greg bustin peter drucker

The Legacy of Peter Drucker

November 3rd, 2010  | 

Published in Event, Leadership

We celebrate the birthday of Peter Drucker this month.

Born November 19, 1909, in Vienna, Drucker is considered the father of modern management because his insights and pioneering ideas transformed the way we conduct business.

Drucker’s 38 books have been translated into more than 30 languages, showcasing thinking that’s as fresh and powerful today as it was when his first book was published in 1939.

Peter Drucker fled Nazi Germany, and his experiences in Europe kindled a lifelong fascination with the issue of authority. “I suddenly realized,” Drucker wrote, “that Keynes and all the brilliant economic students in the room were interested in the behavior of commodities, while I was interested in the behavior of people.”

Peter Drucker – A Man of Firsts

Drucker considered himself a “social ecologist,” and his interest in people led him to powerful conclusions that poked holes in conventional wisdom. Here’s a sampling – all firsts:

  • Introduced (in the 1940s) the concept of decentralization, which remains the organizational foundation of every large organization in the world.
  • Advocated (in the 1950s) that workers be treated as assets and not as liabilities to be eliminated.
  • Advanced (in the 1950s) the idea of the corporation as a community built on trust and respect for the worker where profit is not the primary goal but an essential condition for the company’s continued existence.
  • Pioneered (in the 1950s) the idea that there is “no business without a customer.”
  • Argued the need for “planned abandonment” to counter the tendency of businesses and governments to cling to “yesterday’s successes” that have outlined their usefulness.
  • Coined (in the 1970s) the term “knowledge worker,” predicting that knowledge would become more valuable than raw materials.

“The world knows he was the greatest management thinker of the last century,” said Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric Co., upon Drucker’s death November 11, 2005.

Powerful Questions

It’s said that “It is not the answer that enlightens, but the question.”
Drucker was a master at posing the deceptively simple question that could unlock potential.

Early in Jack Welch’s new role as CEO of GE, he invited Drucker to the company’s headquarters. Drucker posed two questions to Welch that shaped the CEO’s long-term strategy: “If you weren’t already in a business, would you enter it today?” Drucker asked Welch. “And if the answer is ‘No,’ what are you going to do about it?”

These two simple questions prompted Welch to insist that every GE business had to be either No. 1 or No. 2 in its class. If they were not, the business was fixed, sold or closed. The strategy that transformed GE into one of the most successful American corporations of the past 25 years started with two questions posed by Drucker.

In his book The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization, Drucker wrote that “answering simple questions requires us to make stark and honest – and sometimes painful – self-assessments. Answers are important; you need answers because you need action. But the most important thing is to ask these questions.”

Here are Drucker’s five most important questions:

  • What is our mission?
  • Who is our customer?
  • What does the customer value?
  • What are our results?
  • What is our plan?

How do you answer these questions?

Thought Leadership

Peter Drucker’s legacy is profound, broad and relevant for today’s leaders wrestling with change and uncertainty.
Consider these gems from Drucker – each a revolutionary thought then and now:

“The best way to predict the future is to create it.”

“The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.”

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”

“Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.”

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

“You can only manage what you can measure.”

“What’s measured improves.”

“What everybody knows is frequently wrong.”

“Do not simply cling to your past successes; be willing to change, adopt new ideas and continually review all the different segments of business.”

“Whenever you see a successful business, someone made a courageous decision.”

“A leader, any leader, must act for the benefit of others and not for oneself.”

If you own one of Drucker’s books, now would be a good time to re-read it.

If you don’t own one of Drucker’s books, now would be a good time to buy one and read it.

In times of uncertainty, it’s wise to apply the fundamentals. Peter Drucker’s fundamental approach to business continues to bring out the best in leaders.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Drucker.

About the Author: Greg Bustin advises some of the world’s most admired companies and leaders, and he’s dedicated a career to working with CEOs and the leadership teams of hundreds of companies in a range of industries. He’s facilitated more than 200 strategic planning sessions, and he’s delivered more than 500 keynotes and workshops on five continents. His fifth leadership book — Decision Time: Leadership Lessons from History’s Greatest Moments — will be published in 2019 by Simple Truths.