Cutting-Edge Leadership

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Peter Drucker on Leadership

What are Peter Drucker's lessons for leaders?

What did Peter Drucker, the Father of Modern Management, have to say about leadership? Because Drucker believed that management was itself an important and noble endeavor, he did not, throughout most of his career, focus much on leadership. Having fled Nazi Germany soon after Hitler's rise to power, Peter Drucker's view of leaders, particularly charismatic leaders, was not particularly positive. For Drucker, effective management, not leadership, was the key to success.

Yet, by the end of his life, Drucker acknowledged that leadership was important. I recall that many years ago when Peter came to one of our undergraduate leadership courses, the students asked him his definition of leadership. He said that he did not want to talk about leadership, but about management. A bold student asked, "Can you define management?" Some of the students smiled as Drucker defined "management" and it was quite similar to the agreed-upon definition of "leadership" that the students had come up with in the prior week's class.

In his new book, Drucker on Leadership, my friend, Bill Cohen, a student and colleague of Peter Drucker, extracts the leadership lessons that he learned from this great thought leader. Here are the lessons that Bill uncovered:

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1. Strategic planning is the first priority of the leader. Drucker believed that the leader's job was to create the desired future for the company or the organization. The leader needed to be intimately involved with the strategic direction.

2. Ethics and integrity are critical for leader effectiveness. Character and ethical behavior are of central importance for the leader. According to Drucker, followers might forgive leaders for mistakes, but will not forgive a lack of integrity.

3. Model the military. Peter Drucker had great respect for how the military developed leadership, with an emphasis on character and leaders as positive role models. The military's emphasis on commitment and "taking care of your people" are examples of what Drucker admired about military leadership.

4. Motivation: Treat employees like volunteers. Peter greatly admired nonprofit organizations, and he extracted leadership lessons from them. If a leader treats employees as if they were volunteers - free to leave at any time - the leader pays greater attention to the non-monetary needs of workers, and moves from transactional motivation to transformational motivation.

5. Leaders should be marketers. This surprising lesson really means that leaders should be focused on the customer, and be concerned about how customers view the organization and its products or services. The leader must set the tone for how the organization is viewed, and be its best representative.

Although little of Peter Drucker's writings focused on leadership, there are many lessons for leaders in his work. Our thanks to William Cohen for highlighting them.

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Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., is the Henry R. Kravis Professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College.

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