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You Are There: Peter Drucker's Classroom

"Everything you see here was as it happened that day, except, You Are There…. What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times—and you were there."
Reminiscent of Walter Cronkite’s CBS program You Are There, Bill Cohen takes us back into the classroom of Peter Drucker. In A Class With Drucker, he brings to life the energy and humor of one of the best thinker’s of our time. He illuminates some of Drucker’s most profound ideas live, in real time as it were. Subtitled as “the lost lessons of the world’s greatest management thinker,” it is, more to the point, “the lost context of the world’s greatest management thinker.” While many of the ideas are not new to those familiar with Drucker’s teachings, you will find Cohen’s presentation of Drucker’s thinking and classroom elaboration of his ideas, to be enlightening.

A Class With Drucker
Drucker taught at Claremont University just a few miles from where I am here. I have had the opportunity to hear him talk and Cohen’s recollections bring back my own experiences. A Class With Drucker is an enjoyable read that shows a side of Drucker that you don’t get from his writings alone. Cohen was the first graduate of the world’s first executive Ph.D. program in management at Claremont University. He reconstructs the lectures that made the strongest impact on him when he was a student, in chapters devoted to 17 key lessons from the Drucker curriculum.

In one such chapter entitled, People Have No Limits, Even After Failure, he records Drucker’s problem with Lawrence Peter’s infamous Peter Principle from the 1968 book of the same name: "In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence." Cohen writes:
Peter [Drucker] said, We have no right to ask people to take on jobs that will defeat them, no right to break good people. We don’t have enough good young people to practice human sacrifice.” The selection of the right person for the right job was the manager’s responsibility. But even more importantly, the notion that people rise to their levels of incompetence was dangerous to the organization.

According to the Peter Principle, if an organization has arrived at his or her level of incompetence, logically the organization has little choice but to get rid of the incompetent employee before the entire organization becomes overloaded with incompetent managers who make more and more bad decisions. Yet, the concept and the recommended action has many downsides. The only antidote to “incompetence” under the Peter Principle is dismissal. However, before one should even consider dismissal, the basic question concerns the assumption that failure is due to incompetence.
Cohen ends each chapter with a useful Drucker Lesson Summary. Even Drucker aficionados will gain something new here.

  William Cohen also publishes the Journal of Leadership Application newsletter.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:19 PM
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