Leadership. Lessons from Peter Drucker Part 2 of 3.

I've selected three of my favorite Drucker reads that I feel have great relevance to this blog's readership of human resource vendors and HR professionals. My first posting was on entrepreneurial strategies. Today's posting is on Leadership. My final posting is on Picking People.

There is no shortage of books, articles and white papers on leadership. Our own HR Community boasts many vendor white papers on leadership development. Regardless of the decade leadership is always the buzz. In fact, decades ago in his article Leadership at Work, Peter Drucker said "leadership is all the rage just now". Today, leadership and how to develop great leaders, is as important a topic as it ever was given the absence of good leadership at all levels of society.

But much of what I read about leadership seems to complicate the subject. It should not be complicated. This is why I enjoy reading Drucker's take on leadership. Like all great minds he seems to bring clarity to a complex subject.

According to Drucker, what are the traits of effective leadership?

Drucker says that leadership has little to do with leadership "qualities" and even less to do with charisma. America's greatest leaders possessed "no more charisma than a dead mackerel" (e.g., Eisenhower, Truman, Lincoln) while some of history's worst leaders had plenty of charisma (Stalin, Hitler). In fact, Drucker says that charisma is often the undoing of leaders as it can make them inflexible, convinced of their own infallibility and unable to change. He goes on to say that "...leadership is work and the foundation of leadership is thinking through the organization's mission, defining it, and establishing it clearly and visibly".

According to Drucker, some of the requirements of good leadership include the following - again, I am summarizing Drucker so please refer to his book The Essential Drucker for all the details:

1. Goals. What distinguishes leaders is their goals and whether he/she holds fast to a few basic standards - exemplifying them in his/her own conduct.

2. Responsibility. Great leaders see leadership as responsibility rather than rank and privilege. Great leaders are rarely permissive - when things go wrong (and they always do), leaders don't blame others. Look at the CEOs of most major airlines or auto manufactures - they repeatedly blame the economy, high energy cost, health care and/or unions for their company's poor performance. This is not leadership.

3. Desire to Surround themselves with Strong Associates. Leaders are not afraid of strength in subordinates and will gladly delegate and praise subordinates. And while great leaders want strong associates they always take ultimate responsibility for mistakes. Humility is a trait of good leadership.

4. Trust and Integrity. Without trust, Drucker says a leader has no followers. To trust a leader it is not necessary to like him/her. Trust is the conviction that the leader means what he/she says. The actions and professed beliefs of a leader must be congruent.

Drucker also says "the gravest indictment of a leaders is for his/her organization to collapse as soon as he/she leaves the organization".

There is an old saying in the military that says ultimately, the most effective measure of a leader is the performance of their unit in his his/her absence. This is an interesting observation because it is only after the CEO leaves that this can be measured. Jack Welch is often considered one of the greatest leaders of American industry ever and I'm not going to dispute it. But after his departure, GE has not done well. Their current CEO has had to reorganize much of the company to stay competitive and grow and the company still struggles nearly eight years later. Does this diminish Mr. Welch's stature as a great leader?

James Burke, the former CEO of Johnson & Johnson is also regarded as one of America's greatest CEOs ever. Do you remember Ralph Larsen? Probably not. He succeeded Mr. Burke as CEO of J&J in the 1990s and oversaw one of the greatest decades of growth for J&J until his retirement in 2002. This is quite a testament to Mr. Burke's leadership and will forever mark him as a great leader. The point is that leaders have a responsibility to their company and shareholders to develop talent and prepare for their own ultimate departure.

It's no wonder succession planning and leadership development are getting so much attention these days as it is the last but most important responsibility the CEO will have. And it is no wonder the human capital firms who provide these types of services are flourishing- even in the current slow economy.

Next week I'll make my 3rd and final posting in the Peter Drucker series: How to Pick People. Stay tuned.

Labels: , ,