“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
The majority of books we review have been recently published. We are planning to change pace once a month to share with you the best management books, the foundation of any business knowledge academia and executives have accumulated over the decades. Our first classics review was in its day a seminal work by the legendary Peter Drucker, an intellectual giant who came to be regarded as a guru by everyone from Winston Churchill to Bill Gates. And, we wanted to evaluate of its advice, written before the invention of the Internet, was still relevant in today’s fast-moving business environment.
Peter Drucker started his professional career in Frankfurt as a financial reporter, and his writing breathes his journalistic heritage, filed with witty aphorisms and memorable metaphors. Drucker moved to England in the early 1930s and thence to America in 1937, where he stayed until his death 68 years later. He started in the United States as a correspondent for a number of British newspapers. From 1950 to 1972 he was professor of business at New York University Graduate School of Business. In 1971 he moved to California to help develop one of the country’s first executive MBAs at Claremont Graduate University, and its business school is now named after him.
In “The Concept of the Corporation”, Drucker argued strongly in favor of decentralized decision-making at a time when corporate role models such as General Motors were concentrating more and more power in their headquarters. He argued that the assembly line, so embedded at the heart of industrial efficiency, was in fact very inefficient because it only allowed things to be done in sequence. He also introduced the idea of management by objectives, aiming for long-term goals by setting a series of short-term ones. In 1969 he coined the phrase “knowledge worker”.
In his 1954 book “The Practice of Management”, he argued that management was one of the major social innovations of the 20th century, primarily a human activity, not a mechanical or an economic one. He pioneered the idea of the corporation as a social institution.
While the book was written more than 60 years ago, it feels very timely, packed with good advice that rings true today as it did in 1954. The biggest value for today’s readers is in contemplating how much things have changed since then and reflecting on whether the differences justify different actions or not.
“Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window.”
It is a fascinating read in demonstrating the quality of Drucker’s thinking and vision, revealing the small number of areas in which organizational life has changed, and the larger number of areas where it has not. The greatest value of reading and re-reading Drucker consists in a sustained exposure to his brilliant mind and the discipline of thinking. An eternal value.