Drucker on Leadership: A book review by Bob Morris

Drucker on LeadershipDrucker on Leadership: New Lessons from the Father of Modern Management
William A. Cohen
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2009)

Invaluable reminiscences as well as revelations

Those who have read William Cohen’s previously published memoir, A Class with Drucker, already know that he is uniquely and abundantly qualified to discuss someone widely regarded as “the father of modern management.” (Peter Drucker would have been dismayed and perhaps irritated by the appellation. Throughout his life, he referred to himself as a “student,” a “bystander,” or as “an observer.”) Drucker was William Cohen’s professor “in probably the first executive PhD program in management in academic history,” from 1975 until 1979, and Cohen was the first graduate of this program at what was then the Claremont Graduate School. His classes with Drucker met once a week, beginning at 4:30 PM and resumed after a dinner break, continuing until at least 10 PM but sometimes later. These were lecture courses without use of notes but Drucker, a master of the Socratic method of teaching, initiated continuous Q&A exchanges with students. (“In answering a question he might go off in an unexpected direction which seemingly had nothing to do with the question asked. Before you knew it, he was giving a lecture within a lecture.”) He attracted so many students that his classes met in the largest room available. He used the same textbook for all his classes (his business classic, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities and Practices) and never used a teaching assistant to grade for him. During the dinner break, instructors and students from various classes gathered at an open bar and then dinner in the Faculty Club. Cohen occasionally found himself seated with a group that included Drucker.

What we have in A Class with Drucker is a wealth of Cohen’s memories of those years as a student at Claremont Graduate School, his reflections on what he learned from Peter Drucker, and discussions of how those lessons were then applied in his personal life and especially in his career. “I have tried to come close to capturing his actual words, but in any case, I believe I achieved the spirit of what he said and how he said it. My aim is to put the reader in the classroom as if he were there with me at the time hearing Drucker and participating in every interaction I had with him.” Cohen succeeds brilliantly in achieving these and other objectives.

What we have in Drucker on Leadership are the results of Cohen’s efforts to read and reflect upon all of Drucker’s 40+ books and hundreds of articles as well as his (Cohen’s) classroom notes in order to formulate at least the essence of Drucker’s concept of leadership. Until reading this book, I did not know that Drucker “did at times seem to equivocate about leadership.” In 1947, he wrote that “Management is what workers do to complete task”; in 1973, he reiterated, “There is no substitute for leadership but management cannot create leaders” It was not until 1988 in an article that Drucker gave the word “leadership” prominence but, by 1996, he had reversed himself completely in the foreword to The Leader of the Future: “Leadership must be learned and can be learned.” Cohen notes that, “Toward the end of his career, Peter [as Drucker urged Cohen to address him] concluded not only that leadership could be learned but also that it should be presented as a topic separate and distinct from management. Unfortunately, he never did this in a book.” Drucker died in 2005, eight days after his 96th birthday.

Fortunately, Cohen presents a “distillation” of all of Drucker’s thoughts about leadership from an abundance of resources. He provides a model suggesting the five basic components of effective leadership:

o Strategic planning by the leader as the foundation
o Business ethics and personal integrity as necessary conditions
o Leadership as taught in the military as a baseline model
o Correct perception and application of the psychological principles of motivation
o The marketing model as the general approach

Cohen organizes his material within five Parts:

One: The Leader’s Role in Shaping the Organization’s Future (Chapters 1-5)
Two: Ethics and Personal Integrity (Chapters 6-10)
Three: The Military: Drucker’s Model Organization
Four: Motivation and Leadership (Chapters 16-19)
Five: The Marketing Model of Leadership (Chapters 20-23)

Cohen quotes extensively from Drucker’s works throughout the narrative, adding his own comments whenever appropriate. He also includes a number of reminiscences of moments and experiences shared with Drucker over a period of years during which served as a major general in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, held senior-level executive positions in several companies, and was president of two universities. Currently, he is the president of the Institute of Leader Arts.

Of special interest to me is what Cohen reveals in Chapter 20. For example, “Perhaps Drucker’s greatest leadership gift is one of his least known but also one of his most far-reaching and integrative ideas: good leadership is essentially marketing. The concept is based on Peter’s view that all knowledge workers are partners in an organization, and therefore cannot simply be ordered around. They must be led, and leadership, Drucker concluded, was a marketing job.”(from Drucker’s book, Management Challenges for the Twenty-First Century published by HarperBusiness in 1999) Since ancient marketplaces thousands of years ago, the primary purpose of marketing has been to create or increase demand for whatever one offers. It requires all four modes of communication: exposition to explain, description to make vivid, narration to tell a story or explain a sequence, and argumentation to convince with logic and/or rhetoric. A leader needs to master all of these skills to attract and then retain the support of others. “However, Drucker did not say `salesmanship’; he said `marketing’…[he] did not say leadership was a `selling job.’ He said it was `a marketing job.’ This is an important difference.” Indeed it is.

For those interested in Peter Drucker and his various perspectives on leadership, this is a “must read.”

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