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Part III: The Military: Drucker's Model Organization

Part III: The Military: Drucker's Model Organization

One of Drucker's five components of effective leadership had to do with following the recommendations of a classic book on military leadership. Although Drucker left many clues in his writings, I was first led to this conclusion in the classroom by Peter's favorable comparison of the compensation of military to corporate executives. Drucker was very much against excessive compensation. He pointed out that even top executives in the military, responsible for tens of thousands of individuals and millions of dollars of equipment, received (at that time) less than $100,000 a year. The military, he told us, also had the fairest system of promotion of any large organization. According to Drucker, this was because the system minimized favoritism, nepotism, and other elements that discouraged promoting the best to positions of responsibility. He also said it did a much better job in leadership development.

Drucker believed that the best book on leadership was written almost two and a half millennia ago by Xenophon, a Greek general who had fought in Persia. In Kyropaidaia Xenophon wrote about leadership in battle. Thus, the "Father of Modern Management" recommended a book on combat leadership as the best book written on leadership for business leaders, simply because it taught good leadership.

Drucker spoke with such confidence and expertise about so many areas that I did not notice anything special about his use of military examples when I was his student, despite my own military background. However, as we talked more after my graduation from the Drucker School while I advanced in my Air Force career, I understood that Peter had a special interest in military leadership, much of which he strongly agreed with. The extent of his knowledge about the military, war, political relationships, and war's consequences was surprising. However, it is well to remember that Peter wrote for Foreign Affairs as well as the Harvard Business Review.

Drucker did not share the fact that he had this particular interest or knowledge with many people. However, it did come through occasionally in his writing. In a 1988 article on leadership in the Wall Street Journal, he cited Generals Eisenhower, Marshall, and MacArthur, Field Marshal Montgomery, and Julius Caesar—with little company from business leaders.[]

Several years ago an article in Fortune magazine recommended military experience as the best leadership training for business. This opinion was shared by others. Richard Cavanaugh, president and CEO of the Conference Board, described a meeting of business leaders at a Manhattan restaurant. The panel, which apparently included Cavanaugh along with Drucker and Jack Welch, was asked: Who does the best job of developing leaders? To Cavanaugh's amazement, it was not the Harvard Business School, McKinsey and Company, or one of the great corporations that was cited as doing the best job. According to Cavanaugh, "The enthusiastic choice of both of these management legends was the United States military."[]

A little later, Drucker's beliefs about the military received more publicity, mainly from Frances Hesselbein's books, Hesselbein on Leadership and Be, Know, Do, a book Hesselbein adapted from the official Army Leadership Manual and coauthored with General Eric K. Shinseki. Shinseki was a former army chief of staff forced into retirement by then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, when Shinseki testified before Congress and gave troop estimates needed for Iraq far above those planned by Rumsfeld. For the first time the extent to which Drucker both understood and approved of the military's unique mastery of leadership was publicized and well documented. In recommending Hesselbein's adaptation of the Army Leadership Manual on the dustcover of her book, Drucker wrote, "The Army trains and develops more leaders than do all other institutions together—and with a lower casualty rate."


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