Lessons From Peter Drucker

10 Lessons from Drucker’s Accomplishments

Posted: 12/06/2016

Over the years Drucker learned lots of lessons as a management consultant. We’re lucky that he’s shared those with us in his dozens of books. Here are the top takeaways we should always keep in mind:

1. Your upbringing doesn’t matter.

They just happened, that’s all. Some privileged sons and daughter accomplish little. Others born to poor or immigrant families accomplish great things.

Both Drucker and Caesar Millan, “the Dog Whisperer,” were immigrants. Millan didn’t have any of Drucker’s advantages—he even entered the U.S. from Mexico illegally.

Milan didn’t attend college, he came from a poor family, and he didn’t know much English when he arrived. However, he learned enough about dogs and self-promotion to become “the dog whisperer.”

Now he’s has his own TV show and commands consulting and speaking fees (just like Drucker).

The bottom line: We all have resources for becoming good, maybe even great as management consultants, or in any other profession.

G. Gordon Liddy went to prison for the Watergate break-in. When he was discharged, he started earning a six-figure income as a speaker and security consultant.

We just need to realize what resources we have and then take action and put them to use.

2. Bigger isn’t always better.

You don’t need to build a giant consulting organization like McKinsey & Company to do a lot of good, gain a lot of fame, and become wealthy. Drucker certainly proved it.

As an independent consultant, Drucker even answered his own phone. And he ended up more well-known for his work than any consultant from a large and prestigious firm.

3. You can make mistakes.

Drucker said employees still follow leaders who made mistakes as long as they are otherwise capable and maintain their integrity. Honesty is not just the best policy, it is the only policy if you want long-term success.

General Morris “Two-Gun” Cohen, no direct relation to yours truly, was a soldier-of-fortune and a one-time body guard to Sun Yat Sen, the father of modern China.

He fought with the Chinese against the Japanese during World War II, and it was not known which side he actually supported during the Chinese Civil War of 1948-49. Yet he was one of the few, maybe the only man, who was welcome in the company of both Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-Shek during the civil war between the communists and nationalists.

There are photographs of Cohen’s visits with both leaders. Cohen said these two relationships were entirely due to his integrity, and he said, “I wished I had known the importance of integrity years ago. It’s made a big difference in all I do.” 

4. Obstacles will always appear.

When an acquaintance of mine started his own consulting practice, he got sued.

It took him three years to win the case. How would you like to have something like that hanging over you while you struggle to get clients?

Drucker had to shelve his goal of becoming a professor teaching graduate courses at a major university for about 15 years because Hitler came to power in Germany.

So, he did what he needed to do. Eventually he not only reached his initial goal, but accomplished a lot more to benefit himself and society. 

5. Don’t depend on others for education.

Some corporate managers maintain that their companies will pay for advanced education, or they’ll send workers the right courses or seminars if they really want them to advance in the organization. Maybe so, but don’t depend on it.

 Drucker didn’t depend on his parents. He took an apprenticeship and spent lots of time reading and educating himself even while he struggled balancing law school and working full time.

Drucker was not superhuman. He just calculated what he was going to have to do under the circumstances and he did it. He didn’t wait for either parental help or a corporate or governmental handout.

6. Writing a bestselling book doesn’t guarantee your success.

But it can’t hurt, and if your timing is right, it can give you a fast track to the top.

Just about anyone can write, or they can learn to do so if they are willing to make the effort.

It is not necessarily easy, but hundreds of authors write bestselling books every year.

Some say, “I tried that, I wrote a book, and six publishers turned me down. I just can’t write a book.” Would it surprise you to learn that my first book was rejected by more than 20 publishers?

When finally published, the book became a bestseller.

Or consider Chicken Soup for the Soul, one of the most successful series of all time. It has sold an estimated 100 million books.

The best book was rejected by dozens of publishers before a small self-help publisher accepted the book. What others can do, you can too.

7. Serendipity doesn’t just happen.

Consider it a process. Do enough things (maybe even read books by Horace Walpole, the English writer who invented the word “serendipity”) and positive serendipitous happenings are sure to come your way.

8. Don’t discuss your client’s work.

Drucker stumbled on this one and lost the goodwill of a major corporate icon, Alfred P. Sloan, as a result.

Drucker didn’t mean to offend Sloan with his writings about GM, but this is not the issue. It is in the eyes of the offended that counts.

Drucker should have been more careful. He might have even got Sloan’s blessing had he approached him. Drucker learned his lesson and didn’t repeat his mistake.

You would be hard pressed to find a client business publicized in the manner of GM by Drucker from that time on.

9. The client is the expert.

Drucker criticized individuals and companies that thought they knew better than customers and clients. Drucker didn’t tell clients what to do so much as guide them.

Perhaps he took away a little of the glamour by asking more questions than providing answers.

Drucker’s model of the management consultant wasn’t the image of the man on the white horse riding up, telling people what to do, making things right, and riding off as someone asked, “Who was that masked man?”

Drucker quietly guided them to make decisions which led to their own success.

10. We need to learn how to think.

Although Drucker gave us much through his values, principles, and genius, I believe Drucker’s most valuable contribution was teaching us how to think. Then he expected us to do it.

As evidence of this, at the end of all-day seminiars, Drucker frequently said,  “Don’t tell me how much you enjoyed my seminar—tell me what you are going to do differently on Monday morning.”

Will you do anything differently Monday morning, or better yet, today, from these ten Drucker lessons? It’s up to you.

This story was adapted from Peter Drucker's on Consulting: And How to Apply His Drucker’s Principles for Business Success published by LID (June 2016).

Posted: 12/06/2016