Leadership Network would not be the same–in fact, might not exist at all-were it not for Peter Drucker.
Before Bob Buford and Fred Smith Jr. co-founded Leadership Network in 1984, Buford consulted Drucker for advice. As a testimony to Drucker’s profound influence on Leadership Network, Buford has observed, “Peter Drucker is the ‘intellectual father’ of most all that guides my approach to philanthropy. I’ve long since ceased trying to determine what thoughts are mine and which come from Peter.”
In 1997, Atlantic Monthly magazine editor Jack Beatty interviewed Buford for two hours for a book titled, The World According to Peter Drucker. The entire volume contained only six words from Buford: “He’s the brains, I’m the legs.”
At the time of his death at age 95, Drucker had taught for more than 30 years at California’s Claremont Graduate School, where the Management Center is named after him. In addition to his career as a management professor-which includes 20 years at New York University–he published more than 30 books, as well as articles for the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and many other periodicals–over four million words altogether.
On top of that, he made time to consult with leaders of business, government and nonprofit organizations. He had a worldwide reputation as “the father of modern management,” but he was more-so much more, in fact, that no category can contain him.
A Broad Perspective
Drucker called himself a writer and a social ecologist. He was a journalist when he immigrated to this country in 1937 from his native Austria, with detours through Germany and England. Although formally educated in international law, politics and economics, Drucker said that human behavior is what really interested him most. In his biography of Drucker, author Jack Beatty wrote that Drucker “is a thinker, not an academic,” and “above everything, he is a teacher.”
It might be said that Drucker approached his teaching, writing, and consulting as a journalist doing an in-depth story. He had an unparalleled grasp of the big picture, and he could explain why the story was significant. He had the realism of a newsman but the ideals of a philosopher and the heart of a committed Christian.
What enabled him to make a difference in human organizations was his ability to draw from these diverse parts of himself, as well as from his broad education and life experiences, bringing all to bear on the issue at hand.
Drucker’s writings on management had inspired Buford when he took over a family business in his early twenties, and Buford eventually called him for a consultation.
Their friendship grew over the years as they talked about management, the “Halftime” phenomenon of successful business people looking for significance in the second half of their lives, and other common interests-including the phenomenon of the large pastoral churches emerging in the United States since 1980.
As the New York Times noted (11/19/05), Drucker “devoted much of his energy to analyzing and advising” nonprofits, including church leaders, with a particular “prescience about the growing role of megachurches in American society.”
Both Drucker and Buford recognized the potential of these churches to re-energize Christianity in this country and address societal issues that neither the public nor private sectors had been able to resolve. Drucker was quoted in Forbes magazine as saying, “The pastoral megachurches that have been growing so very fast in the U.S. since 1980 are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last 30 years.”
A Helping Hand for Leadership Network
Buford wanted to create a network of church leaders who could learn from each other and provide working models for other churches. So he naturally contacted his mentor for guidance. Drucker gave him three pieces of advice:
• “Build on the islands of health and strength” (that is, recruit leaders from successful churches as Leadership Network’s first customers);
• “Work only with those who are receptive to what you are trying to do”;
• “Work only on things that will make a great deal of difference if you succeed.”
These principles became the founding strategy for Leadership Network, but Drucker’s influence was only beginning. His impact on Leadership Network has been so extraordinary that the organization “belongs partly to him,” Buford says.
Events sponsored by Leadership Network often featured Drucker as a speaker and resource, and his writings have been excerpted in its publications. In the early days, church leaders attending Leadership Network seminars could meet with Drucker in small groups and get to know him over shared meals.
Some leaders, like Father Leo Bartel and Pastor Rick Warren, followed up with telephone calls seeking Drucker’s advice on pressing issues, and even made trips to consult with Drucker in his home.
Bartel is the parish priest of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Morrison, Illinois, and has presided over the diocese in the areas of Catholic Charities and social justice.
Warren is pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, which he founded in 1980 after graduating from seminary. The congregation has grown from a modest meeting in Warren’s living room to more than 18,000 attending weekly. Warren is known and respected worldwide, with his books selling more than 25 million copies. He often cites Drucker as his mentor.
Both Bartel and Warren speak of Drucker’s graciousness and wisdom inhelping them chart the course for their ministries. Warren says his staff reads and discusses Drucker’s writings, using them to manage the church’s multi-faceted ministry. Everyone who walks into the pastor’s office is reminded of Drucker’s well-known advice, which appears on a print that Drucker signed and gave to Warren:
• “What is our business?”
• “Who is our customer?”
• “What does the customer consider value?”
In 1990, Bob Buford joined Frances Hesselbein and Dick Schubert to found The Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management (now called the Leader to Leader Institute). For years, Drucker had been applying management principles to nonprofit organizations. In fact, he donated half of his consulting time to this effort because he believed the nonprofit social sector would be America’s greatest export to the rest of the world.
Leadership Network has provided a forum over the years for sharing Drucker’s wisdom with churches. Drucker said, “The purpose of management for churches is not to make them more business-like, but to make them more church-like.” In the 20 years Drucker has consulted with Leadership Network, the number of megachurches (over 2,000 attending) has grown tenfold.
Shining Drucker’s “Light”
Buford has called Drucker a “social philosopher,” which may be the most inclusive label that can describe this complex man. The soul of a philosopher was apparent in a 1992 article in Harvard Business Review, where Drucker stated he wants America to find solutions for “the old–and never resolved–problem of the pluralistic society: Who takes care of the Common Good?”
Believing the social sector can succeed where government and business have failed, Drucker wanted to help give churches and other nonprofits the management skills they need to thrive.
Biographer Jack Beatty writes: “Drucker’s gift is to create concepts that light up problems and possibilities; others, by his light, can see the new solutions.” Light is most certainly what Drucker contributed to Leadership Network.
Founders Buford and Smith needed his light to shape their new venture, and Leadership Network’s customers have needed his light to develop their ministries in an increasingly secular society marked by constant change.
When asked about Drucker’s style, Smith said: “He normally begins about a thousand years away from the point and goes in a very wide loop that arrives at the point exactly. He uses illustrations from many disciplines to shed light on the point he is making, and each story builds on the last. He wants you to think about your situation in a larger context.”
Peter Drucker was able to give light because he simply was able to see things that other people don’t see. He observed events, found what was significant in them, put them in historical perspective, and then used them to foresee the future. When he shared his insights with people, the impact was deep.
As he gave his light to church leaders through the forum of Leadership Network for many years, who can tell how far it will shine?
Peter Drucker is survived by his wife, Doris, four children and six grandchildren.
Personal Reflection from Bob Buford
I have often been asked about Peter’s personal faith. Peter was a faithful disciple, but never wore his faith on his sleeve. He was devoted to his local church and its leaders, but advised leaders of many Christian and other religious traditions. He knew his scripture well, encouraging me to be an even greater student of the Bible. I was honored several years ago when the family asked me to join them at the White House as Peter was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award our nation gives to civilians.
Peter had a long, fruitful and faithful life for which I am thankful. He was a great personal guide of mine and he gave our organizations so much over the years.