Management as a liberal art
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - July 26, 2020 - 12:00am

Peter Drucker passed away in 2015 and is still considered as the father of modern management. He conceptualized many modern theories such as management by objectives and the importance of knowledge workers. He wrote 39 books and passed away at the age of 96. He was teaching in the Drucker Graduate School of Management from 1971 to 2005.

While most management schools focus on Drucker’s writings on management, the majority of his works were actually about society. Even in the field of management, he had a philosophy rooted in a humanistic theory of management and government  which was a view of organizations as if people mattered. Today, many if not most of our managers view employees as a liability, a cost that should be minimized and controlled. His approach to organization was keenly focused on the human side of the enterprise with the idea that people have value and dignity and that the role of management is to provide a context in which people can flourish both intellectually and morally.

Drucker once stated that management is a liberal art. He never really expounded on this topic; but, he was stating this view before it became fashionable among business schools. He envisioned a linkage between the liberal arts tradition inherited from Greek and Roman traditions and the pragmatic day to day operations of an organization.  Early in his writing career, he already wrote: “We do not know yet precisely how to link liberal arts and management. We do not know yet what impact this linkage will have on either party – and marriage, even bad ones, always change both partners.”

Karen Linkletter, a student of Drucker’s thoughts wrote: “One crucial element that links the liberal arts and management is the fostering and maintenance of cultural values. Historically, liberal arts training emphasized the cultivation of beliefs, behaviours and opinions that were thought by a given civilization to be of high moral quality (good or right). If management is, as Drucker said , a liberal art then “it must similarly involve the development of shared codes of conduct within an organization.”

The famous management writers Collins and Porras wrote that shared values is part of the framework for a corporate or organization’s vision.

In the early years of the MBA programs, it was assumed that incoming students would have received a liberal arts education. It was assumed that this would provide a moral foundation for young people. Along the way this philosophy was put aside.  Today, the liberal arts are widely proclaimed as irrelevant to business and even society. In his book “Management, Revised Edition” Drucker wrote:  “Management is thus what tradition used to call a liberal art, ‘liberal’ because it deals with the fundamentals of knowledge and self-knowledge, wisdom and leadership; ‘art’ because it is practice and application. Managers should draw on all the knowledge and insights of the humanities and the social sciences, on psychology and philosophy, on economics and history, on ethics as well as on the physical sciences. But they have to focus on effectiveness and results – on healing a sick patient, teaching a student, building a bridge, designing and selling a ‘user friendly’ software program.”

Drucker believed that the liberal arts would bring “wisdom” and “self knowledge” to the practice of management while management can “ be the discipline and practice through and in which the humanities will again acquire recognition, impact and relevance.” Practicing management as a liberal art might return managements to its original, intended professional status.

The concept of management being a liberal art would return management to the original ideals of liberal arts education that were fundamental to the concept of  professionalism in business and to Drucker’s ideal concept of the professional manager as an “educated person.”

Drucker was very fervent about the role of human being and the dignity, growth and development of the human being while at work. Collins, another business guru, once wrote: “To view other human beings as merely a means to an end, rather than ends in themselves, struck Drucker as profoundly immoral.  And as much as he wrote about institutions and society, I believe he cared most deeply about the individual.”

Drucker was very much ahead of his times. He was already pointing out  that one troublesome evidence is the grave imbalance between executive and worker compensation which today  is one of the major causes of income inequality.

Dean Ira Jackson of the Drucker Graduate School of Management  offered a summary of Drucker’s many insights and observations  that continue to shape our understanding of how society, business and organization generally function:

• We live in a knowledge society.

• Employees are an asset, not a liability, and knowledge workers need to be respected and engaged, not directed or controlled.

• Management is about doing things right; leadership is all about doing the right  thing.

• A healthy economy cannot survive in a sick society.

• The social sector is growing in importance.

• Managers need to manage and motivate themselves before they can manage and motivate others.

• Every business must continually innovate and market if it is to survive and succeed.

• It is important to “see what is visible and not yet seen” and to act upon the future that already exists.

• As Drucker’s insight found, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”

Peter Drucker continues to be incredibly relevant especially during these turbulent times.

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Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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