Management’s Three Secrets

Peter Drucker was unquestionably the leading voice on management during the last half of the 20th century. Born in Austria in 1909, Drucker brought a classical European education to the world of organizational life. That grounding helped him see beyond the simplistic trends that many consultants peddle.

Drucker’s nearly 40 books predicted many of the major developments of the late 20th century, including decentralization, the importance of marketing and innovation, and the emergence of the information society. Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker.”

Thanks mostly to him, management processes have attracted a massive audience. Like any thought leader, his ideas have been applied, manipulated, misunderstood and even distorted.

In the end, it’s up to each of us to decide what we should do to become better managers. I like easy-to-remember points that are not overly simplistic.

It’s obvious that managing is difficult. Every day, the billions of people on this planet live out their lives unknowingly affecting others continents away. Because the world has become one market, the output of a common laborer in Africa, Asia or Europe may affect your company, your organization and your family in ways you’ll never realize.

Given this, how does one respond competitively during the course of managing themselves or others?

I attempt to deal with this by following the admonitions of three people. Consider them my three secret coaches. 

The first is actually of uncertain origin. Several people, including Winston Churchill, Elbert Hubbard, Mark Twain and Edna St. Vincent Millay, have allegedly said, “Life is just one damn thing after another.” It sounds like something Twain would say and, given its popularity, it must be true.

To me, it is a sanctuary when I feel the world closing in on me. I take it to mean that I certainly can’t control the world or much within it. I’m happy to be able to influence a small part of it in a small way. 

With that saying in mind, here is the first rule: Don’t sweat it. Just prepare yourself as well as possible, take whatever comes your way and deal with it.

My second source is my mother. When I was in graduate school working on my doctorate in psychology, I called her one time to share my newfound erudition, explaining to her some of the theories of behavior I was learning.

After going on at length and feeling pretty good about how smart I was becoming, there was a long pause. Finally, I heard her say the words that I’ve never forgotten: “It sounds like common sense to me.” 

At the time, I was considerably deflated. She was telling me that the time and effort I was putting into studying this discipline, while useful, shouldn’t swell my hat size. Mom came up the hard way through the school of hard knocks. She could see through the smoke. You couldn’t easily fool her. 

And she was right. Success is based on common sense. Look with unbiased eyes at what is before you. Understand the “who, what, where and why” of your circumstances. Then respond in a way that suits the situation.

My final fountain of wisdom is Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith. Red was a sports columnist for the New York Herald-Tribune for a long time and later The New York Times. This Pulitzer Prize winner was asked if turning out a daily column wasn’t quite a chore. His answer was, “Why, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins and bleed.” 

I also have to give Jack Nicklaus some credit in this area. He felt that when he was at a golf tournament where many players were complaining about the course or the weather, he knew he didn’t have to worry about them. They had already beaten themselves. The message, later epitomized in Nike’s slogan, is “Just Do It.”

At the end of the day, the secrets of management that have guided me for decades are:

  1. Accept that you can’t control the world. Just prepare yourself to deal with it.
  2. Common sense should always rule. What is right is right, and that will never change.
  3. Don’t waste time complaining. Keep your eyes open, put your head down and go to work.