Drucker on the Human Side of Leadership

“Human organizations rather than just as sources for economic data”

There are so many topics that could be explored about Peter Drucker’s perspectives on leadership (and of course, management as he tended to call both), and part of that is the timelessness of many of his writings, observations and analysis. One clear thread in his writings is the humanness of the organization, and a re-reading of this article from a decade ago underscores this point. Drucker was known not only as the father of management, but in one author’s opinion, he “was also an apostle for management” – due to the humanism that ran through all of his thought. It may have been human capital that was being managed, but it was human beings, with their inherent value that needed leading and was never disconnected from management.  “He treated companies as human organizations rather than just as sources for economic data,” and remarkably, he was able to tie this to the needs of an organization, and use the tools of “objectives and hard measurements.” To use his own words, he wrote that “management is about human beings. Its task is to make people capable of joint performance, to make their strengths effective and their weaknesses irrelevant.”

These methods of making people capable remain relevant to this present time.  For example, instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole, Drucker would ask, “what needs to be done?”  And then advise, “do the things you are good at, and embrace and utilize the strength of others around you.”  Both aspects of this philosophy need to be embraced: strategic time management, beginning with a proper sense of priority and asking, what is the most important thing that I need to be doing right now? And being surrounded with the best people available at things we might not be particularly good at, or even interested in.

To make intelligent, discerning use of management tools, financial and statistical data, but not lose sight of the human side of business is the holy grail of great leadership. Again, Mr. Drucker’s own words from the same essay on this point are remarkable where he draws the connection between business and the humanities,

Management is thus what tradition used to call a liberal art – “liberal” because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge, self-knowledge, wisdom, and leadership; “art” because it is also concerned with practice and application. Managers draw on all the knowledges and insights of the humanities and the social sciences – on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on ethics – as well as on the physical sciences. But they have to focus this knowledge on effectiveness and results.

I believe this idea – the thoroughgoing understanding and care about people is one of the reasons that Drucker was considered “the world’s greatest management thinker.” See the two articles from five and ten years ago, both worth a re-read:

(2009). Remembering Drucker. Economist: http://www.economist.com/node/14903040

Karlgaard, R. (2004). Peter Drucker on Leadership. Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/2004/11/19/cz_rk_1119drucker.html

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