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Honoring two great white management gurus"Peter Drucker and Russell Ackoff

By       Message Dr. Keith Hilton       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   1 comment

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I have tremendous respect for Peter Drucker and Russell Ackoff, two of the greatest management gurus to walk the earth in the last one hundred years.

Okay, let's start with the well-known fact that both Peter Drucker and Russell Ackoff rejected the term "guru," but that descriptor is most often used to describe their mammoth roles in the development of management as a discipline.

In fact, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Harvard Business School professor of Business Administration, also recently opined on American Public Media that "[Drucker] didn't love the word 'guru.' It sounded a little like a put-down. But he clearly was. He was the first and the best."

In November the management world celebrated the life of Peter Drucker, considered to be the "father of modern management." Mr. Drucker died in November 2005 at the age of 95. Russell Ackoff died in October of this year at the age of 90.

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Mr. Drucker often said, "Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes." I think we all should be of that mindset.

If the election of Barack Obama as president is indeed representative of the dawning of a post-racial society, then honoring the lives and accomplishments of these two management legends, Peter Drucker and Russell Ackoff, also gives us pause to talk frankly and honestly about interpretations of management, leadership and race.

I earned my Ph.D. in the mid-90s from the same private, research extensive university that Mr. Drucker was affiliated with and where the university's school of management is co-named after him.

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I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Drucker on several occasions when I would visit my friend, Sidney Harris, who was then dean of the Drucker School of Management. At the time I was a young dean in the Claremont Colleges' Office of Black Student Affairs.

I recall that Peter Drucker often said and wrote, "The future may be 'post-Western'; it may be 'anti-Western.' It cannot be 'non-Western.' Its material civilization and its knowledge all rest on Western foundations: Western science; tools and technology; production; economics; Western-style finances and banking. None of these can work unless grounded in an understanding and acceptance of Western ideas and of the entire Western tradition." Well, that is quite a history lesson.

However as an African-American, I also read that these two white men's shorthand to mean, The future may be 'post-white'; it may be 'anti-white.' It cannot be 'nonwhite.' Its material civilization and its knowledge all rest on white foundations.

But that leaves a lot of people with African and Asian cultures on the margins, even though those regions and philosophies represent the world's majority.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ackoff, but began studying his influential works after he returned from a 1992 trip to South Africa. While there he questioned if either the blacks or whites there had a leadership plan for the future.

"Getting rid of what one does not want is not the same as getting what one wants," Mr. Ackoff said.

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Once again, as did Mr. Drucker with his "western" ideals, Mr. Ackoff comfortably viewed the world from a deeply entrenched Western perspective, even though the South Africa changing-of-the-guard was one of the most significant world events of the twentieth century.

While Mr. Ackoff correctly assessed the need for all social systems to have a business plan; he failed, for instance, to acknowledge the brilliant African leadership strategy of leading from behind as described by Nelson Mandela. Today this strategy is being explored at many business schools and within organizational leadership programs.

While countless numbers of corporate CEOs, captains of industry, business schools, journalism schools, and yes, even presidents of developed nations, owe much to their leadership finesse to Mr. Drucker and Mr. Ackoff, I suspect that future successful leadership knowledge will be more than just Western.

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Honoring two great white management gurus"Peter Drucker and Russell Ackoff