Companies & Industries

Management Challenges for the 21st Century


Written by Peter F. Drucker. Published by Harper Business

Before his death in 2005, just days before his 96th birthday, management guru Peter F. Drucker had written more than 40 books about management, economics, politics and society. He had also written an autobiography and a couple of novels. One indication of the global reach of his words and ideas—and their enormous impact on management around world—is the fact that, today, many of his books continue to be reprinted in as many as 20 languages.

In Management Challenges for the 21st Century, a book he published in 1999, Drucker addresses the entire field of management in an effort to destroy many of the myths and assumptions that prevent managers and organizations from realizing their greatest potential. As a call to action for individuals and organizations to face the future with the best understanding of management possible, Drucker's book is filled with valuable ideas for improving how organizations work.

Peter Drucker is one of the most respected and influential writers and educators to ever tackle the vast topic of management. His experiences as a reporter, economist, professor and management expert reverberate throughout his books. In Management Challenges for the 21st Century, he offers a historical perspective of management and the many mistaken assumptions that have held organizations back for decades. After he smashes several myths about the discipline and practice of management, he describes a new set of principles that are far more appropriate for facing the future of management.

For example, one false assumption that once ruled the discipline says, "Management is Business Management." After a quick reflection on current management realities, which include management that also extends to nonprofit, military and other non-business organizations, he counters the outdated maxim with this principle: "Management is the specific and distinguishing organ of any and all organizations."

While reflecting on management's new prevailing theories, Drucker presents smart principles for all individuals and organizations. One of these principles is that an organization has to be transparent so people know the organization structure they work within. Another principle he offers is, "Someone in the organization must have the authority to make the final decision." He explains that even with flatter hierarchies, in a crisis, somebody has to be clearly in command. Drucker also writes, "One person in an organization should have only one ëmaster.'" This principle, he points out, helps to avoid a conflict of loyalties and distorted messages from too many layers in an organization.

Another assumption that Drucker dismantles is the idea that there is only one right way to manage people. He not only explains that different people need to be managed differently, but he replaces the old belief with a new assumption that says: "One does not ëmanage' people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of each individual."

Through research and analysis, Drucker also describes the social and political realities that must be considered when formulating a management strategy. By helping organizations consider new realities, such as a declining birth rate in the developed world, shifts in the distribution of disposable income, and increasing global competitiveness, he prepares them to meet the challenges of the future. He also helps them survive the economic, social, political and technological transformation that is taking place today.

Filled with timely, straightforward advice, Management Challenges for the 21st Century offers a direct connection to the wisdom of a man who made management what it is today. Drucker's vast insights into management challenges that go beyond the confines of the business world have the power to help individuals, organizations and society face the future with a firmer grasp of how they can create greater social stability and individual success.

Review by Chris Lauer, senior editor, SEBS.

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