Tag Archive for Peter Drucker

“Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions”


It is the last week of the year, and therefore a time when many of us intentionally take time to reflect on the last year and plan our goals for the next year. This may be something that you are doing in your personal life, or it may be something you are doing in your organization, but either way it is likely a time when you are analyzing where you are and asking questions as you prepare for 2017.


So it seems to be good time of the year to turn my attention to a book I read a couple of month ago, called Peter Drucker’s Five Most Important Questions. I realize this is an older book (and this version is actually a reprint that includes additional thoughts from other leaders), but it is still an apropos book for the end of the year. In his little book, Drucker explains and illustrates five important questions that every organization ought to be asking of itself:

  1. What is our mission?
  2. Who is our customer?
  3. What does the customer value?
  4. What are our results?
  5. What is our plan?


These may seem like obvious questions, but often it is the obvious questions that are missed, so the book is a tremendous reminder of the basic important questions that should be revisited on a regular basis. If you haven’t asked these questions in a while, it’s time do so.


On a personal level, these same questions could be modified to match your life: knowing your personal mission, identifying the people you impact and who are a part of your life, understanding what matters to those people, examining how you are affecting their lives, and intentionally determining how to get better at making a difference in your relationship with them. Ultimately, your family is more important than your job, so I pray that you are being just as purposefully in those relationships as you are with your profession.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership

HBR on Leadership coverI first saw this book, HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership, on a list of recommended leadership books from Amazon.  I scanned the contents, and saw the names of several authors of other books that I have read and enjoyed; in addition, it’s put out by Harvard Business review, which has a strong reputation.  That was enough to convince me to pick up a copy and read it.

It has since become a frequently referenced book by me.  I have found useful thoughts and ideas in most of the chapters, and those thoughts (and quotes) have made their way into a number of posts that have appeared on my blog in the last several months (this month, I referenced one of the articles – The Work of Leadership, by Ronald Heifetz and Donald Laurie – several times). Of course, some have resonated with me more than others, but I think I found the whole book to have value.

The book contains ten chapters; each one is reprint of an article published in the Harvard Business Review sometime in the last 25 years.  The intent is that these ten articles represent some of the most important and influential articles and authors that have shaped leadership theory and practice over the last couple of decades.  It includes articles from authors such as

  • Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence), in an article that introduces his thoughts on emotional intelligence
  • Jim Collins (author of Good to Great and Great by Choice), in an article that explains “Level 5 Leadership”
  • John Kotter (author of Leading Change), in an article that examines and presents “What Leaders Really Do”
  • Peter Drucker (author of The Effective Executive), in an article about what makes an effective executive
  • Peter Senge (author of The Fifth Discipline), in an article that explains that the best leaders are the ones who don’t try to be perfect at every skill
  • And several others

I think this is a great resource to have on your leadership bookshelf.  It contains summaries and short discussions of some of the most influential leadership ideas of the last two decades, so it gives you a synopsis of these ideas without having to read the full works of the authors.  As I read through the chapters, I wrote an outline of the main ideas of each article on a separate 4×6 notecard, so that I would have my own personal quick-reference guide for each of the concepts.  Whether or not you do the same, I do think this can be a great resource for you.

Various Authors (2011). HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press:  Boston, MA.

Give People a Voice

There was a time when leadership was viewed as an authoritative role that looked something like this:  I am in charge, I know what needs to be done, I tell you what to do, and you do it.  The assumption was that the leader was the one who really knew what was best, so he talked and the followers listened.  Classrooms used to operate the same way, when teachers would lecture and students would listen and take notes; but it was a very one-sided dialogue.  Studies of leadership now recognize that this is not effective leadership, and that now we need to be willing to give people a voice in the process.  Heifetz and Laurie found that “giving a voice to all people is the foundation of an organization that is willing to experiment and learn” (p. 69). However, that doesn’t mean that it’s no longer a struggle for us to do, and so it is still something that we need to intentionally cultivate in ourselves and in our leadership.

