The Right Leader for the Right Time
Last week we ended with a discussion of managing under crisis conditions. That was a favorite topic of Drucker’s. He also observed that “some people are beautifully prepared for the crisis. And hate everything else.”
As the supreme example of a leader who operated incredibly well under the worst of conditions was Winston Churchill. Drucker called Churchill the 20th century’s most successful leader. But even Churchill wasn’t Churchill until his country—and history—called upon him. He explained that for a dozen years, from 1928 through Dunkirk (codenamed “Dynamo,” that’s was when more than 300,000 allied soldiers were successfully evacuated and saved), Churchill played a minor role at best. Drucker suggested he was an onlooker, “almost discredited, because there was no need for a Churchill.”
When chaos and Hitler struck and England was forced to declare war with Germany in September of 1939, Churchill was precisely the right leader at the right time—a decisive, iconic figure on the world stage. And, for the record, the praise was not all one-sided. Winston Churchill reviewed and praised Drucker’s first book, saying “the amazing thing about Peter F. Drucker was his ability to start our minds along a stimulating line of thought.”
Drucker once declared “Fortunately or unfortunately, the one thing in any organization is the crises. That always comes. That’s when you do depend on the leader.” Drucker felt that the Churchills were a rare breed. “But another group is, quite common,” insisted Drucker. “They are the people who can look at a situation and say: This is not what I was hired to do or what I was expected to do, but this is what the job requires–and then roll up their sleeves and go to work.”
That’s the brand of leader we need in these tough times, when an economic meltdown is bringing down so many of our great companies. Time will tell us which leaders were the most successful in helping their organizations weather the storm. Of course, war is a far graver challenge than even the worst economic collapse, but Drucker knew that certain situations create great leaders: “To every leader there is a season,” explained Drucker. “Winston Churchill in ordinary, peaceful, normal times would not have been very effective. He needed the challenge. Probably the same is true of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was basically a lazy man,” proclaimed Drucker (who didn’t like FDR, despite his great popularity). I don’t think FDR would have been a good president in the 1920s. His adrenalin wouldn’t have produced,” concluded Drucker.
Drucker’s analysis of our 20th century global leaders gives us much to think about, and raises some obvious questions. If you are a manager—or a manager of managers—do you have a fair-weathered team that will do well when times are good? Or a foul-weathered team whose “adrenaline is likely to produce” when things get rough? Given today’s economic realities, you may be about to find out.