, “Each topic has important contributions to make in helping you become an effective [or more effective] leader. Some entries are unexpected examples and applications from organizations that may surprise you, but they are all important to Drucker’s worldview, and to his principles of management.” Readers will cherish his provision of “Summary of Drucker’s Principles” (Pages 414-433). I agree with him: “Effective leadership is a practice, and like every other practice is mastered through an iterative process of learning and doing and learning more.” Obviously, both Drucker and Maciariello agree with Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

I have read all of Drucker’s books and reviewed most of them as well as dozens of his articles. I cannot think of another person who is better qualified than Maciariello is to produce a book such as this. With all due respect to his close and lengthy relationship with Drucker, he is an eminent thought leader and educator in his own right. In my opinion, the best way to view this book — and derive greatest benefit from it — is to view it as the equivalent of having Drucker as a personal advisor for twelve months. My guess (only a guess) is that most readers will first check out the table of contents, “Lessons Learned” (Pages 401-413) and then the Appendix before proceeding to whatever material that is of most relevant to their current or imminent needs, interests, concerns, etc. Maciariello is best viewed as a personal “tour guide” to that material. The order in which the material is presented — Weeks 1-52 — is much less important than the information, insights, and counsel to which Maciariello provides access.

Let’s say, a reader needs to sharpen focus on what is most important rather than on what is urgent. Drucker’s advice is provided in Weeks (Chapters) Six and Seven. Here’s a sample:

o “Effective leaders I have met…did not start off with the question, ‘What do I want?’ They started off with the question, ‘What needs to be done?‘”

o The best proof that the danger of overpruning [eliminating urgent activities] is a bugaboo is the extraordinary effectiveness so often attained by severely ill or severely handicapped people.”

o “So we start always with the long range, and then we feed back and say, What do we do today?”

I commend Maciariello on his skillful use of an organizing principle for each of the 13 major business topic categories: Introduction, Read, Reflect, and Practicum-Prompts, with relevant observations by Drucker and others strategically inserted within the narrative. Throughout all of the Drucker books and articles that I have read, the emphasis is always on determining through real-world experience what works, what does, and why. He also insists on the importance of maintaining two perspectives: One on objectives to be achieved, and meanwhile, another on what be done now, today, this moment. “A manager must, so to speak, keep his nose to the grindstone while lifting his eyes to the hills — quite an acrobatic feat.” It is indeed.

With the imminent arrival of another New Year, I think many executives will welcome Peter Drucker’s companionship as they proceed into an uncertain future, one during which disruptive change will occur faster and with greater frequency than at any prior time that I can remember. They will keep this book near at hand and in active use. And they will be grateful to Joseph Maciariello for enabling them, with Drucker’s guidance, to embrace the challenges that await.

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