No Special Elevators

In promoting Inside Drucker’s Brain  these last few days, I have done tons of radio. And there is one question I get most often from the smart people who interview me (and I must admit that this one surprised me).

“Drucker wrote a great deal about people,” they usually start off. “How they should be treated and how much time should be spent on them?” Your book spends a lot of time on that. Can you tell us some of the specifics about this?

This is actually a great question, and not an obvious one. But I love fielding this question, since it allows me to tell people a great deal about Drucker and his humanity in a few minutes. Plus it allows me to talk about how so many organizations continue to fail to heed Drucker’s advice.

First, a bit of history: before Drucker came along in the 1940s and 50’s, people in corporations were often seen and treated like parts of an assembly line, like pieces of the machines they manned. The assembly line mentality still pervaded most companies then, and people were seen as “costs” on a company’s balance sheet. Nothing more. Drucker came along and changed the calculus. He saw people as living human beings with values and goals and dreams. They were to be respected and built up, and not treated as things or cogs or costs and beaten down. 

In 1946 he wrote  “Big business…must give status to the individual, and it must give him the justice of equal opportunities..”

He also wrote of equality as a “specifically American phenomenon for which no parallel can be found in Europe. Drucker describes this phenomenon as “a friendliness, an absence of envy, the absence of awe for the people at the top of the ladder. It shows…in the absence of special elevators for bosses in office buildings, and in such major traits as the deep resentment against anyone—man or nation—who throws his weight around.”

How those words resonate today! Everyone knows a boss that treats people like dirt, throws his weight around, and keeps people down. It is as if organizations are stuck in a 1970’s type autocracy where bosses yell out orders and criticize people for a living. All of the good things that people do are ignored and not acknowledged. Rather than build them up, this kind of manager tears them down. It is hard to believe, but this brand of manager is far from extinct. Even half a century after Drucker wrote those prolific words, there are countless companies and managers that just don’t get it.

Later, in 1954, Drucker wrote: “In making and moving things…knowledge and service work, partnership with  the responsible worker is the only way.”

He meant that managers should work with his or her direct reports: work with them to develop mutually acceptable goals, parameters for working together, promotions, etc. People are partners, and should be treated as such. If a manager can’t treat people as partners, they are “mis-managers,” insisted Drucker. And mis-managers will not be able to hold on to the best people and ultimately, do not deserve to keep their jobs.         

More on how Drucker lifted people up will be discussed in future postings.



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