Peter Drucker and Education: It’s About Human Beings

Last month, I had the privilege of representing the region of Latin America at the Global Peter Drucker Forum in Vienna, Austria. The Forum is in its 9th year and as a former Drucker Challenge winner and writer for various magazines in Latin America, I was invited to participate and dialogue with some of the world’s leading management thinkers sharing ideas around the theme of “Growth and Inclusive Prosperity.” It strikes me, in symposiums such as this one, how conversations seem to lead back to education and learning: as formative and as restorative ways of improving our society and our organizations.

Peter F. Drucker was born in Austria 108 years ago. He passed away in 2005, but he has been almost unanimously claimed in the media, the business community and academic circles as the “Inventor of Management.” His work (including over 40 books and papers) guides most modern management practices and many of his ideas and concepts – such as “Management by Objectives” or “Knowledge Worker”– are part of our daily lexicon.

He was a teacher, professor, writer and consultant. He worked with large multinational companies as well as public sector institutions, schools, think tanks and entrepreneurs. He grew up in Vienna in a traditional prosperous Viennese family surrounded by philosophers and thinkers. He moved to Hamburg and Frankfurt to study at the age of 18. There he met esteemed economists and thinkers such as Hayek, Mises and Schumpeter.

Drucker’s education and thinking were characterized by an exposure to a wide range of ideas, personalities and schools of thought. Being of Jewish origin, Drucker moved to England in 1933 and later emigrated to the USA. In the US, he found a force driving social development: US corporations becoming global players in an industrial society. Working with corporations like General Motors, Drucker was keen to share his brilliant ideas about the importance of management; not simply from the point of view of efficiencies and productivity, but as a practical discipline that supports and furthers work in (and for) community and society.

At times, “leadership” has so taken over our thinking and our organizations that we sometimes forget about the importance and beauty (Drucker called it “Liberal Art”) of management. As Drucker said: “Management is most and foremost about human beings.” When we place human beings at the heart of what we do, we are able to make the decisions that drive impact and social change. This resounds with most teachers and educators I know and I have the privilege to work with. Management is a means of driving organizations forward by thinking through and planning for the best possible outcomes; it is not about money or “shareholder value” but rather about the impact your organization has on society and on the world; and sometimes it starts with one person.

GPDF17. Photos courtesy: Peter Drucker Society

The Global Peter Drucker Forum honors the work and ideas of Peter Drucker. Designated the “World’s Management Forum,” it takes place every year in Vienna in honor of Peter Drucker and is comprised of several plenaries over the course of two days. The sessions involve authors, consultants, directors, entrepreneurs and students presenting their ideas around particular topics and themes; issues of relevance to business and the management of organizations. While education and learning was a constant topic of conversation, one session in particular, “Applying new lenses to look at the challenges of our time,” was particularly enlightening from a learning perspective. Sarah Green Carmichael (Senior Editor of Harvard Business Review), Hal Gregersen (Executive Director of the MIT Leadership Center), Thomas Wedell (Partner at The Innovation Architects) and Roger L Martin (Director at the Martin Prosperity Institute, #1 on the Thinkers 50 list and author) talked about the “problems” we are trying to solve as leaders and society and that often it is the frame from which we see the problem as more of the issue than the problem we are trying to solve. Wedell talked about spending more time understanding the problem and less time trying to solve it while Gregersen characterized those people that ask catalytic questions and seek out situations where they are wrong as the most successful individuals (employees, leaders or managers) in driving their organizations forward. In other words, our fascination with certitude – and the idea that our view is the only one that matters – is the driving force behind ineffective management of organizations. Looking for the questions to ask is a directly correlated with moving out of comfort, certitude, bubbles of isolation and with embracing what we may find uncomfortable – silence, distinct environments, injustice – in order to make positive change.

Fellow Canadian, Roger Martin, has written several leading business management and strategy books including The Opposable Mind (2007). Former Dean of the Rotman School of Management in Toronto, Martin now runs the Prosperity Institute and along with other participants at the Drucker forum calls for a transformation in business education.

This is where we come in. As educators, administrators, managers and leaders, there is a resounding call to make our organizations more human and more human centric. The “how” is really up to us but I would venture that there are some pearls of wisdom in the works of Peter F Drucker; not as the “guru of management thinking” as he is commonly referred to but as the teacher and human being who returned to basics and touched the world of management thinking with simple phrases such as: “don’t tell me what … tell me what you are going to do on Monday that’s different.”

-EMC

 

 

 

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