How to reach your personal best

Many know that Peter Drucker was the most famous management thinker over the last hundred years, perhaps of all time. However, few are aware of the fact that Drucker not only believed in and taught self-development, but that he practiced the methods he developed (which he called "self-management") himself.

He believed that every manager was responsible for his own acquisition for learning and application of these principles to reach his or her personal best. His own career and accomplishments confirm his concepts.

The young man born and raised in Austria early in the last century did not come out all at once predicting events decades in the future, advising powerful chief executives about what they should or should not do, or writing books which years after his death ambitious executives worldwide study, reflect on, and apply to their endeavours for success.

Chances are....he didn't learn to do this overnight

How Did Drucker the Innocent Become Drucker the Genius?

Drucker claims to have gotten his start because he was allowed to participate in adult conversations by his father. Perhaps, but many fathers allow their sons to interact with adult friends yet one doesn’t see them necessarily acknowledged as a genius, or the father of anything except perhaps grandchildren. But clearly Drucker started with something and his ideas grew to be powerful and effective. He learned from his mistakes and constantly refined his principles over his long lifetime of ninety six years. However again, a fair number of individuals live into their nineties without being acknowledged as the father of management. Some of us tend to repeat the same types of mistakes without any improvement at all. Not Drucker.

Beginning with Public Humiliation

As a young man in 1929, he publically predicted a rosy future and a bull stock market worldwide. He was forced to retract these words a few short weeks later and his first big newspaper article was about the stock market crash which began the world depression. It was published in German in the Frankfurter General-Anzeiger and entitled "Panic on the New York Stock Exchange." Early on Drucker learned to be unafraid and to publically acknowledge a mistake, even if it was a major blunder. . . and he learned not to repeat the same mistake twice.

Humiliation Turns into Applause

He continued to make predictions throughout his career. Most of them were years ahead of their time and almost every one was heralded as a success. These ranged from The End of Economic Man (the title of his first book) which earned a glowing recommendation from Winston Churchill in 1939, the rise of the knowledge worker (a term he invented), how the insurance industry became a major factor which would dominate the country (this was published almost 40 years ago), how the country would have to pay a terrible price for the actions of both top management and the unions as has occurred recently, but predicted thirty years earlier, the rise of executive education on the Internet, and a lot more.

In fact, hardly a day passes that a reader cannot find something written by Drucker and noting his phenomenal ability to predict the future decades before a major event occurs --- a modern seer who rivals Nostradamus in the magnitude of his predictions but without the mysticism and difficulty in interpretation!

According to Drucker, unlike his failed prediction about the stock market, he merely looked through the window and noted what had already happened. Then he took one very important step more than anyone else: he asked himself what the action - which had already occurred - was likely to mean for the future.

Drucker’s Accomplishments: More than Staggering Predictions

However Drucker did more than gaze into a crystal ball. In the 1950s Drucker became the first to assert that workers should be treated on the asset side of the ledger, and should not be listed as liabilities. It was Drucker who introduced the idea of decentralization, a concept adopted by every large organization in the world and the basis of many new management concepts. He invented management by objectives whereby performance evaluations are not based on generalities or appearances, but on objectives and goals agreed to earlier by both boss and subordinate. He introduced the revolutionary idea that since there was no business without a customer, the purpose of a business was not profit after all, but rather was to create a customer. This led to the rise of companies which focused primarily on the customer and became immensely successful.

How else do you explain a college dropout like Steve Jobs creating an entire high technology industry. Jobs himself explained: "If you keep your eye on the profit, you’re going to skimp on the product. But if you focus on making really great products, then the profits will follow."

How do we Know Drucker had a Method?

Self-development was a major theme throughout Drucker’s writings and teachings though it has been overlooked by almost all those who analyze Drucker’s writings. "What matters," he wrote, "is that the knowledge worker, by the time he reaches middle age, has developed and nourished a human being rather than a tax accountant or a hydraulic engineer."

Drucker was not putting down tax accountants or hydraulic engineers, but rather trying to say that by his definition to be a human being one had to take the time to be highly proficient in more than one field. Not everyone knows that in addition to his management books he was a professor of Japanese art and had authored a book on this subject. It was one of the keys he practiced as he became celebrated as the world’s greatest management thinker to accomplish any goal and be recognized as one of the best in any field.

What Happened When Drucker Left Home?

So we left Drucker, according to his self-description, be allowed to participate and discuss things, on a more or less equal basis with his father’s friends. Is that all? Like many modern parents in the U.S., Drucker’s parents wanted to see him off to college. He declined. His own preference was something else. However, unlike others today who go off to join a jazz band, or begin a dead end job which is headed nowhere, Drucker set off for Frankfurt, Germany and acquired a business apprenticeship in an export firm. This must have been enough to get the attention of his conservative father, a senior civil servant.

Yet Drucker did not go into full rebellion against parental wishes, but signed up at the University of Hamburg to get a law degree at the same time. However, working during the day before classes for a law degree wasn’t enough to occupy Drucker. He began a program of reading fiction and nonfiction books, in what he himself termed "every field." I do not know whether he truly read such a wide variety of books while both working and studying. It is possible that he read some and skimmed the rest.

Some years after his death someone asked his widow, Doris Drucker, still brilliant and active at over 100 years young, what management books Peter read. "None," she responded, "although he did skim quite a few." In any case, few or many, I think we would have to write down training himself for multi-tasking as one of the keys to how Drucker became Drucker.

The Final Step

On completion of his apprenticeship and his law degree one might ask, "Did he go into business or did he practice law?" The answer is neither. By then he was on to a system. He left Hamburg for Frankfurt. He got a job as a journalist and at the same time accepted into what he claimed was the easiest doctorate to get, in international law. So there he was again, writing and working simultaneously. However, by then he had decided on a career as an academic. He made contact with an uncle at the University of Cologne seeking help in attaining a teaching job. However, before this could culminate in a position, Hitler came to power. With Jewish linage on both sides of his family, he immediately left the country.

The basis for his development was now set: work hard and develop his talents, do more than others thought possible, simultaneously if required, and take immediate action based on good predictions.

The magnitude of his accurate prediction was obvious back in 1933. Many of Drucker’s contemporaries with similar ethnic backgrounds refused to accept what Hitler’s rise meant. Drucker had read Mein Kampf. He said that Hitler was the most dangerous man in Europe.

Others said that he was only transitory. Others still refused to believe that anything could happen in "civilized" Germany. They stayed and perished. Drucker was still in his 20s about to embark on a promising career at the University of Cologne.

Instead, he dropped everything and left for England within days of Hitler’s becoming German chancellor. Drucker already knew that he had the brains and the internal strength to become all that he could be. He did that and became The Father of Modern Management.