Feb 07, 2012

Joe’s Journal: Where the Brotherhood of Intellectuals Meets Money-Grubbing Reality

“In his 1943 novel, published in English as Magister Ludi (1949), Hermann Hesse anticipated the sort of world the humanists want—and its failure. The book depicts a brotherhood of intellectuals, artists and humanists who live a life of splendid isolation, dedicated to the Great Tradition, its wisdom and its beauty. But the hero, the most accomplished Master of the Brotherhood, decides in the end to return to the polluted, vulgar, turbulent, strife-torn, money-grubbing reality—for his values are only fool’s gold unless they have relevance to the world. Post-capitalist society needs the educated person even more than any earlier society did, and access to the great heritage of the past will have to be an essential element. But liberal education must enable the person to understand reality and master it.”

– Peter F. Drucker

Peter Drucker is making the case in this passage for what constitutes an “educated person” in the knowledge society, and for Servant Leadership, an application of values emanating out of the Great Tradition to the world of work.

Drucker called management a liberal art, and claimed that it could liberate the humanities that have been in decline in American universities. The result has been a move away from majors in the humanities to majors in business and other “applied disciplines.” But the educated person clearly requires both.

My co-author, Karen Linkletter, and I wrote the book Drucker’s Lost Art of Management to make the case that management is indeed a liberal art. Our case was developed from a close read of the methodology employed by Drucker and the ends he sought. He was educated both formally and informally in the classical tradition, and his doctorate was in international law—professional training infused with the liberal arts.

Drucker applied his brilliance “to the polluted, vulgar, turbulent, strife-torn, money-grubbing reality” of developing a society of functioning organizations, where leaders act as servants of their organizations and of society. He said it beautifully in a 2004 radio interview with Tom Ashbrook:

“I see functioning societies as a bulwark against the threat of totalitarianism, and they depend on management for their performance. The present tendency to look at management by itself is nonsense. Management exists for the sake of an organization. It is the servant of the organization. And any management that forgets that is mismanagement and will lead their organization down pretty fast—misleaders destroy their organization. Management and administrators are servants.”

Servant Leadership has a long tradition that has been made popular by Robert Greenleaf’s 1970 book, Servant Leadership. Drucker and Greenleaf were good friends, and while Greenleaf was a moralist, Drucker was a pragmatist. Yet Drucker’s classical education in the liberal arts led him to what his friend Theodore Levitt called Drucker’s “deep preoccupation with morality.” Here we see the convergence of Drucker’s work promoting Servant Leadership and his training in the Great Tradition.

– Joe Maciariello

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