Joe’s Journal: On the Right Kind of Control

Here is the latest post by Joseph A. Maciariello featured in the Joe’s Journal series at the Drucker Exchange (Dx) sponsored by the Drucker Institute. The Dx is a platform for bettering society through effective management and responsible leadership. It is produced by the Drucker Institute, a think tank and action tank based at Claremont Graduate University that was established to advance the ideas and ideals of Peter F. Drucker, the father of modern management.

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“The greatest advantage of Management by Objectives is perhaps that it makes it possible for a manager to control his own performance. Self-control means stronger motivation: a desire to do the best rather than just enough to get by. It means higher performance goals and broader vision. Even if Management by Objectives were not necessary to give the enterprise the unity of direction and effort of a management team, it would be necessary to make possible management by self-control.

‘Control’ means the ability to direct oneself and one’s work. It can also mean domination of one person by another. Objectives are the basis of ‘control’ in the first sense; but they must never become the basis of ‘control’ in the second, for this would defeat their purpose.”

– Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker often warned his readers about “writing off” a subject because he or she did not particularly like it. His concern was that intellectual arrogance may cause us problems in life when we really do need information from the subject area that we have written off. Such is the case with the subject of “control” or “managerial control.”

As Drucker states, “management by domination” is to be avoided. And one of the definitions of control is “domination.” We must try to avoid dominating anyone in our organizations by the use of controls. Yet “control” in the sense of meeting objectives is virtuous and of critical importance, especially now.

At about the turn of the century, the emphasis in the management literature shifted decisively from “managerial control” to “empowerment,” and that was for good reason: The trend toward empowerment is consistent with a knowledge society in which workers are equipped to carry out their responsibilities using self-control. Yet the entire field of “Management Control Systems” has become anathema to academics in this age of empowerment.  I advise you not to buy into this intellectual arrogance.

Strong controllers are needed today more than ever. Budgets of nations all over the Western world are “out of control,” and we are paying a big price for it in economic, social and political instability. Strong controllers could help this nation close the budget gaps we are experiencing at all levels of government.

Budgets of federal, state and municipal governments should be scrutinized in detail. And the word “control,” a seven-letter word, should not be treated as a four-letter word. Constructive controls are healthy for each of us and for our governments.  Beware intellectual arrogance!

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Joseph A. Maciariello is the Horton Professor of Management & Director of Research and Education, The Drucker Institute. You can contact him directly at


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