Understanding the practical perspective of leadership from Peter Drucker

Leadership is one of the most researched topics in the world. Just like the topic of poverty is central to economists, so is leadership central to most behavioral scientists. Managers in the real world are often confused. The most practical point of view is from the famous Management writer and author, the late Peter Drucker. This article is an attempt at discussing this perspective in detail.


Peter Drucker, one of the world's foremost Management thinkers and philosophers, had often come up with done-to-earth explanations of most events that took place in the USA and in Japan and most of Europe. He had drawn several conclusions and most of his ideas were readily accepted by the Japanese. The advanced behavioral scientists did not approve many of his views. This is mainly because he had his own observations to draw conclusions.

One such area was leadership. This topic has been researched so well. Yet, we need workable definitions or ideas of the concept to be anchored in the light of real world experiences. After all, it is only the real world that is the laboratory where the ideas will be tested. It is the real world that provides the framework for any meaningful discussion since the varied experiences are always documented and are available in the public domain. Let us focus on the concept, as explained by Peter Drucker.

Peter F Drucker wrote this excellent book called "Managing for the Future": The 1990s and Beyond", the second reprint of which was published in the year 1993. ( Tata McGraw-Hill Publishing Company Limited, New Delhi) Even today, his views are so meaningful. He had predicted too many things and was ahead of his time, even then.

Cut to the vital quote on Leadership. "The foundation of effective leadership is thinking through the organization's mission, defining it and establishing it, clearly and visibly. The leader sets the goals, sets the priorities, and sets and maintains the standards. " (page 121, para one).

"And whether he holds fast to a few standards ( exemplifying them in his own conduct), or whether "standards" for him are what he can get away with, determines whether the leader has followers or only hypocritical time-servers" ( page 121, para 2)"

"The final requirement of effective leadership is to earn trust. Otherwise, there won't be any followers -- and the only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. To trust a leader, it is not necessary to like him. Nor is it necessary to agree with him. Trust is the conviction that the leader means what he says. It is a belief in something in something very old-fashioned, called "integrity".

In this article, we will focus on a) importance of Mission in leadership ) The documented Indian organizational experiences c) The importance of great followers d) The importance of walking the talk and e) Importance of moving with the changing times.

Importance of Mission in leadership

Once cannot forget the massive contribution made by the greatest leader who ever lived on earth. His name was Mahatma Gandhi. His life and the message will e relevant for another one hundred centuries. He had a crystal clear Mission called Independence of India from the British. He set the mission and clearly communicated it to all people of India. Even when the massive country was so fragmented, imagine anyone else in that role. He or she would have been an utter failure.

Now, let us go through each of the quotes. Combined with the mission, Mahatma Gandhi was able to establish the broad canvas of the means called "non-violence" and this holds good even today. In fact, far more than ever before. And he had integrity that the entire world stood up and took notice. It is recorded in history books that even British judges would stand up and give him respect whenever he appeared in the courts. Hence, Mahatma Gandhi is the best example of a leader who had a clear Mission and went about getting the Mission executed with the help of a core team of leaders and millions of followers.

Similar Missions have been seen in outstanding leaders of Corporate India. They are Ratan Tata, Anand Mahindra, Vaghul ( who made ICICI Bank into a superb institution), Narayanamurthy of Infosys and Azim Premji of WIPRO. We could include Suresh Krishna of the TVS group company called Sundram Fasteners and his cousin, Venu Srinivasan of TVS Motors. These outstanding leaders also have had impeachable integrity. Dhirubhai Amani and his sons do not make the list. They might have had good missions but score very poorly on integrity. Even today. In fact, the younger son, Anil Ambani stands discredited for his ambitious plans of reckless diversification and playing around with public money. His debts are so huge. And he has invited the wrath of the Supreme Court of India.

The documented Indian organizational experiences

Mr. Deweshwar of ITC took over at a crucial time. The organization had a big crisis of confidence and the foreign company wanted a majority state, which was not acceptable to the Indian Management. This leader saw through this and then took the organization to greater heights.

For example, his clearly stated Mission was to charter the course of diversification into new businesses. He had done so, with superb ability. For example, Deweshwar had clearly identified the biscuit industry was one of the growth areas. Recorded evidence has it that he gave a very patient hearing to Mr. Sivakumar, whose idea was to create the splendid e-choupal. This was an experiment that was actually a new experiment in Indian Corporate History. It was to co-opt farmer competence. The farmer and the middlemen were included in the process of being a part of the very good IT infrastructure that was eventually created. The idea was to give the farmers a great chance to take better decisions and get better prices for their produce. ITC has since co-opted the same farmers as customers, through the partnership, made solid through e-choupal. Deweswar is also a person of the greatest integrity. Similarly, Anand Mahindra has worked all the way to clearly define his organization's mission as a globally competitive Indian conglomerate. He has done exactly this. For example, its tractors are sold in the USA and in other advanced countries. Its SUV range is very good.

