Basics Are Still The Best

Dec. 21, 2004
Peter Drucker's management gems make steadfast advice

Back in the fourteenth century, in Canton, China, an inspired artisan introduced the carving of concentric spheres from a single piece of ivory. When I first saw a sample of this awe-inspiring skill, I asked, "How did they get those little spheres inside each other?" And the answer my astute friend gave is, "The little spheres were always inside the larger ones, but it took the talent and the imagination of a master artist to set them free." Chief executives are business artisans. Their corporate universes are comprised of worlds within worlds. The relationship, the interdependence, and the values in those worlds can only be visualized, carved, polished, and given value by those who possesses the knowledge, the understanding, the experience, the patience, and the consummate skill of master management artists. All they have to do is carve out the extraneous stuff that doesn't fit their vision of a masterpiece. Thinking of masterpieces, I immediately reached into my collection of Peter F. Drucker's books and pulled out his "Bible" for managers. It's a 24-year-old, 839-page volume titled Management: tasks, responsibilities, practices (1974, Harper & Row). Some Drucker management gems:

  • "Management is work, and as such it has its own skills, its own tools, its own techniques. The stress (of the book) is not on skills, tools, and techniques. It is not even on the work of management. It is on the tasks."
  • "Management is the organ, the life-giving, acting, dynamic organ of the institution it manages."
  • "While management is a discipline--that is, an organized body of knowledge and as such applicable everywhere--it is also a 'culture.'"
  • "Management is also people. Every achievement of management is the achievement of a manager. Every failure is the failure of a manager. . . . The vision, the dedication, the integrity of managers determine whether there is management or mismanagement."
As a devout Druckerite, I learned that management by objectives and self-control should be every manager's goal, especially the chief executive's. This method motivates you to act because the objective task demands it. Because you need to and want to. You make decisions based on your evaluation of the needs, the people skills, the equipment, the supplies and time necessary to accomplish your objectives. You also anticipate and make allowances for the obstacles you face. Then, you communicate what must be done to the people who must do it. In a manner that makes them want to do it. The skills, actions, behavior, and motivation of the people you are managing are critical to implementing your decisions. Ultimately, their performance or lack of it will reflect on you, their leader. Whatever your level of management is. And whatever your function. Success comes quickly when 1) you convert the company's objective needs into your personal goals; and 2) you help the people you manage to do the same. People who understand what they are expected to do--and who like doing it--succeed. Those who don't, won't. This is freedom in its most genuine sense. But top management in most companies is not a simple structure. Top management is a team and, therefore, requires teamwork and united purpose. It also requires humility. Egos complicate good management. Zsa Zsa Gabor, in describing why she and her third husband, George Sanders, were divorced said, "When I married George, we were a team. We were both in love with him. Later, I fell out of love with him--but he didn't." Top management's biggest problem. Ego! A CEO friend was primping in the mirror before leaving to make a major speech at a management conference. "I wonder how many really great men there are in my kind of business?" he mused. "One less than you think," said his wife. Top management's second biggest problem. A frank spouse! If we were to ask Peter Drucker how to end this column, he'd say, "Just remind your readers about these five maxims."
  1. Whoever has the primary responsibility should have the final say.
  2. Managers should not make decisions when they do not have responsibility.
  3. Members of the top management team don't have to like one another.
  4. Top management teams are not committees. They are teams. They need captains. If your ego won't let you accept that, get off the team.
  5. Top management requires systematic and intensive communications. Less about how important you are and more about how important your company's objectives are.

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