What would be your choice?
In The Practice of Management, published in 1954, Peter Drucker wrote: “The first systematic book on leadership is the Kyropaidaia of Xenophon – himself no mean leader of men – and it is still the best book on the subject.” Xenophon also wrote Anabasis (commonly known as The Persian Expedition) in which he explains how, in the fourth century B.C., he and others in a Greek army of 10,000 they fought their way back to the Black Sea against overwhelming odds.
In Drucker on Leadership, William Cohen explains that after being selected to be the commanding general, Xenophon selected and then summoned subordinate generals, instructing them on leadership. Here are the basic principles, first articulated almost 4,500 years ago:
1. Leaders must set the example in terms of both attitude and behavior. They must be the first to do the most difficult and most unpleasant work.
2. Leaders need to be more courageous than those who follow them. This is especially important when in harm’s way and specific perils are unknown.
3. Leaders must be in total self-control and exercise firm discipline fairly and consistently. They expect outstanding results.
4. Leaders train others to think in terms of actions each must take that will achieve success. Help them to “see” the benefits to them.
Cohen also offers a “distillation” of all of Drucker’s thoughts about leadership from an abundance of resources. He provides a model suggesting the five basic components of effective leadership:
• Strategic planning by the leader as the foundation
• Business ethics and personal integrity as necessary conditions
• Leadership as taught in the military as a baseline model
• Correct perception and application of the psychological principles of motivation
• The marketing model as the general approach
In my review of Cohen’s book, I briefly discuss these five components.
What do you think is the best book on leadership?
What we have in this volume is a wealth of Cohen’s memories of the years (from 1975 until 1979) when he was a student at – and the first graduate of – “probably the first executive PhD program in management in academic history” at Claremont Graduate School. His classroom teacher, mentor, and friend was Peter Drucker. “I have tried to come close to capturing his actual words, but in any case, I believe I achieved the spirit of what he said and how he said it. My aim is to put the reader in the classroom as if he were there with me at the time hearing Drucker and participating in every interaction I had with him.” Cohen succeeds brilliantly in achieving these and other objectives.
Among the several lessons that Cohen learned and shares, these are the ones that caught my eye:
“The first task of any business management is to decide what business it was in.”
“What everyone `knows’ is frequently wrong.”
“Outstanding performance is inconsistent with fear of failure.”
“Selling and marketing are neither synonymous nor complementary. One could consider them adversarial in some cases. There is no doubt that if marketing were done perfectly, selling, in the actual sense of the word, would be unnecessary.”
“The first systematic book on leadership [i.e. Kyropaidaia] was written by Xenophon more than 2,000 years ago, and it is still the best.”
To them I presume to add my own personal favorite, from an article published in the Harvard Business Review years in 1963: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”
Cohen notes that Drucker once asked two questions of Jack Welch that then guided and informed his leadership of GE after he succeeded Reggie Jones as its new CEO. “If you weren’t already in the business, would you enter it today?” followed by a second, more difficult question, “What are you going to do about it?” Today, other CEOs should carefully consider the importance of these questions, answer them, and then proceed accordingly. “Drucker taught what to do. He was very specific about this. However, he did not teach how to do it.” One of this book’s substantial value-added benefits is that, throughout his narrative, Cohen offers his own observations and suggestions as to how to achieve the various business objectives that Drucker recommends, accompanied by dozens of relevant examples to illustrate key points. Those who share my high regard for Peter Drucker’s life and work will be as appreciative as I am of what William Cohen shares in this volume.