Mahindra and Mahindra has also been able to make a big dent in the holiday resorts business. Similarly, Narayamurthy has had a very sharp focus in building several competencies in Infosys Technologies. For example, it is really very competitive in the banking vertical. It has reportedly bagged all contracts related to banking projects all over the world. Its product configuration experience in this space has been simply superb.

Ratan Tata had made Tata Motors a really big name to reckon with. Tata Steel is another global organization. Tata' s Mission, clearly stated as acquiring global competitiveness in each of the business it operates in, has been achieved. However, its huge debts seem to have had some rethinking and the Tatas might exit some businesses. There are so many examples. For lack of space, we are limiting the documented experiences., It should be noted that Drucker's emphasis on integrity is very much a personal quality of each of these leaders.

The importance of great followers

The importance of great followers is always very high. For example, in the entire TVS group, it is possible to find thousands of employees who would work far beyond office hours, without claiming overtime. Each group of this conglomerate, which has a big auto-component face, is famous for world-class products. These followers never ask Why?". They are used to asking "why not?" and happily go about taking several initiatives to cut down cost and eliminate waste.

For example, the Japanese concept of 5S and TQM, that is, Total Quality Management is a way of life in all TVS organizations. The mission to delight the customer is never lost sight of.

Druker talks about the value of trust. In each of the aforesaid organizations, trust is a daily recipe that is literally taken for granted. The followers trust the owners so much. This is why there is no limit to the medical expenses of the employee and his family members in Sundram Fasteners. In return, it is a passionate deal that the employees give back. Day in and day out.

The importance of walking the talk

This is very important too. If the leader has to win the respect and the voluntary co-operation of his followers, he or she should be one of impeachable integrity and should walk the talk. For example, several years ago, in BHEL, Tiruchirapalli, there was a situation where some managers were grumbling when the electronic method of marking attendance by punching a card was introduced. The Executive Director immediately sprung into action, making it clear that he would himself enter the fray and be the first to punch his card.

He did. The rest of the employees fell in line without a single amount of resistance. Mahatma Gandhi was one who practiced what he preached. Jawaharlal Nehru built the most modern India and was a person of utmost integrity. The leaders under the Gandhiji influence included the likes of Rajaji, Kamaraj, and Sardar Vallabhah Patel. They walked the talk as well. Once this simple thing is done, everything will fall in place.

Importance of moving with the changing times

The biggest example that comes to mind in the recent past is that of Steve Jobs. It was he who masterminded the development of products like the iPad and the iPhone. These products were examples of what is now called disruptive innovations. It has been recorded that Steve had a very fertile brain that was essentially creative. He would never allow anyone to say no to his ideas. He went on pushing them for more and more challenges. It is documented that the entire product team was asked to work on very challenging tasks. The products of Apple Computers have conquered a big market, around the world.

Similarly, in the Indian context, Pathanjali, is a recent example of one organization that has not only moved with the times in terms of milking the existing demand for organic products and natural products that do not have side effects, and combining the same with the most advanced marketing management techniques.


Peter Drucker had the ability to make matters very simple. A few ideas have been taken up for discussion and in the light of Indian organizational and political experiences, a few inferences have been drawn. The other ideas on leadership, drawn from other experts will be discussed in the other articles.

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Author: Umesh08 Mar 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 6

A nice article on the leadership aspects.

It is very true that leadership is a crucial factor in the growth of an organization. A good leader can transform the loss-making company into a profitable and most prosperous by overhauling the existing systems. That is the reason why there is a great emphasis laid on searching the CEO or President of a company. Everyone requires a visionary person to lead the team.

At the same time a good leader should get a good support team to make his ideas success and to that extent many leaders believe in hiring good people as subordinates and take part in the interview process their selves.

I know a social innovation and entrepreneurship company funded by global giants who are doing excellent work in the area of social innovation and they hire qualified people after a multiple interview process and finally when their CEO is satisfied with the capabilities of the candidate, they hire him.

So a good leader also requires a motivated and dedicated staff otherwise there will be a mismatch between the frequency of top management and the workers below. Some people argue that a leader can motivate the lazy and slow people to work faster. It might be true to some extent but when it comes to maintaining quality and l00 % customer satisfaction we cannot take chances.

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