Lessons From Peter Drucker

Drucker's Top Tips to Successful Leadership

Posted: 09/11/2016

Leadership isn’t some sort of manipulation. Real leadership depends heavily on integrity and it has extraordinary power. It alone can make the difference between success and failure in anything you do for yourself or any group you belong to.

I know this is a strong statement, but it is absolutely true. I’ve seen this again and again in organizations of all types.

Consider these examples:

  • As a young man, I saw a flying organization in the Air Force go from last of 20-plus similar organizations—they couldn’t pass an organizational readiness inspection—to number one in less than four months with a new leader in charge.
  • The great football coach Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers when the team’s very existence was uncertain. The previous year Green Bay had one win, one tie, and ten losses. In Lombardi’s first year as head coach, the Packers won seven games. Lombardi was named Coach of the Year. The following year the team won the NFL regional championship and barely missed winning the Super Bowl by a few yards on the final play. The third year Lombardi’s Packers won the Super Bowl with most of the same players who were part of the losing team.
  • During Jack Welch’s tenure as CEO of General Electric, the company’s value increased 4000%.

Yes, leadership has incredible power. Yet Peter Drucker wrote that all depends on a single decision: Your decision to be a leader.

How Leaders Succeed

Leadership is getting things accomplished by acting through others. Regardless of your own abilities, there are many important goals that you cannot attain without the help of others.

Around the turn of the century, a young newsman by the name of Napoleon Hill interviewed steel magnate Andrew Carnegie. At the time, Carnegie was than one of the wealthiest men alive. He convinced Hill to devote 20 years of his life to study of what made men successful. Carnegie helped Hill by giving him introductions to the mightiest, wealthiest, and most well-known men of his day, including Henry Ford, Theodore Roosevelt, George Eastman, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Julius Rosenwald, and Clarence Darrow.

Hill discovered no successful individual became successful strictly by his own actions. Every single one of the people Hill interviewed had become successful through the help of others. These other individuals had a greater talent in some area.

Who were these others? They were bosses, colleagues, and subordinates. 

Carnegie must have recognized this because the one sentence had had engraved on his tombstone was: ”Here lies one who knew how to get around him men who were cleverer than himself."

How You Can Lead Before You Are Promoted

You may have heard someone say, "I'll wait till I'm promoted. Then I'll have an opportunity to demonstrate my leadership." That's like the old story about the freezing man and the wood-burning stove. The man looked at the wood-burning stove and spoke these words. "Give me heat and then I will give you wood."

You may laugh because everyone knows that you have to put wood on a fire before it’ll give you heat. The same is true about promotions. If you want to get promoted, you have to be a leader first. Then, someone will promote you with a leader title.

The fact is there are numerous situations in which leaders are required, whether it is organizing a company picnic, coaching a volleyball team, or being in charge of an annual Savings Bond drive. Do you want to be a leader? All you need to do is to raise your hand.

Leadership Is Not Management

Let me propose a definition of leadership to you. With this definition, it doesn't make any difference whether you are leading a company, an organization, a military unit, or just some friends in a club. But it has little to do with management.

Leadership is the art of influencing others to their maximum performance to accomplish any task, objective, or project. Drucker defined leadership this way: "Leadership is the lifting of a man’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a man’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a man’s personality beyond its normal limitations."

Note that neither definition says anything about management. Can you always get people to perform to their maximum potential? Can you always raise a person’s performance to a higher standard? I believe that through leadership you can, but to do it, you must first win over the minds of others.

To Lead, You Must First Win Minds

A good deal of leadership in the winning of victories has to do with your ability to win the minds of the people around you. If you can do this, you'll not only lead successfully, but you'll be successful in achieving your goals and objectives.

What we've seen is that the power of leadership is considerable. Everything else is secondary to your ability to help people do things that they didn't know they could do or didn't know needed to be done. To do this, you must first win their minds to your way of thinking. But this doesn’t depend on good deals for those you lead.

Why Good Leadership Doesn't Depend on Good Deals

Good leadership doesn't have much to do with management participation, good working conditions, or superior pay. You don't even have to be a "nice guy."

In western Pennsylvania, there's a tool and die company called Oberg Industries. Inc magazine called company president Don Oberg "The Lord of Discipline."

Western Pennsylvania is right in the middle of union country, but Oberg Industries is not unionized. It's not due to pleasant working conditions. Oberg Industries has a 50-hour workweek with a 15-minute lunch break for both management and labor. Whether workers get to participate in decision-making is not an issue.

Here are some other interesting facts. Annual sales for most tool-and-die companies at the time the article was written were on the average $2 million a year. At Oberg they were $27 million. And the average sales per employee was 30% higher. There was no recession the year that we're talking about. It may be hard to believe, but 1,600 people applied for only 30 job openings that year.

Now, why was this? Were Oberg employees well paid? Probably. However, far more important than compensation, Don Oberg, while he was a hard task master, had managed to instill in all his employees the idea that if you worked at Oberg, you were the best.

Furthermore, everyone knew that the leader at the top was giving 100% himself to be the best as well. And so Oberg continued to outperform similar firms and people fought to work for him, even though he was "the Lord of Discipline."

Five Important Facts Drucker Discovered about Leadership

#1: One person can make the difference between success or failure in any organization. You can be that person by becoming a leader.

#2: Most people become successful only through the help of others. You can obtain this help through the practice of leadership.

#3: You don't need to be a manager to be a leader. You don't need to wait to be promoted. You can become a leader immediately by raising your hand and volunteering to lead.

#4: The essence of leadership is very simple. It is to help people perform to their maximum potential to achieve organizational goals or objectives.

#5: Good leadership doesn't depend on good deals or pleasant working conditions. Your ability to motivate people to perform to their maximum is independent of these factors.

Posted: 09/11/2016