The first time I met
Peter F. Drucker, I tried to appear nonchalant,
to rest my elbow on the table and hold my fist
under my chin to keep my
jaw from dropping open. Every sentence he spoke
shimmered with wisdom.
He was 87 years old then. He greeted me warmly, as
the position of Program Director for the Peter F.
Drucker Foundation for NonProfit Management (no
longer in existence).
After spending a half century transforming the way
America's largest corporations were managed and
predicting "the knowledge society," he had turned
some of his attention to the nonprofit sector. In
1989, the Harvard Business Review published his
seminal article, "What Business Can Learn
Eight Practices of Effective Executives:
- They ask,
"What needs to be done?"
- They ask,
"What is right for the enterprise??
develop action plans
- They take
responsibility for decisions.
- They take
responsibility for communicating.
- They focus
on opportunities rather than problems.
- They run
- They think
and say "we" rather than "I."
Extrapolated from "What Makes an Effective
Executive," by Peter F. Drucker. Harvard Business
Review, June 2004.
He also began writing about what
the nonprofit social and governmental public
sectors could learn from the private sector.
In the mid-1990s, he leant his name
to an initiative to establish a nonprofit
foundation that would focus on developing
resources for nonprofit leaders.
The "sector" lines quickly blurred. Peter's
writings transcended application to any one
The principles of management,
business, innovation, executive effectiveness,
productivity, and leadership he espoused were
applicable across all sectors. The only real
differences were the bottom lines: profit for the
private sector, and service for the social and
The across-the-board applicability of his
thought was evident in an event I projected
directed for him in 1997 —
"The NonProfit Leader of the Future." The event
quickly morphed into "The Leader of the Future,"
the title of a compendium of essays the foundation
has published under the leadership of Frances
Hesselbein. As nonprofit leaders across the
country rushed to register, so did leaders and
managers from the private sector. The end result
probably the largest ever gathering of executives
and managers: 10,000 of them gathered at
250 sites across the U.S., and 40 sites in South
America to listen to him speak those sentences
that shimmered with wisdom.
Peter Drucker died in December 2005, at
the age of 97. Almost to his last days, his output
was prodigious. His influence will increase in the
years ahead, as new generations of leaders and
managers throughout the world will look to him for
the knowledge, wisdom, strength, and resources
that will help them manage change, innovate, and
improve the performance of their organizations.
And more than ever, as ways to revive business
ethics become the subject of doctoral research and
theses, and nonprofit and governmental
organizations work diligently to keep up with
unfathomable dimensions of human need
voice will linger.
For those who have not read any of Peter's work, a
good starting point is the recently published
compendium, "Classic Drucker"
articles from the
Harvard Business Review. A scan of some of the
article titles demonstrate the staggering
dimensions of Drucker's vision, prescience, and
The Theory of the
Employees, They're People
The Discipline of
Executives Truly Need
What Makes an
The New Society of
What Business Can
Learn from Nonprofits
Indeed, when I met him, I tried to appear
as I did when I was
in the presence of the many other visionaries I
have been fortunate enough to work with, or learn
In the months ahead, I will write more
about Peter Drucker —
as well as about my
experiences of Buckminster Fuller, Nelson Mandela,
and the innovators I list on my