Throughout this three part blog series, I am sharing the essay I wrote for the 2013 Drucker Challenge competition.
My essay, titled “Leadership Lessons from the Stories of Shakespeare, Steinbeck, and Shaw: What Fiction can teach Executives about Effectiveness” won 9th place out of the world’s top 10 finalist, from out of nearly 200 submissions by young entrepreneurs, students, and managers.
In part 1, I introduced management as a liberal art, encouraged leaders to become veracious readers, and analyzed two classic plays by William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar” and “Macbeth” in order to mine leadership principles Peter Drucker advocated throughout his body of management articles, lessons, and books.
In their hefty work, “Peter F. Drucker: Critical Evaluations in Business and Management, Volume 1” (2005) editors John Wood and Michael Wood stated that Drucker encouraged executives to read Shakespeare during the summer months and had admitted that he himself had “just finished reading all 37 [Shakespeare] plays for a third time” (p.370).
I am not the first author to combine and synthesize the works of William Shakespeare with Peter Drucker. In an online review of the book “Shakespeare in Charge: The Bard’s Guide to Leading and Succeeding on the Business Stage” (reprint, 2001), Amazon top 500 reviewer and speed reading guru, Donald “Jesus Loves You” Mitchell begins his critique with the opening lines “I generally do not like business books that are built around historical or fictional characters. The analogy in most cases is superficial and of little interest. On the other hand, I love it when Peter Drucker draws on examples from a hundred or more years ago. Interestingly, this book permits a timeless series of reflections that feels a lot like reading a Drucker example.”
While many similarities between the twin duo of literary icons, Shakespeare and Drucker, can be discussed perhaps endlessly, in this second post, I want to continue with my essay in showcasing how Peter Drucker’s timeless wisdom parallels the voice of one of America’s most famous writers and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, John Steinbeck.
John Steinbeck: The Meaning of Work
“It is perhaps the biggest job of the modern corporation –to find a synthesis between justice and dignity, between equality of opportunities and social status and function” (Drucker, 2004. pg. 193).
Peter Drucker understood the importance of work and finding meaning in work to improve not only the human condition at the individual level, but also in the community. Work provides achievement, and to some degree, an identity. Be it manual labor in a field, or among “knowledge workers”, a termed coined by Drucker in his 1969 book The Age of Discontinuity, the themes of a functioning society like productivity and managerial responsibility are the same.
Grapes of Wrath:
In the 2008 book Obscene in the Extreme the executive director of the Drucker Institute, Rick Wartzman presents a historical analysis of the political and economic revolution taking place in the United States during the 1930’s. The main themes of the American classic Grapes of Wrath (1976) include man’s inhumanity to his fellow brethren, impoverished leadership structures, the saving power of family and friends in fellowship, and the role of dignity in work. The fictional family, the Joads, who are driven from the land in Oklahoma represent the thousands of families who struggled during the Great Depression. In his book, Concept of the Corporation, Drucker writes that “we can only deny social status and function to the economically unsuccessful if we are convinced that lack of economic success is (a) always a person’s own fault, and (b) a reliable indication of his or her worthlessness as a human personality and as a citizen” (Drucker, 2004. pg. 193). In this book Drucker compares the business to a society that brings citizens together. It combines lessons drawn from politics and economics, while presenting management as the essential element needed to produce effectiveness both inside and outside the company.
Of Mice and Men:
Like Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck again addresses the economic and social issues of the 1930’s in his other classic in American literature, Of Mice and Men (1963). While the former dealt primarily with public discrimination, the latter’s focal concern is the loneliness that resulted from general labor as a hired farm hand. The story focuses on two main characters, the migrant working duo of George and Lennie. The two are an odd couple. George is a smaller man with sharp perception while Lennie is very large and has a mental disability. George looks after Lennie and the two are working to save up to buy their own farm. While George laments over taking care of Lennie, he knows Lennie is the only friend he has. In an unfortunate string of events Lennie accidentally kills a woman and George is forced to shoot Lennie in order to save him from the torture of an angry farm mob.
In his book, The Fabric of this World (1990) author Lee Hardy writes a section entitled “Peter F. Drucker: Respect for Persons, Management, by Objectives, and Responsible Work” and states that “the key as Drucker puts it, is to see people as resources rather than problems and to lead them rather than control them” (p. 167). These concepts of human dignity and the necessity of human relationships are critical in establishing leadership effectiveness.