NZIM : Leadership – The Drucker Legacy

American management guru Peter Drucker’s lifetime of management thinking and teachings was, and since his death still is, so profound that this year’s AIM convention opened with panel discussion recognising the contribution he made.
Chair of America’s Drucker Foundation Frances Hesselbein, herself now an internationally recognised management thinker, speaker and writer, shared some of what she learned from her years working with him. And the convention agreed that Drucker had opened doors for countless managers. His books are as relevant today as they were to managers in the decades in which he wrote them.
Drucker simply had the talent and ability to identify core truths about human workplace behaviour and the capacity to accurately predict outcomes from trends that were present but not easily seen without hindsight. He had, convention panel agreed, made huge and sustained contribution to the literature on the art of management which, strangely, seemed to be shunned by the world’s leading universities.
His wife, Doris Drucker, spoke to the topic “Information: Is It Everything?” We are, she said, engulfed by maelstrom of information which, unless activated by knowledge, is meaningless. In the three years between 1999 and 2002 the amount of information available in the world increased by third. “Do humans have the capacity to absorb the volume of information they are now bombarded with?” she asked.
She was, she told the convention, concerned about the potential damaging effects that uncontrolled levels of information may have on children. And will the availability of information on demand impact on an individual’s ability to remember things in the future? Will the human ability to manipulate available information reduce mental capacity and consequently lead to more shallow existence, she asked.
Doris Drucker compared today’s information explosion with the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century when reformists fought for the abolition of child labour. Her fears may prove unfounded, she said, but whatever the situation “we now need far-sighted leaders with the vision to manage this challenge for the future”.
Another global management guru, Tom Peters, chaired two convention sessions; the first aimed at describing business in the future in disruptive age – how to survive and how to thrive. His second session was designed to identify the essential skills and attributes managers need to be effective in today’s world.
On business in the future Peters made two key points:
• Women are the key purchasing decision makers in today’s world. Men in management roles must understand this and realign their organisations’ targets.
• The world’s population is ageing and management needs to understand the repercussions of that process.
On describing the essential skills and attributes of modern manager, he said: “Do stuff” not “plan, plan, plan, and plan.” We tend to be too intellectual in our management approaches which, he suggested, was probably due to our higher levels of education. The key to the future was to “Fail, fail, fail, fail better, and fail again”.
British born but now Boston-based professional services consultant David Maister explored the overall practice of management. He invited delegates to understand why good management is fundamentally important and to understand what the characteristics of an effective manager are?
The words that exemplify successful manager today are: drive, determination, enthusiasm, energy, excitement, passion, and ambition, he said. In the end the convention agreed that all of these words described one thing: engagement.
“Engagement,” said Maister, “is critical requirement of both managers and all employees in today’s organisations.” It provided value for the organisation because it delivered on Peter Drucker’s belief that the quality of its management was company’s only effective competitive advantage. It was also good for employees because it meant that the organisation was somehow providing an environment and culture that attracted and retained individuals. This was important in world where talent was increasingly scarce.
Maister then leapt to the conclusion that managers in fact need only one talent and that is to elicit “engagement” in others. Unfortunately many people saw their managers not as engagers but as net suppressors of engagement. “Managing,” he said, “is different to being good at business,” and added that “unfortunately we tend to teach too much of the latter rather than the former at university.”
He urged managers to ask themselves three questions:
• Have I appointed people who let others succeed?
• Do I look for and give constructive feedback?
• Do people (including me) know what my non-negotiable values are?
These questions were, he said, relevant for today’s managers who need to make sure they engage people through participation and learning and are able to ensure they focus on the long-term, as well as short-term, goals of the organisation.
America’s leading executive coach, Marshall Goldsmith ended the Convention with an energetic and interactive session focused on giving people “feedforward” versus “feedback”. Goldsmith saw fundamental problem with feedback because it focused on the past rather than on what could happen in the future. Feedback was limited and static, rather than expansive and dynamic.
He asked convention participants to join in an exercise in which they played two roles. They were asked to provide feedforward – to give someone suggestions for the future and help as much as they can. In the second role, they were asked to accept feedforward – to listen to the suggestions for the future and learn as much as they could. He invited them to:
• Pick one behaviour they would like to change. Change in this behaviour should make significant, positive difference in their lives.
• Describe this behaviour to randomly selected fellow participants. This is done in one-on-one dialogues. It can be done quite simply, such as: “I want to be better listener.”
• Ask for feedforward – for two suggestions for the future that might help them achieve positive change in their selected behaviour. If participants have worked together in the past, they are not allowed to give any feedback about the past.
• Listen attentively to the suggestions and take notes. Participants are not allowed to comment on the suggestions in any way. They are not allowed to critique the suggestions or even to make positive judgemental statements, such as: “That’s good idea.”
• Ask the other participants what they would like to change.
• Provide feedforward – two suggestions aimed at helping the other person change.
The exercise completed, Goldsmith asked participants to provide one word that best described their reaction to this experience. The most common word was fun. “Fun,” said Marshall, “is the last word that most of us think about when we receive feedback.”

Kevin Gaunt is the chief executive of NZIM Northern Region.

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