What Millennials Can Learn from The Father of Modern Management

I am excited to share this guest post from my friend Bruce. Bruce Rosenstein is a leading management writer and speaker. A former researcher and business writer for USA Today, he is managing editor of Leader to Leader and author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way (McGraw-Hill) and Living in More Than One World (Berrett-Koehler). For more information, visit brucerosenstein.com.

Recent upheavals in society, the dizzying rate of technological change and more have brought challenges to everyone trying to navigate the future. But millennials face added media scrutiny, and unending amount of books, articles and websites advising how best to work with, and for them. They have an unprecedented combination of choice and pressure in both their educational and professional lives.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, a terrific guide for millennials as they plan their future is the work and life of Peter Drucker, the legendary “father of modern management,” who died in 2005 at 95. Drucker lived life to the fullest, fashioning a multi-faceted career spanning more than 70 years. He was simultaneously a multi-million selling author, a professor at the Drucker School in Claremont, Cal., and a consultant to businesses such as Procter & Gamble and IBM, and many nonprofits, such as the American Red Cross and the Girl Scouts of the USA.

Here are five reasons millennials should apply lessons from Drucker’s work and life example for a great future:

Common ground in the future: Millennials represent the future; their own as individuals and as the future leadership and management of our organizations. Drucker’s work was highly future-focused. For him, the future was a mindset, and he believed individuals and organizations hold the power to create a better tomorrow. Many of his books contain strong future themes, including The Age of Discontinuity (1969), and Managing in the Next Society (2002).

Build on fundamentals: As millennials progress through schooling and early years at work, it’s important to focus on such Drucker-espoused timeless values as excellence, effectiveness, workmanship and integrity. These are running themes in classic books such as The Effective Executive (1967), and Management: Revised Edition; published posthumously in 2008.

Focus on the existential: With few certainties in life, millennials and other generations must constantly discovery meaning and purpose. When some of today’s baby boomers were in college, in 1966, Drucker wrote in Harper’s about the challenges those students would face entering a world of big organizations. He said that new answers were needed to such existential questions as “Who Am I?, What am I? , and What should I be?” Three years later, in The Age of Discontinuity, he changed the wording slightly after the first question to: “What do I want to be? What do I want to put into life and what do I want to get out of it?” These questions are no less pertinent for millennials, and can be answered over the course of a lifetime.

Living in more than one world: It’s easy to get sidetracked and disappointed by setbacks in the workplace. Drucker advised what he called “living in more than one world,” building a multi-dimensional life not overly focused on one area, work or otherwise. This also can mean varying work-related output in areas such as teaching (volunteer or otherwise) and activity in professional associations. Drucker was a master at this concept, and even wrote two novels, The Last of All Possible Worlds (1982) and The Temptation to Do Good (1984), published when he was in his seventies.

The ultimate role model: Few can match Drucker’s accomplishments, especially considering that he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest honor for a civilian, in 2002 when he was 92. But he wasn’t always famous, and when he was in his early thirties, around the age of today’s oldest millennials, he had only published one book (of eventually 39), and was in the earliest, most tentative stages of teaching and consulting. He was born in Austria, went to college and graduate school in Germany, where he also worked as a reporter and editor; then worked in finance in England before immigrating to the United States in 1937, during the Great Depression, without clear-cut prospects for a career.

Everyone is an individual, and few people like to be typecast, whether as part of a generation or any other relatively arbitrary grouping. Above all, millennials can be inspired by the sense of human possibilities that Drucker represents. He wrote about and exemplified how to reach the highest sense of self, and about the importance of collaboration and improving the lives of others. Millennials represent the long-term future, and Drucker’s body of work testifies to the greatness ready to be discovered in everyone.

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Bruce Rosenstein is a leading management writer and speaker. A former researcher and business writer for USA Today, he is managing editor of Leader to Leader and author of Create Your Future the Peter Drucker Way (McGraw-Hill) and Living in More Than One World (Berrett-Koehler). For more information, visit brucerosenstein.com.


  • Florine

    thanks Paul. coherent and insightful. I wish I could translate the question “what do I want to put into life, and what do I want to get out of it” for the children I teach, because they need to learn now that output depends on inputs

  • David Bryan

    Excellent Article Paul.