A couple of important concepts have helped me to recognize this truth.  One was the realization that many people know much more than I do about many things, and there are many things that others can do better than I. I don’t know everything, and I am not the most skilled at everything.  Therefore, I can be more effective when I tap into the knowledge and skills of others, but that, in turn, means giving them an opportunity to contribute.  A second truth was the realization that those who are closest to a situation – those on the ground floor – generally have the greatest understanding of what is taking place.  The people actually doing the job often have the best understanding of what works and what does not.  The result, then, is that I have learned that I need to give people a voice, especially in the process of implementing change.  If people are given the ability to speak into the process, they will in turn take more ownership of it and will be more involved and more committed.

So, knowing that we need to give people a voice, there are at least three principles that are necessary in order for it to successfully begin to happen:

1)    Include those who will be impacted.  This may include those who will be affected by the results of the change (like customers), those who have to implement the change (like the ground-floor employees), those who have to lead the change (like the managers), and those who are working to determine and design the change (like the leadership).  All of them will be affected in some way by decisions and change, so if they are not given an opportunity to speak or contribute, they are much more like to resist and react.  As Peter Drucker explains, “Effective executives make sure that both their action plans and their information needs are understood.  Specifically, this means that they share their plans with and ask for comments from their colleagues – superiors, subordinates, and peers” (p. 31).  It is dangerous to leadership to impose a strategic plan or to implement initiatives without first giving all of those groups a voice in the process.

2)    Make it safe for people to talk. Years ago, when my children were little, I learned that one of the best things that parents could do to encourage stronger communication from their children in the teenage years was to make it safe for them to talk. If I react harshly, or with ridicule or condemnation, they will learn that it is not safe to share, and will shut down.  The same thing happens in our organizations if we respond negatively when others try to give input.  We need to remember that “the voices from below are usually not as articulate as one would wish, . . . [but] buried inside a poorly packaged interjection may lie an important intuition that needs to be teased out and considered. To toss it out for its bad timing, lack of clarity or seemingly unreasonableness is to lose potentially valuable information and discourage a potential leader in the organization” (Heifetz & Laurie, p. 69).  It is therefore the responsibility of the leader to create a safe environment “for diverse groups to talk to one another about the challenges facing them, to frame and debate issues, and to clarify the assumptions behind competing perspectives and values” (Heifetz & Laurie, p. 64).  If it is not safe to speak, they won’t.

3)    Listen and validate.  My wife has the gift of empathy, but I do not, and so over the years she has helped me to learn how important it is to make people feel validated.  I have realized, by putting it into practice, that when people feel validated, they are much more receptive; and, vice versa, when they don’t feel validated, they are much more defensive.  As Seth Godin says in Tribes, “People want to be sure you heard what they said – they’re less focused on whether or not you do what they said” (2008, p. 128). It is not enough to simply listen, but I must also include a response that makes people feel heard and understood.  This means, “listening with the intention of genuinely understanding the thoughts and feelings of the speaker . . . [therefore], spend time trying to understand others’ perspectives, listening with an open mind and without judgment” (Ancona, Malone, Orlikowski, and Senge, pp. 185-186).

I will be a more effective leader when others are able to contribute.  They will bring knowledge, experience, different perspectives, important questions, and an understanding of real-life implications, and so it makes sense that they need to be allowed and encouraged to speak up.  Therefore they need to have a voice.  And for them to have voice, I have to provide an environment that lets it happen.  Include them.  Make it safe.  Listen and validate what they have to say. Give people a voice.

(Look for more thoughts on this in an upcoming Leadership Lessons from the Bible post later this month, taken out of an example from the leadership of Ezra)

Ancona, D., Malone, T. W., Orlikowski, W. J., and Senge, P. M. (2011). “In Praise of the Incomplete Leaders,” HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Drucker, P. F. (2011). “What Makes an Effective Executive,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.

Godin, S. (2008). Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us. Portfolio: New York, NY.

Heifetz, R. A., and Laurie, D. L. (2011). “The Work of Leadership,” in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Leadership. Harvard Business Review Press: Boston, MA.